As the runaway carriage accelerated backward toward the hard rock bottom
of the mountain, JD, Nathan, Chris, and Ezra charged after it on their horses,
trying to figure out what the hell they were actually going to do to stop
it from crashing into pieces.
Then Chris had a brainstorm.
"Get inside!" he shouted at the duo on the rig. "We're gonna shoot the wheels
"Shoot?!" exclaimed Maude and Thornton in unison, in shock. But before they
could protest, they saw their four rescuers draw their guns. The shaken and
stirred carriage passengers then fell backwards into the vehicle and held
on as best they could as the carriage bumped and jumped.
"Aim at the nearest wheels!" Chris ordered as the rig hit a bump which sent
it airborne for a second before it crashed heavily down and continued toward
the sharp rocks.
The men all fired shots at the two wheels nearest to them; JD and Chris took
the one on the left and Nathan and Ezra took the one on the right. The left
wheel popped off, then almost immediately after, the right. The near end
of the carriage, now wheel-less, came crashing down, dragging on the
mountainside, sending the occupants sliding. But now the incline of the mountain
saved them from rolling out of the rig, and the vehicle slowed to a scraping
12 feet short of the jutting rocks.
The four horsemen slowed to a stop when they reached the carriage, though
their hearts still pounded heartily.
Maude and Thornton emerged from inside the carriage on shaky hands and knees
and looked up to see Nathan bending down to them. "Are you two all right?"
asked the healer.
"Yes, except for a few bumps and bruises," answered Thornton. Maude nodded
silently and shakily. Both Thornton and Nathan helped her to her feet and
walked her to a rock to rest on. As they all caught their breaths, Ezra looked
up the incline and saw a coyote in the distance. It appeared to be staring
Vin and Josiah sat with Jim Dogface and his family in a clearing, sharing
food rations that the tracker had brought.
"Why are you helping us?" Dogface asked, genuinely puzzled.
"We couldn't let them keep kidnapping and killing innocent people just to
get a treasure that don't rightly belong to them," answered Vin.
"So, you know about the treasure -- and about them."
"And their attacks on other treasure hunters."
"They want to take away that piece of our history. They all do," Dogface
replied with disgust. "And for what? Does the white man think it's more valuable
to them than it is to us?"
"To tell ya the truth, I don't think they gave any thought to you and your
people at all," Vin said frankly.
There was a pause where no one ventured any more words but continued at their
food. Then Josiah enunciated, "Jim Dogface. You left this back at your village."
He held out the beads that the chief had given him.
But Dogface did not hold out his hand to reclaim them. "What would I want
with that?" He looked down, then to his wife and child by his side. "When
I heard that white men were coming to pillage our land,... I felt betrayed.
I thought your ways were better than ours. I tried to be like you. But then...
those people came and took my family. That's when I realized I could... never
be like you no matter what." He looked down, disgusted at his own past
Josiah shook his head. "I don't see a reason why you'd want to be. Looks
like you've got enough with your wife, son, and your tribe."
Dogface looked up at the preacher. "You must have talked to Chakotay to get
that," he said, indicating the rosary that Josiah still held. "Did they...
think I left the tribe?"
Josiah and Vin exchanged glances, sensing an uncertainty in his voice,
uncharacteristic of a rebellious trouble-maker, which he was purported to
be. Then Vin said, "I don't think they know what to think."
"But they want you back," Josiah added with a reassuring smile.
"Good." Dogface smiled. "You white people are too complicated... and too
ignorant. All those crazy tricks, trying to look like Ute spirits... and
some people actually fell for it," he chuckled.
"Hey, we're not all like that," objected Vin good-naturedly. "That flying
log trick doesn't keep with the legend," he chuckled.
Dogface stopped. His wife spoke. "They only used that last night. How do
you know about that?"
Vin and Josiah tripped over the silence for a moment as they thought about
what the family might conclude. "We have some friends--" began Vin.
"Friends who are going after the gold?" Dogface said, the anger rising in
his voice. "You talk about how the gold is not rightly theirs, and you associate
yourselves with others who think it's theirs!"
"Now, we never--" Vin began again, but was again interrupted.
Josiah explained with both hands up in a surrendering posture, "We never
said we agree with what they're doing. In fact, I believe that gold is staying
here in the mountains. And I'm going to try to stop them. I just don't want
anyone getting killed."
Dogface scrutinized the men through narrowed eyes, then looked to his wife,
who looked reluctant to believe them.
"It's your choice what you believe about us," Josiah said. "We've already
done our part. But now, we gotta find our friends. They're still in danger."
He nodded to the Natives, then to Vin. The tracker then nodded to the Natives
and the two gun men began to get up from their seated positions when Dogface
"Wait," he said. Then he turned to his wife and said, "Take the little one
"What? Where are you going?" she asked with consternation.
"I know where the murderers are going."
"So do I, but I'm leaving them alone." She looked at all the men's faces,
then back to her husband's. "What are you going to do when you find them?"
She raised a warning finger to his face while keeping a protective arm draped
over her child's shoulder. "If you kill them, you become them! Oh, I forgot.
That's what you always wanted."
"I won't kill them." He fidgeted on what exactly he was going to do. He was
still angry at their kidnappers for what they had put him and his family
through, but he knew he had to restrain the urge to inflict excruciating
pain upon them. He also wanted to keep an eye on Vin and Josiah to ensure
they were telling the truth about not wanting the gold for themselves. And
if they were, he could help them. All roads led to the same decision. "I'll
go with them, but I'll behave." He smiled.
His wife looked skeptical, then resigned herself to the fact that this was
just one of those things he had to do, as usual. So she smiled and nodded.
"Come," she commanded their son, and they turned and headed for the horses
which were abandoned by the "ghost" expedition. Since the latter wouldn't
be needing them anymore, they decided to put them to good use.
Dogface turned back to Vin and Josiah as they walked to their horses. "Your
friends are looking for our buried treasure? You should choose your friends
"Afraid that's not how this worked," replied Vin with a smirk.
After a rest, the Thornton Jacobs expedition had now left their horses on
the plateau on the mountain, and, taking only water and necessary supplies,
made the rest of the way up on foot. There had been some discussion on whether
Buck's injuries would preclude him from the rest of the journey, but stubborn
ol' Buck would not be left out. The climb was steep, but not vertical, so
they needed to use their hands to grab onto what they could to keep themselves
from sliding back down and meeting a fate similar to the carriage, which
just could not be salvaged.
Maude was excited. Ezra was numb. Her instinct told her the treasure was
real and that they were getting close. His instinct told him nothing even
though a piece of what may be part of the treasure was in his pocket.
She pointed up ahead. "The formation of trees should be right up there."
The leaders of the pack, Chris and Nathan, reached the next plateau first
and helped some of the others climb up to join them. This plateau was the
apex of this corner of the mountain, with the rest of the giant mound stretching
skyward on one side. When Avery was solidly on the level, he looked around
and spotted a rock under the shade of a tree. He made a bee line for it and
sat to take a well-earned rest. As he stretched his arms, he suddenly heard
a hissing, then a rattling coming from his feet. He slowly turned his head
and caught a glimpse of a rattlesnake slithering around the rock at his ankles.
He shivered and froze at the same time.
But Nathan heard the snake, too. "Don't move!" he shouted from near the edge
of the plateau and sent a knife zipping through the air and into the snake
with a THUD. The snake writhed in pain from the blade that caught it just
behind its head and stuck it to the ground.
Nathan strode toward Avery as the latter tucked his feet up, then stood.
The knife-thrower asked, "Are you all right?"
"That was close! Do you ever miss?" gasped the reporter.
"Not recently," Nathan replied as he pulled the knife from the snake, which
first rose with the blade, then slumped into the grass. He held his weapon
of choice and said with a gleam, "Always be prepared." And he flipped it
and caught it again.
"Well, Mr. Jackson," said Maude, "you wouldn't happen to have a bridge with
you, would you?" She was looking in the other direction toward the tree formation
where she predicted the gold to be. It turned out that the trees were on
a sort of island surrounded by a watery moat, wide enough and seemingly deep
enough to deter visitors.
"No, ma'am," Nathan answered as he approached her side for a closer look
at the treasure island, "I musta left it back in town."
"That's too bad."
"Boy, those Indians thought of everything," Casey said as everyone stood
in one long row and stared across the water, figuratively scratching their
Vin looked across the mountain through his spy glass. From their vantage
point on the mountain, he could see their friends. "There's our boys," he
said, "but they seem to be one man short. Thought Jacobs had three people
"Hopefully he's just hidin' somewhere," Josiah said.
"Do you see those murderers?" asked Dogface, also searching the mountainside.
"No." But they kept looking.
The Jacobs expedition had gotten to rest for a few minutes as they brainstormed
yet again. Casey and Jimmy were skipping rocks across the moat. JD walked
up behind them and took her by the arm. "Come on, don't do that," he ordered
and yanked her away. She went with him but not without protest. Jimmy followed.
Sitting on a scarf-covered rock near the water, Maude shook her head at the
Ezra was also standing by the moat, fiddling with a long blade of dry weed
he plucked from the mountainside. He flung it into the water, causing ripples
to form where it landed and floated. Then the ripples grew larger and larger,
and small rocks and pebbles tumbled down at them from further up the mountain.
The ground beneath them began to shake. Thunder followed the pebbles from
the mountain top, turning all heads forebodingly in that direction. A giant
boulder emerged, rolling and bouncing straight for them.
Everyone scattered to get out of the boulder's path, but it seemed to gravitate
toward Ezra and Maude, who found themselves half-sliding-half-running back
down the slope, which seemed to be a path cut just for that purpose.
Unfortunately, the boulder also liked the simplest way down and followed
them. Ezra was able to grab hold of her hand and steady her skid. Then together,
they skidded down the path of loose gravel, dirt, and rocks with the boulder
almost right on top of them, until they took a tumble into a hole in the
mountain. Ezra quickly stuffed her in and ducked in himself before the boulder
came crashing down on it...
And stopped.... Right on top of the hole.
Thornton, who had also found his way half-way down to the hole, except not
in the direct path of the boulder, witnessed the impossible event. Chris
and Nathan slid down to join him.
"Where'd they go?" Nathan asked.
"They took refuge in a small cave and were sealed in by the boulder," reported
Thornton, picking up Maude's hat, which had flown off when she was shoved
into the hole.
The three men made their way to the boulder while the remainder of the team
watched from above. Chris and Nathan tried to budge the over-sized rock with
their hands and the full weight of their bodies. But the boulder would not
budge. Chris slapped his hand on the boulder, then crouched down to the covered
hole. "Ezra! Mrs. Standish!" he shouted, but there was no response.
Meanwhile, inside the blackness of the mountain hole, Ezra and his mother
were catching their breaths. "Ezra?" Maude said between quick breaths. He
didn't respond but she could hear his breathing as well as something that
sounded like the shuffling of wood or cardboard.
Then there was a sharp scraping sound, and then there was light. Ezra was
holding a lit match in his fingers. "As Mr. Jackson said, it never hurts
to be prepared."
"I thought our relationship was becomin' rocky, but this is ludicrous," snapped
Maude as she took a gander at their tight, rocky enclosure.
"Ohhh, mother, in case you're keeping track, that's three you owe me," Ezra
pointed out with smugly lowered eyelids.
"Although, I suppose if I were Thornton instead, you would be taking advantage
of your privacy in this deep, dark tunnel," he mused as he looked around.
His mother scolded, "Ezra, you know full well that I'm just using him --
did you say 'tunnel'?"
"Oh, so you are listening to me." He nodded and motioned his match
in the direction of the tunnel. "It goes up that a-way. I suggest we determine
where this leads."
"And risk further injury and becoming lost?" She hesitated at that thought.
"If there is no other portal of escape besides this one we are sitting under,
this match will burn up all of our available oxygen before our friends above
can extricate us," he said frankly.
With a controlled amount of fear, she rolled her eyes toward him. "Gambling
with our lives, are we?"
"Look, mother, you are perfectly welcome to remain here and await emancipation
alone in this... dark recess, but I am venturing up there." Then they heard
a soft thumping coming from the boulder.
Outside, in the sunlight, Thornton was thumping on the boulder with his open
palm and shouting, "We're going to save you! Don't worry!"
But inside the tunnel, they could not hear the words. They thumped on the
boulder in return and Ezra shouted, "We're going to find another egress!"
But outside, they could not hear his words either -- only the thumping. Happy
to hear it, Thornton turned to the others and announced, "They're alive!
They heard us!"
"Good. Now we gotta figure on how to get 'em out," said Chris.
Meanwhile, Ezra and Maude were already crawling their way back up the mountain
inside the tunnel. In silence, except for the breathing. The tunnel was cramped
and the dirt and rocks were stinging, but for Ezra, the most uncomfortable
aspect of this situation was the close proximity to his mother, who crawled
along behind him. Ever since their conflagrant fight at the stream this morning,
he had been avoiding her as best he could. He didn't want another fight,
but couldn't think of anything to say that was not mean-spirited. So he kept
his eyes forward.
She also kept quiet with slight discomfort from being trapped alone with
him. She was confused. On one hand, she was angry at him for doing so well
in his assignment; this was her con and her golden opportunity;
not his. She had begun to question why she even brought him along. But on
the other hand, she was also glad he was here. However, she couldn't explain
it to herself -- or to Ezra, but she felt no need to explain herself to him.
So she kept quiet.
After several spent matches and what seemed like an eternity to them, they
finally saw some light streaming in up ahead. They also noticed that the
ground all around them in the tunnel was moist.
Meanwhile, outside the tunnel entrance, Chris, Nathan, and Thornton hurriedly
shoveled dirt out from below the boulder, trying to move it or at least create
an opening large enough for their friends to escape. As the men worked, the
others stood on the plateau above, watching their progress. Their backs were
all turned to the island, and they were therefore oblivious to the events
Ezra popped his head out of the hole and looked around. He saw the patches
of green and masses of brown of the ground and a circle of trees around him.
As he climbed out of the hole, he saw the water and their friends' backs,
and his heart began to beat just a little faster. As he helped Maude out
of the hole, the reality of their location sunk in and he began to chuckle.
Then the chuckle became a healthy laugh as he stood up and spun around, soaking
in the environment.
Everyone on the plateau was startled into turning around, and startled
immediately again when they saw Ezra and Maude on the island waving at them.
"Wh-how... did...?" Buck questioned as he pointed to them and down the mountain.
"We eschewed tragedy by venturing up the tunnel to this island!" Ezra explained
with uncontained glee.
Chris, Nathan, and Thornton stopped digging.
"That sounded like..." Nathan began. Then all heads turned and looked up
"Hey! They're up here!" yelled JD, waving his arms to get their attention.
The men holding shovels exchanged puzzled, surprised glances.
Everyone except Chris, Nathan, JD, and Buck were now on the island, thanks
to a successful effort to move the boulder, and anticipated the unearthing
of the artifact. Thornton, Avery, and Jimmy wielded the shovels that greedily
cast aside the dirt from a spot in the center of the tree formation on the
island, where the treasure would be thoroughly surrounded by nature, in
accordance with the third riddle.
After a while of digging through the dirt as well as any doubt they had of
the treasure's presence, they hit something. They froze with bated breath.
Then they continued digging, carefully, for they didn't want to damage the
A small, decorated wooden box slowly emerged from the dirt. Pulses raced
as Thornton brushed the dirt from it and raised it up to Maude, who took
it up with controlled awe. She took a few steps away from the pit and kneeled
over the box on the ground. She got ready to remove the small stick that
held the box shut and looked up at everyone else who kneeled around it with
Smiling at Thornton, Maude paused and said, "Thornton, this is your
expedition. Perhaps you should do the honors."
Ezra's expression of excitement dimmed slightly at the delay.
"No, no, we found it because of your skills. I insist. You," Thornton
said as he smiled and waved an inviting hand at the box.
Ezra's expression dimmed some more.
"How about we open it together?" she suggested sweetly.
Ezra soured. "Would somebody just please open it?" he implored impatiently
with his hands shaking at the box.
Choosing to ignore him, Maude and Thornton each laid a hand on the box. He
carefully slid the stick out so the box could be opened, then together, the
two opened the lid. Everyone stopped breathing when they leaned in for a
good look. Their eyes were like saucers and their faces like sheets when
"It's empty!" gasped Jimmy.