Stories Of Lost Mines
( Originally Published Early 1911 )
Stories of Lost Mines: "El Naranjal": How Mines Were Lost: Fear and Strange Superstitions of the Indians: Story of the Man Who Says He Saw " El Naranjal ": Story of " La Providencia": The Foolish Compadres: The Life Search of Don Modesto.
Of all the romantic tales heard in this land of romance, none are more fascinating than the stories of lost mines: of mines that were known, long before the War of Independence, to have been fabulously rich; but which have since disappeared, together with their Spanish owners, as completely as though they never existed.
It is said by some that when these mines were abandoned by the Spaniards, they were effectually covered up; and that in many instances the owners died without divulging their whereabouts. Others say that to this day there are Indians living in remote places in the mountains, whose fathers worked in these very mines and who could show them up if they would. There was an old superstition among the Indians, doubtless founded on the threats of their masters, that to betray the locality of an ancient mine would bring certain death; and in some instances this belief still exists. Mexico abounds in old mines that were worked centuries ago, and in ruined haciendas, whose beginnings the people themselves know nothing about. They are encountered in most unlooked for and almost inaccessible places; and it is not improbable that many more exist, to be discovered in the future.
One of the most famous and long-sought-for old Spanish mines, in this middle-western part of Durango is "El Naranjal " (the Orangery) which was reputed to be a big gold producer. Long after the Revolution, when mining in this section was revived by foreign capital, reports were rife about this wonderful mine; and yet no one knew just where it was. Many had heard it described by their fathers or grandfathers, and all agreed on one point; that the hacienda was surrounded by a large orange orchard (naranjal) from which the mine took its name. While it is hard to believe that such a place, which must have employed many peones, could be actually lost, if we consider the years during which all industry was paralyzed by continued wars, together with the apathy of the Indians, and the nomad existence of the average mining peon, it is not impossible.
Many are the exploring parties, equipped by wealthy mine owners, that have gone in search of " El Naranjal ": many the supposed clues, such as traces of gold in a mountain stream, or a piece of rich quartz on the trail, that have been followed for weeks, only to end in disappointment. " El Naranjal," to all intents and purposes, existed only in the imagination of the people, who still talked about it as confidently as though it were an established fact. Their stories always held a peculiar fascination for me. It was not so much the hidden treasure as the old hacienda itself that excited my imagination. I often pictured the ruined buildings and the deserted chapel, whose bell had been silent for a century, save for a muffled note perhaps that fell from it on stormy nights; with no sign of life save the bats that flitted in and out at nightfall, and with the orange trees growing thicker and taller, shutting it more and more away from the world.
So one day when a man said to me, " I have seen ` El Naranjal,' I stared at him in amazement for fully a minute, before I could believe my senses. Then I passed him my pocket flask, offered him a cigarro and waited for him to continue. He was a character, such as you will find only in a mining camp: half-Mexicanized, through long residence in the country; always threatening to leave it, yet never leaving; always expecting to strike it rich and never striking it.
" Yes," he went on, "I have seen ` El Naranjal.' It happened this way. I had been prospecting all summer near an old pueblo north of Durango, and was returning to the city for the holidays. The first night out, I came to a lone Indian rancho about sundown, and asked if I could sleep there. The owner, an old white-haired fellow, lived alone and as the road was seldom traveled, he seemed rather glad to see me. I had with me a couple of flasks of Scotch whisky, and when we had made a supper on beans and tortillas, I got out one of the bottles and after a number of pulls, he became exceedingly friendly. The talk turned on old mines, and he finally told me that he knew where there was a very rich one, with a ruined hacienda.
" He said it was during a war, probably the French intervention, and that the government had sent soldiers into the mountains after recruits. He took what cattle he had and drove them over the mountains and down the other side. At the bottom of the canon beyond, which he had reached by following an old trail, he came on an abandoned hacienda. The mine, which was close by, had been worked extensively; and he picked up a piece of rock on the dump, with chunks of pure gold, as yellow as the oranges. I questioned him more closely. He said there were many orange trees and that they were very old; and then I felt satisfied he had seen the lost Naranjal. I asked him if he would take me there; but he replied evasively and became very reticent, so the subject dropped.
" The next morning I waited anxiously for him to refer to it again, but he said never a word; and my experience with Indians had taught me never to try forcing their hand. The old fellow had treated me well, and as I was about to leave, I gave him the flask, which still had a little whisky left. His eyes glistened with delight and he went and put it carefully inside an ancient chest made of rawhide, that stood in the corner. Re-turning he handed me, without speaking, a piece of rock. Instinctively I knew it was the one he had picked up on the ore-dump: I held it to the light and saw gold nuggets, as big as the end of my little finger.
" I looked at the old man and waited for him to speak. Instead he took my arm and led me into the corral. Pointing to the mountains, he asked if I saw a peak that looked like a big piloncillo (conical loaf of sugar). On my answering in the affirmative, he said the trail he had followed crossed at that point. He was silent for a while as though thinking deeply. At last he said that if I wanted to see the old mine he would go with me as far as the peak, and start me on the right trail. Beyond that point, he himself would not go. He said there were bears and tigers on the other side, and that I would need to go well armed and with provisions for a week or more.
" Impressed as I was by what he had told me, I was in no position to profit by it. I was alone, with no chance of getting aid inside of five days and without sufficient money to secure an outfit in any event. I determined, however, to remember the peak and that some day I would return and look for the mine. I cautioned the old man not to mention it to any one else. He looked at me gravely and replied that he was a youth at the time he made the discovery, and that I was the first one he had ever told. Promising him I would return, I set out for Durango.
" When I arrived, I learned that the men I had been working for had lost faith in the prospect and did not need my services any longer. I tried in vain to interest several mining men in ` El Naranjal.' They all heard me through, but had invariably too many irons in the fire already, to start on such a wild-goose chase, as they termed it; and I was at last compelled to go to work from actual necessity. Years went by and while I never forgot the old Indian's story I could never quite see my way clear to follow it up. Yes, I am a drinking man, a heavy one at times, like nearly all the old stagers; and often the money went in a spree that might have helped me to ` El Naranjal' and a fortune. It got so finally, that when I told the story people only laughed. I regretted a hundred times that I had not gotten possession of the rock, by hook or crook. The old man seemed loth to part with it, and at the time I did n't stop to consider the importance of having it to show.
" It was ten years later, when at last I saw my chance. I had been prospecting for some rich Americans at a point that I believed to be within at most four days' ride of the Indian's rancho. I was working some twenty odd peones and had been left in full control. The prospect looked more and more dubious and I had no mind to continue. Neither had I a mind to throw up the sponge. The story of the lost `Naranjal' haunted me. I thought of it by day and at last one night, in a dream, I saw as plain as I see you, the old hacienda with the orange trees growing all about it. The next day I picked out four of my best men, took what money I had on hand and prepared to hit the trail. Of course I did wrong to go without consulting my employers, but I had `El Naranjal' on the brain. Besides I felt sure of success. After we had fairly started, I began to feel anxious about my old Indian. Was he living after all these years? I wondered.
" The journey proved longer than I had figured on, but the night of the fifth day, just as I was wondering if I could have missed the trail, I saw the familiar rancho. I went to the door with a beating heart and was met by a middle-aged man, whom I saw at once was too young to be my former friend. He proved to be his brother, and said the aged Indian had been dead several years, though he could not tell how many. I spent the night at the rancho and in course of conversation touched on old mines, but he professed the densest ignorance regarding them. At last I asked him point blank if his brother had never told him of his discovery, adding that he had not only told me of it, but offered to direct me to the place. For a second he eyed me suspiciously. Then going to the old chest, which I re-membered only too well he took from it a small, black flask and holding it up before me, asked if it was mine. For a moment I was puzzled. Then like a flash it came to me, that I had given the old Indian what little liquor it contained on leaving him. I answered that it had once been mine, but that I had given it to his brother. At that he became voluble for an Indian. He said his brother had always looked for my return and had talked of me to the last, instructing him, in case I did come, to go with me to the peak of the mountain, and show me the old trail. I was wild to be off and finally persuaded him to start with us the next morning.
" It was near sunset the next day when we reached the cone-shaped peak, and the old man got off his mule and began scanning the slope on the other side. At length he gave a satisfied grunt and holding aside the tall grass, pointed to the faint semblance of a trail. I was to follow that trail two or three days, he said, and I should see the hacienda. He then put out his hand. Greatly surprised, I pressed him to pass the night with us; but he steadfastly refused, and with one backward glance, that had in it something of dread, in the direction of the abandoned trail, he bade me ` Godspeed' and disappeared in the darkness. I was too excited to sleep and finally got up and sat by the fire till day-break. We started as soon as it was light and then began one of the hardest jobs I had ever undertaken. It is not always a simple matter to keep on a trail that is in constant use; and when it comes to one that has not been used for half a century or more it is next to impossible. Sometimes we lost it and were an hour beating about in the brush, before we found it again. We had to walk, as the animals were as much at sea as we were; and we frequently had to cut our way through dense growths of chaparral. Sunset found us on a bare ledge of rocks, where the trail disappeared, and there was nothing to do but camp there for the night.
" At daybreak we began hunting for the trail, and the men had declared repeatedly there was an end of it when I discovered it, doubling on itself and leading through the brush again. I sent two men ahead with machetes to make a path, and we followed slowly, leading the animals. Night found us apparently no nearer our goal. We were still descending the mountain, and on every hand stretched the limitless chaparral. I have been in lonely places, but never one like that. The old man had talked of bears and tigers. There was absolutely not a sign of life, not even a bird save an occasional vulture, sailing overhead. The men looked downcast and after supper one of them came and asked me to turn back. He said his companions were all triste (sad) and `afraid we were going to the death.' I asked him why they thought so and he replied be-cause the vultures had followed us for two days. For answer I told him to make ready for an early start and assured him we should make it in one day more. Then I rolled myself in my blankets.
" When I woke it was not yet light, but before I had actually opened my eyes, I knew I was alone. I called out but there was no reply. The cowards, satisfied that I would not turn back, had deserted me in the night; and when daylight came, I found they had taken the best part of the provisions. I cursed them till I was tired out, and swore with every oath that I would never give up till I had seen the mine, and that if I failed, the vultures were welcome to my carcass. Then I started again, hewing my way with a machete, that had luckily been left behind. I kept on all day, not even stopping to eat and had about decided to give it up until the following morning, when I suddenly came to a part of the slope that seemed a wide ledge of red sandstone. It was devoid of vegetation and the trail was sharply de-fined, being worn deep in the sandy formation. I determined to push on, relying on my mule to keep on the trail.
It was now so dark I could not see four feet ahead. My mule seemed nervous and several times stood stock-still. I got off repeatedly and groped about in the darkness, to make sure I was still on the trail. I had just gotten into the saddle and ridden perhaps five rods further, when she came to a sudden standstill, snorted and began to tremble. I urged her forward but she reared and tried to bolt up the mountain. I turned her about and forced her on a few steps, when she stopped again and showed every sign of extreme terror. Dismounting I took a step forward, retaining my hold on her neck and it was well I did, for I found myself stepping into space, and only saved myself by hanging on to the mule. I had used my last match and there was nothing to do but stay my hunger as best I could and wait for daylight. It was evident that I had reached some sort of a jumping-off place; how much of a one I should know in the morning.
When I awoke the sun was high. I had slept from sheer exhaustion, but I was provoked at finding it broad daylight. It was fortunate for me that it was though, for as I sprang up and started forward, I saw that I was near the edge of a precipice; and the thought of my close shave made me feel hot and cold by turns. I crept nearer and saw that the trail ran to the very edge of the cliff, which had the appearance of a mountain that had been sliced off like a loaf of bread. Crawling to the edge, I looked over and saw a perpendicular descent of thousands of feet, which, instead of sloping outward at the base, receded; and at either side, as far as I could see, was the same precipitous wall. The bottom of the canon was four thousand feet below. As I scanned it hurriedly, a shining line of silver caught my eye — a river of course—and there, close beside it, was a clump of bright green foliage, with patches of white that could be nothing less than the walls of the hacienda. Yes there was ` El Naranjal,' I could have sworn it: yet no desert mirage was ever more inaccessible. On every hand towered those forbidding cliffs. My provisions were exhausted. My mule was ready to drop in her tracks. I knew that unless I turned back and made the rancho, I should starve to death; on looking up I saw the vultures still sailing overhead. I sat for hours, gazing at that patch of green, till I could almost see the outlines of the buildings. Once I thought I heard the chime of a bell. At last, aroused by the burning sun, I took one last look and started sadly up the mountain, dragging my mule after me. Even then I was not satisfied to go, but turned again and again, till I could no longer see the bottom of the canon.
" Before night, my mule lay down and refused to stir. I took off the saddle and left her. After that I lost sight of the vultures. Weary as I was, the ascent was much quicker than going the other way and after three days of terrible suffering, I reached the rancho, only to find it deserted. I managed to get into the house where I found a little corn. That night I chewed corn and drank water. The next day I made tortillas and then set out for Durango. Falling in with some freighters, I gladly traveled with them, and part of the way had a mule to ride. When I reached the city, I wrote a full account of my experience to my employers. I had some doubt as to whether they would believe me, and while waiting for an answer, my old enemy got the best of me and I went on a spree. It ended in an attack of fever and when I came to my senses two letters were handed me. The first one requested me to come at once; the second said they had heard of my goings on and that they washed their hands of me. I told my story again and again, but no one took any stock in it and so for the second time, I was obliged to give the thing up. I shall have one more try at it though: I am waiting for a man now who has promised me an outfit, and you may be sure there will be plenty of rope to get down over those cliffs with. I'm going to find `El Naranjal' or die trying. Who knows ! You may see me on Easy Street yet!"
This is the story of the man who says he has seen "El Naranjal." Will he yet reach it and "Easy Street "? Who knows? Meantime the ancient hacienda sleeps peacefully among the orange trees, and the golden nuggets, yellow as the shining fruit, lie hidden away in the dark chambers of the old mine.
Another lost mine, of intense interest to us, was right in the Huahuapan district. Its name was " La Providencia." It belonged to Don Modesto, the grandee of the pueblo, who himself discovered it, when a boy. By agreement with his heirs, if uncovered by our peones, it belonged to us and we should be—never mind — here is the story.
When Don Modesto found " La Providencia " he was not even looking for it. He was searching for stray burros and found a mine instead. Years afterwards, when he did look for it, he couldn't find it; and he spent the rest of his life in the search. He died, a tremulous, white-haired old man; but he had never for an instant abandoned the hope of finding "La Providencia" again; and he willed the mine together with all his other belongings to his youngest son Juan, who wore white cotton clothes and sandals, did n't know his own name when he saw it written, and was called tonto (foolish) by the rest of the family.
Juan liked the little rancho with its cows and pigs well enough; but when it came to the mine, he never even gave it a second thought. His experience in mining consisted in carrying out rocks in a heavy sack, like any beast of burden; and he was glad enough to have it over with. His brothers and sisters, all except Tonia, who like himself was not over-bright, had married and left the old house years before. They envied Juan the rancho, and the cows and pigs, but not the mine. Nevertheless, Juan was and is the ostensible owner of " La Providencia," one of the richest mines of its size the country has ever known, which was found by his father Don Modesto, then a boy, and lost by his grandfather Don Domingo.
To begin at the beginning, when Don Modesto was a boy, he lived in this pueblo. In addition to his father's house, there were perhaps some twenty others; the people were all so poor, they lived on corn and beans, and sometimes there was not enough of those.
When corn and beans were plenty, the men would put a few sacks on their burros and take them off over the mountains, to trade for luxuries such as salt, sugar and chocolate. These trips were of rare occurrence and the pueblo was practically unknown, until one day all this was changed by Don Modesto. His father, Don Domingo, sent him in search of some stray burros and he spent the day climbing about among the rocks. As he was trotting along with guarache shod feet, he stubbed his toe on a rock and while pretty well hardened to stubbing, this time it hurt; in boyish wrath he picked up the rock and started to throw it over the cliff. But it was a pretty rock, all blue and green, with thin, white scales on it, that glistened like the cobwebs on the grass, when the sun touches them. And there were little bright yellow specks, the color of the candlesticks in the church. He concluded to keep it and as he saw no' signs of the burros he went home, expecting at least a scolding, and to be started on a further search before daybreak.
When Don Domingo saw the rock in the boy's hand, he forgot all about burros. Don Domingo had once worked in a mine and he knew good metal when he saw it. The white scales, that looked like cobwebs, were native silver; and the yellow specks tiny particles of gold.
Sure enough, the boy had to start before daybreak the next morning; but Don Domingo went with him and told him to go straight to the place where he had stubbed his toe. Luckily for him he remembered and led Don Domingo there just as the sun rose. There was plenty more rock like the first and that was the beginning of " La Providencia." Don Domingo named the mine. He was a good Catholic and Providence had seen fit, in the midst of his poverty, to send him untold riches. He was a generous man and everyone's friend. Nearly every other man in the village was his cornpadre, and those who were not compadres were relatives, He gave each one a labor in the new mine, which meant the privilege to take out all the metal he could. Many of the compadres started tunnels of their own, lower down the ledge, and the side of the mountain looked like a great beehive with the workers toiling in and out, some-times laden with waste but oftener with rich metal. Rude earthen furnaces were constructed in the village and the men melted the ore and carried the big chunks of silver over the mountains to the cities, returning with food and clothing, and with their saddle bags filled with big silver dollars. Of course the metal brought more than the ordinary price of silver, as it carried gold: the compadres never knew just how much gold, nor did they care. A hundred and odd big, silver dollars were good enough, for a few hours' work at the mine and fourteen days' ride in the mountains. One did n't have to work very hard or very often at that rate; for where was the use in filling all the jars in the house with silver dollars?
The women began to wear silks and satins and huge gold earrings, and the men had silver buttons on their trousers. Aside from this and a decided affluence in way of corn, beans and cigarros, there was slight change in the life of the pueblo. The men worked a little at their labores, and ate and smoked and slept a great deal. As for the mine, that of course would last forever. The only one who made any extra effort to get the big, silver dollars, was Don Domingo. I suspect that Don Domingo had good blood in him. Everything he did goes to show it. He kept his peones at work in the mine even when there was plenty of corn and beans; and when every jar was filled with dollars, he had a great box made, of rawhide, with figures of animals and birds worked on the cover. The box was filled too, and the people will tell you to this day how any of Don Domingo's friends were at liberty to help themselves. The box still stands in the old house of Don Modesto, but there are no dollars in it now: only beans, and they often get so low you can see the bottom.
Don Domingo kept getting out more metal and bringing home more silver dollars. He sent Don Modesto away to school and gave him all the money he could spend. He built himself a bigger house with a paved court and a heavy door to close at night such as he had seen in the cities. He built a high wall about the church and another around the graveyard; and had a big, stone tomb made, which was destined to receive his own remains. All this cost money and besides his relatives came from far and near to visit him: and while they all came very poor, they never went away without a goodly supply of dollars. So although the rawhide box was kept filled, Don Domingo never found it necessary to make another. Gradually the fame of the mine went abroad, and people came flocking into the pueblo, though not in the way that Northern people flock to a mining region. Perhaps drifting is a better word. All who were not compadres of Don Domingo's, were compadres of his compadres; and all got labores in " La Providencia."
Don Modesto, meantime, remained away at college, where he learned a little and squandered a great deal. Don Domingo kept his peones at work in the mine and tried to incite his compadres to follow his example; but they grew lazier and lazier day by day, and finally, striking a body of ore that was not quite so rich as formerly, began taking out the pillars that were rich, but that should have been left to support the roofs of their tunnels. When Don Domingo learned this, he was furious and threatened to drive them from their labores. They promised him not to take out another pillar, but the damage was already done.
There are two rainy seasons in Mexico; one during the summer months, when it pours for a brief space daily and is followed by sunshine and budding flowers and a brighter green on grass and tree. The other falls in the winter, anywhere from December to March or even April. In the mountains the clouds hang low for days, threatening, lowering and then suddenly, without warning, the storm breaks and sweeps everything before it. What was but now a tiny stream becomes a raging tor-rent. Waterfalls spring into existence where they have never been before. Trees are torn up by the roots and huge boulders are swept along. These are the storms that change the courses of rivers in a night, hollow out still deeper the canons and frequently alter the entire appearance of the country. Such a storm struck the pueblo one dark December morning. The men were all safe in their houses. They had been expecting it and had not gone to their labores for days. More water fell than they had ever seen before. The little river flooded its banks and threatened to carry away the pueblo. Few of the houses were waterproof. When one has plenty of corn and beans and money to buy more, what does it matter if the roof lacks a shingle or two?
The storm raged for two days and two nights and then ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The third morning dawned, soft and mild as a northern June, and Don Domingo, who was tired of staying in his house, even though it was a good one, ordered his mule saddled and set out for the mine, followed by his peones. A number of the compadres, who had eaten more than usual during their enforced stay indoors and discovered that their supply of dollars was getting lower, decided to return to their work as well. They accordingly sauntered leisurely up the mountain, with Don Domingo in the lead. He rather. lorded it over the others, and always wore a big hat with lots of silver on it, pantalones with silver buttons, and shoes. I have heard Don Modesto describe him as he rode on his mule at the head of the procession, going back to take more wealth from " La Providencia."
As Don Domingo was in the lead, he was the first to see that something was wrong. He was a bit in advance of the others, and he thought the ground looked strange. Suddenly he came to the top of a little rise and stopped his mule in dismay. Before him was an unfamiliar country. Trees were twisted and torn up bodily; there were great rocks that he did not know and at his feet tumbled a noisy mountain stream. For a moment he thought he was dreaming. He gazed wildly about him, and then turning his mule, went flying back towards the amazed compadres screaming, " It is lost ! The mine is lost!" They stared at him in bewilderment and then at the strange scene before them. The only familiar landmarks were the distant mountains. All the rest was changed. The trail, the labores, every vestige of the mine had disappeared.
The first that Don Modesto knew of the catastrophe was when he was summoned home from school. He knew something was wrong the moment he entered the pueblo. All the men looked crestfallen except Don Domingo. He, as I have said, had good blood in him, and he was determined to find the mine. He had a superstitious feeling, that as Don Modesto had first discovered it, he could find it again; but although they went together, that day and many more, they could form no definite idea as to what had happened. The fact was a portion of the mountain had been washed away and the tunnels, lacking pillars which were taken out by the lazy compadres, had all caved and been covered up.
Meantime the compadres sat idly bemoaning their lot. They had few dollars left and no heart to look for the lost labores. Don Domingo besought them to aid in the search and a few of them did, at least while his dollars held out: but now there was no rich metal to bring in more, and before long, not only the big box but the jars were empty. Then the compadres fell off and went to planting corn and` beans again and some went to other pueblos; only Don Domingo kept bravely digging away on the mountain and Don Modesto helped him. There was still a little rancho that produced more corn than the family required; and year after year, every cent that it brought went into those holes in the mountain.
At last Don Domingo, now grown very old, took to his bed. He was always talking of going back to work and discussed it eagerly with Don Modesto, every night when the latter returned. His last words, before he died, were a parting injunction as to the direction of the tunnel. So they carried him to the tomb that he had built and paid for, in the days when the chest was full. To Don Modesto, he left his indomitable spirit, his rancho and —" La Providencia "; and Don Modesto went on with the search. Year after year he grew poorer and poorer, as the crops failed or were eaten by insects, and he was forced to sell a pig or another cow. He married and the children came thick and fast. The girls grew up and learned to help the mother, Felipa, carrying water and grinding corn. The boys, just as soon as they were strong enough to hold a drill or carry ore, were sent to work in the tunnel.
Don Modesto grew old and gray as his father had done before him; always quiet and dignified, respected by all the people, never forgetting that his father had been the first man of the pueblo, never doubting that eventually he should come into his own. One by one the sons wearied and deserted him, going to live in other parts; all except his favorite, Canuto, and Juan, the youngest, who was only fit to be peon. The daughters, too, married and went away, till only Tonia remained to help old Felipa. Those were dark days for Don Modesto. The mother and daughter went barefooted like the poorest women in the village. Don Modesto still wore shoes, though no one knew how he managed it. Perhaps he realized that if he once stooped to sandals, the dignity of the family was gone forever.
By this time there were but two at work in the tunnel which had become a labyrinth, crossing and recrossing, up and down, and always waste, nothing but waste. Canuto and Juan worked together, first with the drill and then with the suron. Don Modesto rode the little old mule, that had been Don Domingo's, up the mountain every morning, flushed with hope; and back again at night sad, disappointed, but never actually discouraged. As for Felipa, she shared his conviction that the mine would yet be found.
When it came time to harvest the corn and beans, Juan was sent to the rancho; and Canuto, who could not work alone in the tunnel, posted off to some mining camp, and earned more money, to go on with the hunt for " La Providencia." It was this that brought the final desgracia and broke Don Modesto's heart and spirit at the same time. Canuto, though a good boy, was a bit wild and fond of mescal. He was also a stout friend. One day, his companion at a fiesta was arrested. Both had been drinking and he flew to his assistance. There was a fight and Canuto was shot to death.
Don Modesto never recovered from the blow. Neither did Felipa, but when the first shock was over, she settled again into the old routine and wanted Don Modesto to go back to his tunnel. He, poor man, seemed to have lost all heart. He would sit for hours with his head bowed between his hands, or pace nervously up and down the patio, without speaking to a soul. Felipa said several times in his hearing, that it worried her to have a man about the place all the time, but he did n't seem to notice. Juan also took to loafing around home, only going to the rancho occasionally to look at the corn and beans.
Months passed and Don Modesto remained the same. When at last the change came, no one knew how to account for it. One morning he got up before it was light and put on working clothes and sandals just like a peon. Felipa was frightened but she, wily old thing, pretended to take it as a matter of course and flew about with Tonia making an extra batch of tortillas. Don Modesto called Juan, told him to get the drills and the rest of the mining tools and together they started up the mountain. Don Modesto was walking. To be sure he only carried one drill, while Juan was loaded like a pack animal; but the mere fact of his carrying anything and dressing like a peon set the whole town agog; and the people shook their heads and predicted no good would come of it.
When they returned, late that night, Don Modesto's eyes shone. With trembling hands he produced some pieces of rock and showed them to Felipa. They were not much to look at but her practised eye detected silver. Yes, he had struck a vein and it was rich metal. He was sure he had found it at last. Ah, that Canuto were alive now ! and then old Felipa began to cry and wail " Adios — Adios!" just as she had when their boy was killed.
She soon stopped crying and began getting supper, and before the meal was over all were quite cheerful. The next day they went again to the tunnel, and the next; and then a burro was driven up and came back at night, loaded with ore. The pueblo was wild with excitement. Felipa was jubilant and as the other women had swarmed into the patio, she began ordering them about, setting this one to carrying water and this one to grinding corn. Meantime she crouched in the court and smoked one cigarro after another. Her face was partly muffled in her black shawl, but her old eyes had an exultant gleam. Was not " La Providencia " found?
Don Modesto told Juan to start the fire in the furnace and he himself prepared to run the metal. All night they worked at the furnace. Tonia, who but half comprehended what had happened, lay down on her mat and slept; but Felipa crouched all night in the court, where she could see the flames, and smoked. A drizzling rain fell and Don Modesto was drenched to the skin but he hardly knew it. When morning came he had nearly fifty ounces of silver. He was shaking all over when he went to show it to Felipa, partly from excitement, but more from cold and exhaustion. Felipa was as excited as he was. She told him to lie down, while she went to get the breakfast. When she came back, she found him hot with fever, tossing and muttering about " La Providencia " and his dead boy Canuto. Felipa sent Juan to the mine for more metal and she and Tonia set about doctoring Don Modesto, who grew steadily worse. When Juan came home at night, she told him to saddle the little mule and go at once to call the other children; to tell them "La Providencia" was found and that Don Modesto was very ill.
They came fast enough, and inquired for their father and the mine in the same breath. Was he very ill — was the mine really found? Yes, he was very ill,—dying in fact, and perhaps it was just as well. The mine was not found at all. It was only a little kilo (thread) Don Modesto had run into, and there was no more of it. The compadres had worked the second burro-load in the furnace but it gave little or nothing.
Then they went to the tunnel and looked for themselves.
This point settled, there was nothing left to do but watch Don Modesto die. A hurried search was made for a will and not finding one, the brothers and sisters got a man who could write, to set down all his possessions on paper, in case he revived sufficiently to signify who was to have them. By this time it was dark and they gathered at the bedside. Candles were lighted and a woman began rapidly saying the prayers for the dying. Felipa crouched motionless at the foot of the bed, her head muffled in her black shawl. Tonia was in a corner, sobbing aloud, and Juan knelt by his father, his poor, simple face streaming with tears. Suddenly an old crone set up the death-wail. As her voice shrilled it was taken up by the others. The woman prayed louder and faster and the oldest son sprang on the bed and began winding Don Modesto's left hand and arm with long strips of coarse white cloth. He had finished the left arm and was well along with the right, when Don Modesto opened his eyes. He knew his hour had come. He heard the death-wail, saw the winding sheet, and still the brave old spirit asserted itself. He struggled to raise his head and Juan got on the bed back of him and lifted him up. Then some one brought the paper and held it close to his eyes. He scanned it closely and they knew from his look he understood; but when he came to the end he frowned and tried in vain to speak. Then Felipa bent over and whispered, " La Providencia?" He nodded and they remembered they had not even put the mine in the will. So the man who could write added " La Mina Providencia " and then they asked him how he wanted the things divided. This time they clearly heard him say " Juan." Was Juan to have everything they asked in dismay and he nodded again. The others were furious but could do nothing; so the scribe wrote " to my son Juan " and held out the pen to Don Modesto, who looked fretfully at his right hand, which was partially wrapped in the grave clothes. They had to unwind them and the pen was placed in his nerveless fingers. For a moment it looked as though he could not sign; then slowly, feebly he began to make the elaborate scroll, that he always put under his name and that should have come last. They thought his strength would fail; but when the scroll was completed, with every dash and flourish that belonged to it, he traced his name above it in tremulous characters and fell back exhausted against Juan's knee. The oldest son began rapidly winding his right hand again, and this time Don Modesto did not open his eyes.
The fifty ounces of silver paid for a burial befitting Don Modesto's station; and Felipa bought yards and yards of black calico, with which the compadres festooned the front of the house. Don Modesto lay in state for three days. He looked very peaceful with his silvery hair and beard and a decent suit of black, which the women declared Felipa had kept hidden away ever since their wedding. On the fourth day, there were prayers in the little church, and he was borne up the mountain, for the last time, on the shoulders of his compadres. The women and children followed, wailing and tossing their arms wildly above their heads. A tomb had been built of stone, just like Don Domingo's, and there Don Modesto sleeps by his father's side.
Felipa mourned for a time and then, with Indian resignation, took up her old life; and Juan, who was glad enough to get through carrying ore, went back to his corn and beans. On rare occasions, such as his dia Santo or some special fiesta, he puts on the trousers with the silver buttons, that were Don Modesto's, and the big hat. Juan cannot endure shoes, and bare, brown feet make rather a queer tapering off to so much splendor; but they don't show much as he lolls within the door, smoking his cigarro. Then the people, remembering the past greatness of the family, tip their hats lazily, salute him as "Don Juan" and tell again the story of the wonderful mine, that once made the pueblo rich; the long-lost " La Providencia."