Part 3 out of 7
be three or four days, before he makes his appearance again; but it is
certain that, sooner or later, we shall hear of him. Hunters as they are,
they can follow a track where I should see nothing; and so crafty are
they, that they can traverse the country without leaving the slightest
sign of their passage. The forest might be full of them, and yet the
keenest white hunter would see no footprint or other mark that would
indicate their presence."
"What had we better do, Dias?"
"We shall probably come to another stream before nightfall, señor. This we
will follow up until we get to some ravine bare of trees. There we can
fight them; in the forest we should have no chance. They would lie in
ambush for us, climb into the trees and hide among the foliage, and the
first we should know of their presence would be a shower of arrows; and as
they are excellent marksmen, we should probably be all riddled at the
first volley. There can be no sauntering now, we must push the animals
forward at their best speed. I will lead the way. Do you, señor, bring up
the rear and urge the mules forward. I shall try and pick the ground where
the trees are thinnest, and the mules can then go at a trot. They cannot
do so here, for they would always be knocking their loads off."
It was evening before they arrived at a stream. Here they made a short
halt while they gave a double handful of grain to each of the animals,
then they pushed on again until it was too dark to go farther.
"Will it be safe to light a fire, Dias?"
"Yes, that will make no difference. They are not likely to attack us at
night. Savages seldom travel after dark, partly because they are afraid of
demons, partly because they would be liable to be pounced upon by wild
beasts. But I do not think there is any chance of their overtaking us
until tomorrow. The man José saw may have had companions close at hand,
but they will know that we are well armed, and will do nothing until they
have gathered a large number and feel sure that they can overpower us.
They will probably take up the track to-morrow at daylight; but we have
made a long march, and can calculate that we shall find some defensible
position before they overtake us. José and I will keep watch to-night."
"We will take turns with you, Dias."
"No, señor; my ears are accustomed to the sounds of the forests, yours are
not. If you were watching I should still have no sleep."
The night passed without an alarm.
An hour before daylight Dias gave all the animals a good feed of corn, and
as soon as it was light they again started. They were already some
distance up the mountain, and after eight hours' travelling they arrived
at a gorge that suited their purpose. For two hundred yards the rocks rose
perpendicularly on each side of the stream, which was but some thirty feet
wide. No rain had fallen for some days, and the water was shallow enough
at the foot of the cliff for the mules to make their way among the fallen
rocks, through which it rushed impetuously. At the upper end the cliffs
widened out into a basin some fifty yards across.
"We cannot do better than halt here," Dias said. "In two or three hours we
can form a strong breast-work on the rocks nearly out to the middle of the
stream, where the current is too swift for anyone to make his way up
"Are they likely to besiege us long, Dias?"
"That I cannot say; but I do not think they will give it up easily.
Savages learn to be patient when roaming the forest in search of game.
Their time is of no value to them; besides, they are sure to lose many if
they attack, and will therefore try to get their revenge."
"They may have to give it up from want of food."
Dias shook his head.
"There are sure to be plenty of fish in the river, and they will poison
some pool and get an abundance. With their bows and arrows they can bring
down monkeys from the trees, and can snare small animals. However, señor,
we can talk over these things to-morrow. We had best begin the breast-work
at once while Maria is cooking dinner, which we need badly enough, for we
have had nothing but the maize cakes we ate before starting."
Working hard till it was dark, they piled up rocks and stones till they
formed a breast-work four feet high on both sides. Some twelve feet in the
centre were open. They had chosen a spot where so many fallen rocks lay in
the stream that it needed comparatively little labour to fill up the gaps
"I thought wood-chopping bad enough," Bertie said as they threw themselves
down on the ground after completing their labour, "but it is a joke to
this. My back is fairly broken, my arms feel as if they were pulled out of
the sockets, my hands are cut, I have nearly squeezed two nails off."
"It has been hard work," Harry agreed; "still, we have made ourselves
fairly safe, and we will get the walls a couple of feet higher in the
morning. We shall only want to add to them on the lower face in order to
form a sort of parapet that will shelter us as we lie down to fire, so it
won't be anything like such hard work. Then we will fill in the rocks
behind with small stones and sand to lie down upon."
"They will never be able to fight their way up to it," Dias said.
"We need have no fear on that score. The question is, can they get down
into this valley behind us; the rocks look very steep and in most places
"They are steep, señor; but trees grow on them in many places, and these
savages are like monkeys. We shall have to examine them very carefully
when we have finished the wall. If we find that it is possible for anyone
to get down, we must go up the next gorge and see if we can find a better
"I suppose you think we are safe for to-night, Dias?'
"I don't think they will try to come up through the stream. They have keen
eyes, but it would be so dark down there that even a cat could not see.
They will guess that we have stopped here, and will certainly want to find
out our position before they attack. One or two may come up as scouts, and
in that case they may attack at daybreak. Of course two of us will keep
watch; we can change every three hours. I will take the first watch with
your brother, and you and José can take the next."
"José had better sleep," Maria put in; "he watched all last night. My eyes
are as good as his, and I will watch with Don Harry."
Harry would have protested, but Dias said quietly:
"That will be well, Maria, but you will have to keep your tongue quiet.
These savages have ears like those of wild animals, and if you were to
raise your voice you might get an arrow in the brain."
"I can be silent when I like, Dias."
"It is possible," Dias said dryly; "but I don't remember in all these
years we have been married that I have known you like to do so."
"I take that as a compliment," she said quietly, "for it shows at least
that I am never sulky. Well, Don Harry, do you accept me as a fellow
"Certainly I shall be very glad to have you with me; and I don't think
that you need be forbidden to talk in a low tone, for the roar of the
water among the rocks would prevent the sound of voices from being heard
two or three yards away."
Accordingly, as soon as it became dark Dias went to the wall with Bertie.
José, after a last look at the mules, wrapped himself in a blanket and lay
"I think I had better turn in to the tent," Harry said; "we have had two
days' hard work, and the building of that wall has pretty nearly finished
me, so if I don't get two or three hours' sleep to-night I am afraid I
shall not be a very useful sentinel."
Five minutes later he was sound asleep, and when his brother roused him he
could hardly believe that it was time for him to go on duty.
"Dias is waiting there. Will you come down?" the latter said. "You were
sleeping like a top; I had to pull at your leg three times before you
"I am coming," Harry said as he crawled out. "I feel more sleepy than when
I lay down, and will just run down to the stream and sluice my head, that
will wake me up in earnest, for the water is almost as cold as ice."
When he came back he was joined by Donna Maria, and, taking both his shot-
gun and rifle, he went forward with her to the barricade.
"So you have neither seen nor heard anything, Dias?"
"Nothing whatever, señor."
"I have had a good sleep, Dias; we will watch for the next four hours. It
is eleven o'clock now, so you will be able at three to take it on till
"I will send and call you again an hour before that," Dias said. "If they
attack, as I expect they will as soon as the dawn breaks, we had better
have our whole force ready to meet them."
So saying Dias went off.
"This is scarcely woman's work, Donna Maria."
"It is woman's work to help defend her life, señor, as long as she can. If
I found that the savages were beating us I should stab myself. They would
kill you, but they might carry me away with them, which would be a
thousand times worse than death."
"I don't think there is any fear of their beating us," Harry said;
"certainly not here. We ought properly to be one on each side, but really
I shirk the thought of wading through the river waist-deep at that shallow
place we found a hundred yards up; it would be bad enough to go through
it, worse still to lie for four hours in wet clothes."
"Besides, we could not talk then, señor," Maria said will a little laugh,
"and that would be very dull."
"Very dull. Even now we must only talk occasionally; we shall have to keep
our eyes and ears open."
"I don't think either of them will be much good," she »aid; "I can see the
white water but nothing else, and I am sure I could not hear a naked
footstep on the rocks."
"It is a good thing the water is white, because we can make out the rocks
that rise above the surface. When our eyes get quite accustomed to the
dark we should certainly be able to see any figures stepping upon them or
wading in the water."
"I could see that now, señor. I think it will be of advantage to talk, for
I am sure if I were to lie with my eyes straining, and thinking of nothing
else, they would soon begin to close."
Talking occasionally in low tones, but keeping up a vigilant watch, they
were altogether hidden from the view of anyone coming up the stream, for
they exposed only their eyes and the top of their heads above the rough
parapet. No attempt had been made to fill up the spaces between the
stones, so that, except for the rounded shape, it would be next to
impossible to make them out between the rough rocks of the crest. Harry
had laid his double-barrelled gun on the parapet in front of him. He had
loaded both barrels with buck-shot, feeling that in the darkness he was
far more likely to do execution with that weapon than with a rifle.
They had been some two hours on watch when Donna Maria touched his arm
significantly. He gazed earnestly but could see nothing. A minute later,
however, a rock about fifteen yards away seemed to change its shape.
Before, it had been pointed, but just on one side of the top there was now
"Do you see them?" Maria whispered. "I can make out one above the rocks;
the other is standing against the wall."
[Illustration: AN INDIAN SPIES THE EXPEDITION.]
There was no movement for two or three minutes, and Harry had no doubt
that they were examining the two black lines of stones between which the
water was rushing.
"There are two others on this side, señor," Maria whispered.
The pause was broken by the sharp tap of two arrows striking on the stones
a few inches below their heads.
"Well, you have begun it," Harry muttered.
He had already sighted his gun at the head half-hidden by the rock. He now
pulled the trigger, and then, turning, he fired the other barrel, aiming
along the side of the canon where the two men seen by his companion must
be standing. The head disappeared, and loud cries broke from the other
side. The stillness that had reigned in the valley was broken by a chorus
of shrieks and roars, and the air overhead thrilled with the sound of
innumerable wings. Harry on firing had laid down the fowling-piece and
snatched up his rifle.
"Do you see any others?"
"Two have run away; the one against the rocks on the other side was
wounded, for I saw him throw up his arms, and it was he who screamed. The
man by him dropped where he stood; the one behind the rock is killed, I
saw his body carried away in the white water."
Half a minute later Dias and Bertie came up.
"So they have come, señor?"
"Yes, there were four of them. Your wife saw them, though I could only
make out one. They shot two arrows at us, and I answered them. The man I
saw was killed, and Donna Maria said that one on the other side also fell,
and another was wounded."
"That was a good beginning," Dias said. "After such a lesson they will
attempt nothing more to-night, and I doubt whether they will come down in
the morning. They can get sight of the barricades from that bend a hundred
yards down, and I don't think they will dare come up when they see how
ready we are for them."
"Well, we will work out our watch anyhow, Dias. Now that I see how sharp
Donna Maria's eyes are I have not the least fear of being surprised."
"I will stop with you," Bertie said; "I shall have no chance of going off
to sleep again after being wakened up like that."
"If you are going to stop, Bertie, you had better go back and fetch a
blanket, it is chilly here; then if you like you can doze off again till
your watch comes."
"There is no fear of that, Harry. I have been eight-and-forty hours on
deck more than once. I will warrant myself not to go to sleep."
In spite of this, however, in less than ten minutes after his return
Bertie's regular breathing showed that he was sound asleep. Harry and
Maria continued their watch, but no longer with the same intentness as
before. They were sure that Dias would not have lain down unless he felt
perfectly certain that the Chincas would make no fresh move until the
morning, and they chatted gaily until, at two o'clock, Dias came up.
"Everything is quiet here, Dias. My brother is fast asleep, but I will
wake him now that you have come up."
"Do not do so, señor; he worked very hard building the walls today. If I
see anything suspicious I will rouse him. We may have work tomorrow, and
it is much better that he should sleep on."
"Thank you, Dias! the fatigue has told on him more than on us; his figure
is not set yet, and he feels it more."
He walked back to the tents with Maria.
"If you wake just as daylight breaks please rouse me," he said.
"I shall wake, señor; I generally get up at daybreak. That is the best
time for work down in the plain, and I generally contrive to get
everything done before breakfast at seven."
Harry slept soundly until he was called.
"The sky is just beginning to get light, señor."
He turned out at once. José was already feeding the mules.
"You had better come along with me, José, and bring that gun of yours with
you. If the savages do attack, it will be well to make a forcible
impression on them."
Greatly pleased with the permission, José took up the old musket he
carried and accompanied Harry.
"What have you got in that gun, José?"
"The charge of buck-shot that you gave me the other day, señor."
"All right! but don't fire unless they get close. The shot will not carry
far like a bullet; but if fired when they are close it is better than any
bullet, for you might hit half a dozen of them at once."
José had been allowed to practise at their halting-places, and though he
could not be called a good shot, he could shoot well enough to do good
execution at thirty or forty yards.
Bertie was still asleep.
"Everything quiet, Dias?"
"I have seen nothing moving since I came out."
"Now, Bertie," Harry said, stirring his brother up with his foot. "All
hands on deck!"
Bertie sat up and opened his eyes. "What is up now?" he said. "Ay, what,
is it you, Harry, and José too? I must have been asleep!"
"Been asleep! Why, you went off in the middle of my watch, and Dias has
been on the look-out for over three hours."
"Oh, confound it! You don't mean to say that I have slept for over five
hours? Why didn't you wake me, Dias?" he asked angrily.
"Two eyes were quite enough to keep watch," Dias said. "I should have
waked you if I had seen anything of the savages. Besides, Don Harry said
you might as well go on sleeping if nothing happened, and I thought so
"I feel beastly ashamed of myself," Bertie said. "I don't want to be
treated like a child, Harry."
"No, Bertie, and I should not think of treating you so; but you had had
very hard work, and were completely knocked up, which was not wonderful;
and you may want all your strength to-day. Besides, you know, you would
have been of no use had you been awake, for you could have seen nothing.
Donna Maria's eyes were a good deal sharper than mine, and I am quite sure
that, tired as you were, Dias would have seen them coming long before you
would. We had better lie down again, for it will be light enough soon for
them to make us out. How far do their arrows fly, Dias?"
"They can shoot very straight up to forty or fifty yards, but beyond that
their arrows are of very little use."
"Well, then, we shall be able to stop them before they get to that
Presently, as it became light, a figure showed itself at the turn of the
"Don't fire at him," Harry said; "it is better that they should think that
our guns won't reach them. Besides, if the beggars will leave us alone, I
have no wish to harm them."
In a minute or two the figure disappeared behind the bend and two or three
others came out. "They think that our guns won't carry so far, or we
should have shot the first man."
For a quarter of an hour there were frequent changes, until at least fifty
men had taken a look at them.
"Now there will be a council," Harry said as the last disappeared. "They
see what they have got before them, and I have no doubt they don't like
"I don't think they will try it, señor," Dias said. "At any rate they will
not do so until they have tried every other means of getting at us."
Half an hour passed, and then Harry said. "I will stop here with my
brother, Dias, and you and José had better examine the hillsides and
ascertain whether there is any place where they can come down. You know a
great deal better than I where active naked-footed men could clamber down.
They might be able to descend with ease at a place that would look quite
impossible to me."
Without a word Dias shouldered his rifle and walked away, followed by
José. He returned in two hours.
"There are several places where I am sure the savages could come down.
Now, señors, breakfast is ready; I will leave José here, and we will go
and talk matters over while we eat. The tents are only a hundred yards
away, so that if José shouts, we can be back here long before the savages
get up, for they could not come fast through that torrent."
"It seems to me," Harry said after they had finished the meal, "that if
there are only one or two points by which they could climb down we could
prevent their doing so by picking them off; but if there are more, and
they really come on in earnest, we could not stop them."
"There are many more than that," Dias replied. "I made out certainly four
points on the right-hand side and three on the left where I could make my
way down; there are probably twice as many where they could descend."
"Then I should say that the first thing to do is to go up through the
gorge above and see whether there is any place that could be better
defended than this. If we find such a spot, of course we could move to it;
if not, we shall have to settle whether to go up the gorge till we get to
some place where the mules can climb out of it, or stay here and fight it
out. By camping on the stream at a point where it could not be forded, and
making a breast-work with the bales, stones, and so on, I think we could
certainly beat off any attack by daylight, but I admit that we should have
no chance if they should make a rush during the night."
"I will go at once," said Dias, "and examine the river higher up. If I can
find no place where the mules can climb, I am sure to be able to find some
spot where we could do so. But that would mean the failure of our
expedition, for we certainly could not go up the mountains, purchase fresh
animals, food, and tools, and get down to the place we are looking for
until too late."
"That would be serious, Dias, but cannot be counted against our lives. If
there is no other way of escape from these savages, we must certainly
abandon the animals and make our way back as best we can. In that case we
must give up all idea of finding this gold stream. The star would not be
in the same place again for another year, and even then we might not find
it; so we must make up our minds to do our best in some other direction.
That point we must consider as settled. I should not feel justified in
risking my brother's life, yours, your wife's, and your nephew's, by
remaining here to fight we know not how many savages--for there may be
many more than the fifty we saw this morning, and they may in a day or two
be joined by many others of their tribe."
"I should not like to lose all the animals and go back empty-handed," Dias
said after a silence of two or three minutes, "unless it were a last
"Nor should I, Dias; but you see, if we linger too long we may find it
impossible to retire, we may be so hemmed in that there would be no chance
of our getting through. For the day of course we are safe. The savages
will have to decide among themselves whether to give the matter up, seeing
that they are sure to lose many lives before they overpower us. Then, if
they determine to attack us, they will have to settle how it is to be
done. Numbers of them will go up to the top of the hills on both sides and
try to find a point at which they can make their way down; others,
perhaps--which would be still more serious--may go farther up into the
hills to find a spot where they could come down and issue out by the upper
gorge, and then our retreat would be altogether cut off. All this will
take time, so we may feel sure that no attack will be made to-day."
"I will start up the river at once, señor. Certainly the first point to be
settled is whether we can find a more defensible spot than this, the
second whether there is any way by which the animals can be taken up."
"There must surely be many points higher up where this can be done."
"Yes, señor, if we could get to them. But you saw we had difficulty in
making our way through this gorge; there may be others higher up where it
would be impossible either for us or the animals to pass."
"I did not think of that. Yes, that must be so. Well, you had certainly
better go at once. My brother will relieve José, and after the boy has
breakfasted he can return to his post, and Bertie can join me. I think if
I see the savages trying to find a path I will open fire upon them. I
don't say I should be able to hit them, for the top of those hills must be
eight or nine hundred yards' range, and it is not easy to hit an object
very much above or very much below you; but it is important that they
should know that our weapons carry as far as that; when they hear bullets
strike close to them they will hesitate about coming lower down, and
unless they do come within two or three hundred feet from the bottom they
cannot be sure of getting down."
Dias nodded. "That is a very good idea. Another cause of delay will be
that those at the top cannot see far down the rock on their own side, so
they will have to start by guess-work. Each party must fix upon the
easiest places on the opposite side, and then go back again and change
sides. I don't suppose they know any more of this place than we do. They
always keep down in the plains, and it is only because they met us down
there that they have followed us so far. I believe they will follow on as
long as they think there is a chance of destroying us, for they are so
jealous of any white man coming into what they regard as their country
that they would spare no pains to kill anyone who ventured there. Now I
will go, señor. You will keep near this end of the valley, in case there
should be an alarm that they are coming up the stream."
"Certainly; and my brother shall remain with José. With his rifle and the
two double-barrelled guns and José's musket they could hold the ravine
against anything but a rush of the whole tribe."
An hour later Harry saw a number of figures appear against the sky-line on
both sides. As they were clustered together, and would afford a far better
mark than a single Indian, he took a steady aim at the party on the
southern hill and fired. He had aimed above rather than below them, as,
had the ball struck much below, they might not hear it, whereas, if it
went over their heads, they would certainly do so. A couple of seconds
after firing he saw a sudden movement among the savages, and a moment
later not one was to be seen. Donna Maria, who was standing close by him
watching them, clapped her hands. "Your ball must have gone close to
them," she said, "but I don't think you hit anyone."
"I did not try to do so," he said. "I wanted the ball to go just over
their heads, so that they should know that even at that distance they were
not safe. I have no doubt that astonishment as much as fear made them
bolt. They'll be very careful how far they come down the side of the hill
after that. Now for the fellows on the other side."
But these too had disappeared, having evidently noticed the effect
produced upon the others. After a pause heads appeared here and there at
the edge of the crests. Evidently the lesson had impressed them with the
necessity for precaution, as they no longer kept together, and they had
apparently crawled up to continue their investigations. Beyond keeping a
watch to see that none had attempted to descend the slope Harry did not
interfere with them. At times he strolled to the breast-work, but no
movement had been seen in that direction. In two hours Dias returned.
"The gorge above is a quarter of a mile through, and very difficult to
pass. It is half-blocked with great rocks in two or three places, and
there would be immense difficulty in getting the mules over. Beyond that
it widens again, but the extent is not more than half what it is here. The
walls are almost perpendicular, and I do not think that it would be
possible to climb them at any point. Farther up there is another ravine.
It is very narrow--not half so wide as this--and the stream rushes with
great velocity along it. Two hundred yards from the entrance the rocks
close in completely, and there is a fall of water sixty or seventy feet
"Well, that settles the point, Dias. We cannot get the animals out except
by the way they came in. As for ourselves, we might climb up at some point
in this ravine, but not in the others."
"That is so, señor," Dias said. "The outlook is a bad one--that is to say,
we may now be unable to reach the gold river in time--but so long as we
stay here we may be safe. We have plenty of provisions, we can catch fish
in the stream, and no doubt shall find birds in the bushes at the lower
part of the slopes. I doubt whether the natives will dare come down those
precipices at night. If they try to descend by day, we can very well
"The only question is, How long will it take to tire them out?"
"That I cannot tell. We know so little of the Chincas that we have nothing
to go upon. Some savages have patience enough to wait for any time to
carry out their revenge or slay an enemy; others are fickle, and though
they may be fierce in attack, soon tire of waiting, and are eager to
return to their homes again. I cannot think that they will speedily leave.
They have assembled, many of them perhaps from considerable distances;
they have had two days' march up here, and have lost at least two of their
comrades. I think they will certainly not leave until absolutely convinced
that they cannot get at us, but whether they may come to that decision in
two days or a month I cannot say."
DEFEAT OF THE NATIVES
Bertie, who had joined Harry when he saw Dias approaching, had listened
silently to their talk, then said:
"Don't you think that, by loading the mules and moving towards the mouth
of the next gorge just as it is getting dark, we might induce the Chincas
to think that we are going that way, and so to follow along the top of the
hills. We might, as soon as night has fallen, come back again and go down
the stream. Of course there may be some of them left to watch the mouth of
the ravine, but we could drive them off easily enough, and get a long
start before the fellows on the hills know what has happened."
None of the others spoke immediately; then Harry said:
"The idea is a good one as far as it goes. But you see at present we are
in a very strong position. If we leave this and they overtake us in the
woods, we shall not have the advantages that we have here."
"Yes, I see that, Harry; but almost anything is better than having to wait
here and lose our chance of finding that gold."
"We can't help that, Bertie. You know how much that gold would be to me,
but, as I said this morning, I will run no desperate risks to obtain it.
When I started upon this expedition I knew that the chances of success
were extremely slight, and that there might be a certain amount of danger
to encounter from wild beasts and perhaps brigands; but I had never
calculated upon such a risk as this, and certainly I am not prepared to
accept the responsibility of leading others into it."
There was again silence, which was broken at last by Dias.
"The proposal of the young señor is a very bold one; but, as you say, Don
Harry, after leaving our position we should be followed and surrounded. In
the forest that would be very bad. I should say let us wait for at least a
week; that will still give us time to reach the gold valley. By then the
savages may have left, and some other plan may have occurred to us; at any
rate, at the end of a week we shall see how things go. The Indians may
have made an attack, and may lose heart after they are repulsed. They may
find difficulty in procuring food, though I hardly think that is probable.
Still, many things may occur in a week. If at the end of that time they
are still here, we can decide whether to try some such plan as the young
señor has thought of, or whether to wait until the Indians leave, and then
return to Cuzco; for I feel certain that the place cannot be found except
by the help of the star."
"Well, then," Bertie said, "could we not hit upon some plan to frighten
"What sort of plan, Bertie?"
"Well, of course we could not make a balloon--I mean a fire-balloon--
because we have no paper to make it with. If we could, and could let it up
at night, with some red and blue fires to go off when it got up high, I
should think it would scare them horribly."
"Yes; but it would be still better, Bertie, if we could make a balloon big
enough to carry us and the mules and everything else out of this place,
and drop us somewhere about the spot we want to get to."
"Oh, it is all very well to laugh, Harry! I said, I knew we could not make
a fire-balloon; I only gave that as an example. If we had powder enough we
might make some rockets, and I should think that would scare them pretty
"Yes, but we haven't got powder, Bertie. We have plenty of cartridges for
sporting purposes, or for fighting; but a rocket is a thing that wants a
lot of powder, besides saltpetre and charcoal, and so on."
"Yes, yes, I know that," Bertie said testily. "My suggestion was that we
might frighten them somehow, and I still don't see why we shouldn't be
able to do it. Let us try to hit upon something else."
"There is a good deal in what the young señor says," Dias said gravely.
"All the Indians are very superstitious, and think anything they don't
understand is magic. It is worth thinking over: but before we do anything
else we might find out how many of them there are at the other end of the
ravine. Only a few may be left, or possibly the whole tribe may be
gathered there at nightfall. To-night nothing will be settled, but to-
morrow night I will go down the torrent with José I will carry your
double-barrelled guns with me, señor, if you will let me have them. When
we get to the other end I will take up my station there. José is small and
active. He could crawl forward and ascertain how many of them there are.
If he should be discovered, which is not likely, he would run back to me.
I should have four barrels ready to pour into them. That would stop them,
for they would think we were all there and were going to attack them, and
before they could recover from their alarm we should be back here again."
"That seems a good plan, Dias; but I do not see why Bertie and I should
not go down with you."
"It would be better not, señor. In the first place, they may have men
posted at their end of the ravine, and though two of us might crawl down
without being seen, just as they crawled up here, they would be more
likely to see four; in the next place, they might chance to crawl down the
hillside above just as we were going down the ravine, and Maria and the
animals would be at their mercy."
"They are hardly likely to choose the exact moment when we are to be away,
but I quite agree with you that the risk must not be run."
"Well," Bertie said, returning to his former idea, "if Dias can go down
there, I still think that somehow we might get up a scare."
"Well, you think it over, Bertie. If you can suggest anything, I promise
you that Dias and I will do our best to carry it out."
"Very well," Bertie replied gravely, "I will think it over."
"Now," Harry said, "we had better sleep in watches at night; one must be
at the breast-work, and one must listen for noises on the cliffs. It would
be hardly possible for a number of men to crawl down without exciting
suspicion or putting in motion some small stones."
"I do not think, señor," Dias said, "that it will be necessary to keep
that watch, for, as we knew from the noise when you fired last night,
there are numbers of birds and at least one beast--I fancy it is a bear
from the sound of its roar--up there, and it would be strange if a number
of men making their way down did not disturb some of them; indeed, if one
bird gave the alarm, it would put them all in motion; besides, there are
certainly monkeys, for I heard their cries and chattering when the birds
flew up. Still, it is perhaps as well that one of us should watch. Shall
we divide, as we did last night? only, of course, José takes his place
"I quite agree with you, Dias. Bertie, you had better get three hours'
sleep at once, and then after dinner we will sit by the fire here, smoke,
and listen, and Dias will watch the gorge and keep one ear open in this
direction too. It is a comfort to know that if we cannot get away by going
up the stream, the Indians cannot get down to attack us from that
Two nights and days passed. The Indians were still on the hills, and once
or twice men came down some distance, but a shot from Harry's rifle sent
them speedily back again. The third night Bertie was on watch; he saw
nothing, but suddenly there came three sharp taps. He discharged one
barrel of his gun at random down the ravine, and then held himself ready
to fire the other as soon as he saw anyone approaching. It was an anxious
minute for him before the other three ran up.
"What is it, Bertie; have you seen anything?"
"No, but three arrows tapped against the wall, so I fired one barrel to
call you up, and have been looking out for someone to take a shot at with
the other; but I have not seen anyone, though, as you may imagine, I
looked out sharply."
"It is probable that after the lesson they got the other night they did
not come so near, and that they merely shot their arrows to see if we were
still on guard. However, we may as well stay here for a bit to see if
anything comes of it."
Nothing happened, however, and they returned to the tents. Next morning
Bertie said to his brother:
"Look here, Harry, I have been thinking over that plan of mine. I really
think there is something to be done with it."
"Well, tell us your plan."
"In the first place, how much powder can you spare?"
"There is that great powder-horn José drags about with him to charge his
musket with. It will contain about a couple of pounds, I should say."
"That ought to do, I think."
"Well, what is your plan, Bertie?"
"In the first place, do you think that burned wood would do for charcoal?"
"It depends on what purpose you want it for."
"I want it to prevent the powder from going off with a bang."
"Oh, well, I should think that burned wood ground to a powder would be
just as good as charcoal. So you are still thinking of rockets? Your two
pounds of powder won't make many of them--not above two fair-sized ones,
and the betting is they would not go up."
"No, I am not thinking of rockets, but of squibs and crackers. I know when
I was at school I made a lot of these, and they worked very well. My idea
is that if we could crawl up close to where the Indians are assembled,
each carrying a dozen squibs and as many crackers, we could light a lot of
the crackers first and chuck them among them, and then send the squibs
whirling about over their heads, with a good bang at the end. It would set
them off running, and they would never stop till they were back in their
"Well, I really do think that that is a fine idea--a splendid idea! The
only drawback is, that in order to carry it out we should want a lot of
strong cartridge-paper, and we have no paper except our note-books."
"I have thought of that, Harry, though it bothered me for a good long
time. You see, the cases are only to hold the powder and to burn regularly
as the powder does. At first I thought we might find some wood like elder
and get the pith out, just as we used to do for pop-guns, but that
unfortunately would not burn. We might, however, make them of linen."
"But we have no linen."
"No, but our leather bed-bags are lined with that coarse sort of stuff
they cover mattresses with."
"Tick, you mean?"
"Yes, tick. Now, it struck me that this would do for the crackers. We
should have to cut it in strips three or four times the width of the
cracker. Then we could get Maria to make us some stiff paste; starch would
be better, but of course we have none. Then, taking a strip of the cloth,
we would turn over one side of it an inch from the edge to make a sort of
trough, pour in the gunpowder, carefully paste all the rest of it and fold
it over and over, and then, when it begins to dry, double it up and tie it
with string. We should then only have to add touch-paper, which, of
course, we could make out of anything, and put into the end fold. We could
break up a few of the cartridges, soak them in wetted powder, and then cut
them up into small pieces and stick them into the ends of the crackers. I
think that would do first-rate. I have made dozens of crackers, and feel
sure that I could turn out a good lot of them now. The squibs will be
easier; we should only have to paste one side of the strips and roll them
up so as to form suitable cases. When these are dry we should put a
thimbleful of powder into each, and then fill them up with powder and
charcoal. In order to make sure of a loud bang we could undo a piece of
rope and wind the strands round each case for an inch and a half from the
bottom. Of course, when we had ground down the burned wood we would mix it
with powder and try one or two of the squibs, so as to find the
proportions of charcoal to be used."
"You have evidently thought it all out well, and I think it does you no
end of credit. I authorize you to begin the experiment at once. The first
thing, of course, will be to get some wood and char it. I should think
that you would require at least two pounds of that to two pounds of
powder; but you had better only do a little at first--just enough to make
an experiment. You know it will require ramming down well."
When Dias, who was on watch, returned he found Bertie at work burning
pieces of wood and scraping off the charred surface. Harry explained the
plan to him. As he had frequently seen fireworks at Lima, Dias quickly
grasped the idea.
"It is splendid, señor; those things will frighten them far more than
guns. They will think so many devils have got among them, and we will
heighten the effect by discharging every piece that we can among them. In
their confusion they will think it is the fireworks that are killing them.
That would be necessary, for otherwise when they recovered from the panic
and found that no one had been hurt, they might summon up courage to
At noon the next day Bertie with assistance had four squibs and two
crackers ready for trial. The squibs contained respectively one, two,
three, and four parts of charcoal to one of powder.
"Don't hold them in your hand while you are trying the experiment, Bertie.
Lay them down on that stone one by one and touch them off with a burning
brand from the fire, and take care that you have a good long one."
All, with the exception of José who was on watch, gathered round. The
first squib exploded with a bang, the second did the same, but with less
violence, the third went off in an explosive spurt, the fourth burned as a
squib should do, though a little fiercely, and gave a good bang at the
"They go off rather too rapidly, Bertie," Harry said; "we should want them
to whiz about in a lively way as long as possible. I should put in five
parts of that burned wood next time."
"I will try at once," Bertie said. "I have got lots of cases made, and
enough burned stuff to make eight or ten more."
The mixture was soon made and another case charged, Bertie ramming down
the mixture with a stick which he had cut to fit exactly, and a heavy
stone as a hammer. This was done after each half-spoonful of the mixture
was poured in. Then he inserted a strip of his touch-paper.
"I will take this in my hand," he said, "there is no fear of its
exploding. I want to throw it into the air and see how it burns there."
The touch-paper was lit, and when the mixture started burning Bertie waved
the squib high above his head and threw it into the air. It flew along
some fifteen yards and then exploded.
"I don't think you can better that, Bertie. But you might make the cases a
bit stronger; it burned out a little too quickly. We shall probably not be
able to get very close to them."
The cracker was equally satisfactory, except that they agreed that a
somewhat larger charge of powder should be used to increase the noise of
"Now, Bertie," Harry said, "we will put all hands on to the business.
Donna Maria shall make a good stock of paste, and cut the tick into strips
for both widths. You shall make the cases for the squibs. Dias and I will
take charge of the manufacture of charcoal. That will be a long job, for
as you have two pounds of gunpowder we shall want ten of this charred
"Not quite as much as that, Harry, because we shall want the powder alone
for the crackers and the bangs of the squibs, and also for making the
touch-paper for all of them."
"Well, we will say ten pounds, anyhow. We have a big stock of cartridges,
and can spare a few of them for so good a purpose."
They were soon at work. By night the cases were all made and drying, and
were left near the fire so as to be ready for filling in the morning.
Dias then said: "José will go down to-night, señor. Of course I shall go
with him. We must find out, in the first place, how near the mouth of the
ravine the savages are gathered, whether they keep any watch, and what
force they have. It will be well not to make ourselves known to them until
at least the greater part are gathered there. If we were only to scare a
small party, the others, when they came down, would know nothing of the
panic, and might take up the pursuit."
"I wish we had some means of driving them off the top of the hill, Dias."
"I don't see how that can be done, señor. But probably in another day or
two they will all go down of their own accord. They must by this time have
satisfied themselves that there is no getting at us from above, and that
it would be too dangerous to attempt a descent here under the fire of our
guns. They will be very likely, instead, to go down to-morrow or next day
to hold a general council, and in that case they may decide either to risk
climbing down at night, or to make a grand assault on the breast-work. Or,
if they cannot bring themselves to that, they may decide to leave half a
dozen men to watch the entrance, while the rest scatter themselves over
the forests. In that case the watchers would only have to go off and
summon them when we started again. As they might well imagine that we
should not find another position like this again, I expect that is what
they will do. If there are a hundred of them, they will find it difficult
to feed themselves long. Certainly the men on the hills will get little to
eat up there."
"Well, Dias, be sure you warn José to be careful. They may be posting
sentries at the mouth of the ravine, just as they are keeping them at this
"They may be, but I do not think it is likely; they will know that we
could not abandon our animals, and that if we passed through they would
have no difficulty in over-taking us, and would then have us at their
mercy. The last thing they would want is to prevent us from leaving this
position. They certainly would not fear an attack from us, knowing that
there are but four of us and a woman. Therefore, I think it probable that
they will keep at some little distance from the entrance, so as to tempt
us to come out."
"I hope it is so, Dias. Still, José will have to be very careful."
"He will be careful, señor. He knows his own life will depend upon his
crawling along as noiselessly as a snake. If he is seen, of course he will
come at all speed back to me; and, unless he is hit by a chance arrow, he
will not run much risk, for by the time they are ready to shoot he will be
out of sight on such dark nights as these, and in the shade of the
mountains and trees. I shall be ready to send four barrels of buck-shot
among them when they come up. That is sure to stop them long enough to
allow us to get under the cover of your rifles before they can overtake
"I don't think that you need be at all uneasy about him, señor. We will
start in an hour's time, so that José can get near them before they go to
sleep. They will probably have a fire burning, but if not the only guide
to their position will be the sound of their talking. He will strip before
he leaves me, so that if they catch sight of him, they will suppose that
he is one of themselves."
Bertie now relieved José, who came back and had a long talk with Dias.
"We are ready now, señor."
"Here is my fowling-piece. It is already loaded with buck-shot. Bertie has
taken down his rifle and gun, and will give you the latter as you pass. I
suppose José will take no weapons?"
"Only a long knife, señor, that may be useful if he comes upon one of them
At the barricade José stripped, retaining only a pair of sandals. These
were as noiseless as his bare feet, and would be needed, as in the dark he
might tread upon a thorny creeper, or strike against a projecting rock.
"Good-bye, José!" Harry said. "Now, be careful. It would be a great grief
to us if anything happened to you."
"I will be careful, señor. The Indians won't catch me, never fear."
Harry and Bertie both shook hands with him, and then he and Dias stepped
into the water, and, keeping close along by the wall of rock, started on
their perilous expedition.
"I don't like it, Bert," Harry said as they lost sight of them. "It seems
a cowardly thing to let that lad go into danger while we are doing
"That is just what I feel, Harry. I would have volunteered willingly, but
he will do it a great deal better than either you or I could."
"There is no doubt about that," Harry agreed. "Of course when he is out
with the mules he often travels at night, and certainly both he and Dias
can see in the dark a good deal better than we can."
There was suddenly a slight movement behind them, and they turned sharply
round. "It is I, señor. I am anxious about Dias, and I didn't like staying
there by myself. I thought you would not mind if I came up and sat by
"Certainly not," Harry said. "Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I do
not think there is any fear for Dias. He cannot be taken by surprise, for
he will hear by their shouting if they discover José, and you may be quite
sure that he will bring them to a stand with the four shots he will fire
among them as they come near, and so will get a good start. They might run
faster than he can in the forest, but will scarcely be better able to make
their way up the torrent."
When Dias had been gone twenty minutes their conversation ceased, and they
sat listening intently. In another ten minutes, which seemed an hour to
them, Harry said, "The savages can keep no watch at their end of the
torrent, and José must have got safely away."
Very slowly the time passed.
"They must have been gone an hour," Bertie said at last.
"Quite that, I should think, Bertie. At any rate, we may feel assured that
all has gone well so far. For, though we might not hear the yells of the
savages over the rustle and roar of the torrent, we should certainly hear
Another half-hour passed, and then to their relief they heard Dias call
out, "All is well!" some little distance down. In three or four minutes
they could see the two figures approaching. "Give me your guns, Dias,"
Harry said, "and then I will help you up the rocks. They might go off if
you were to make a slip. Now, while José is putting on his clothes, tell
me what he has found out."
"I have not heard much, señor. As soon as he rejoined me we started off,
and, coming up the torrent, we had not much chance of talking. He told me
that there were many of them, and that they were camped at some little
distance from the stream, just as I thought they would be."
"I will stay here, Harry," Bertie said. "You can hear the news and then
come and tell me."
"Very well. I will be back before long."
Dias, his wife, and Harry walked down towards the tent, and Bertie chatted
with José while the latter was dressing.
"You must feel horribly cold, José," he said.
"I am cold, now I think of it. I did not notice it while I was watching
the savages. When I took to the water again I did feel it. Maria will make
me a cup of hot coffee, and then I shall be all right again. It was good
fun to look at them, and know that they had no idea that I was so close.
If I could have understood their language, I should have learned something
worth telling. I felt inclined to scare them by giving a tremendous yell,
and I know I could have got away all right. They were sitting round a big
fire and would not have been able to see in the dark. I should have done
it, only I thought Dias would have blamed me for letting them know that
one of us had come down the cañon."
"He would have been angry, José, and so would my brother, for they would
certainly have set a watch afterwards, which would have spoilt all our
plans. Now run along, your teeth are chattering, and the sooner you get
something warm and wrap yourself up in your blankets the better."
The fire had burnt low when the others returned, but an armful of sticks
was thrown upon it at once. The kettle had been left in the embers at its
edge by Maria when she started, so that after it had hung in the blaze for
two or three minutes it began to boil, and coffee was soon ready. At this
point José ran in, and after he had drunk a large mugful he told them what
he had learned.
"When I left Dias at the mouth of the ravine," he said, "everything seemed
quiet. I walked along the edge of the stream for fifty yards, keeping my
ears open, you may be sure, and I saw a light glow close under the rocks
some distance on the other side of the river. I followed the stream down
till I came to a place where there was a quiet pool, and there I swam
across, then very carefully I made my way to where I could see the light.
It was quite three hundred yards from the river. As I got near I could
hear talking; I crawled along like a cat, and took good care not to
disturb a leaf, or to put a hand or a knee upon a dried stick, for I could
not tell whether they had anyone on watch near the fire. I perceived no
one, and at last came to a point where I could see the flame. It was in an
opening running a hundred feet into the mountains, and perhaps forty feet
across at the mouth.
"In this were sixty or seventy savages sitting or standing round a fire,
which had evidently been made there so that anyone coming down to the
mouth of the ravine should not see it. The fire was not a very large one,
and a good many of the men were gathered outside the little hollow. Some
of them were talking loudly, and it seemed to me that they were
quarrelling over something. Sometimes they pointed up to the top of the
hills, sometimes towards the mouth of our ravine. I would have got close
if I had understood their language. Presently I saw some of them lying
down, so that I could see that the quarrel, whatever it was about, was
coming to an end, and that they were going to lie down for the night. As I
could learn nothing further I crawled away and went down to the place
where I had swum the river before, and then crept quietly up to Dias, who
was on the look-out; for although I had seen no one as I had passed
before, there might still have been some of them on the watch."
"You have done very well, José," Harry said. "We have learned two things.
First, that they are not keeping watch at the mouth of the ravine, either
because they feel sure that we will not try to escape, or because they
wish us to leave and are giving us the opportunity of doing so. In the
second place, you have learned what force they have got down there, their
exact position, and the fact that they were evidently arguing how they had
best attack us. Well, from what you say there is every chance that we
shall be able to come upon them without being noticed till we are close
enough to throw our fireworks among them. Really the only thing for us to
learn is whether many of them are still at the top of the hill."
"I hardly think there can be many; only a few have shown themselves to-
day. They must know very well that we would not venture to climb up during
the day, and that it would be next to impossible for us to do so in the
dark, even if we made up our minds to abandon the animals and all our
"Well, I should say, Dias, there is no reason why we should put the matter
off. It will not take us long to load all the squibs to-morrow. My opinion
is that at dusk we had better saddle the mules and pack everything on them
in readiness for a start; then at ten o'clock we can go down and attack
the savages. The best moment for doing so will be when they are just lying
down. When we have sent them flying we will come up the torrent again, and
start with the mules as soon as it is daylight. It would be next to
impossible to get them down in the dark, as they might very easily break
their legs, or by rubbing against the wall shift their packs and tumble
them into the water."
"It would be a pity to waste time, señor. I will get some torches made to-
morrow. Some of the trees have resin, and by melting this I can make
torches that would do very well. By their aid we could get the mules down
without waiting for daylight. As they have already come up the torrent,
they will have less fear in going down, for the stream will help them
instead of keeping them back. I will go first with José and his mule; she
is as steady as a rock, and where she goes the others will follow; and
with five torches along the line they will be able to see well enough."
"Four torches, Dias. Your wife rode coming up, and she had better ride
"She can hold a torch as she sits; it does not matter to us if we get wet
to the waist, but it would be very uncomfortable for her. We shall have to
put the largest burdens on to the mules. One of the riding mules could
carry the two llamas, or if you think that that is too much, we can tie
each across a separate mule. They were more trouble coming up than all the
mules put together. We had pretty nearly to carry them through the deep
places, though at other points they leapt from rock to rock cleverly
"I am not going to be left behind if you are going to the fight, señor,"
Donna Maria said, "if you will give me one of your pistols."
"We could manage that, I should think," Harry said. "We can put you on one
of the steadiest mules when we first go down, and with one at each side of
you we can manage it very well. José must go on a hundred yards ahead to
see whether any of the savages are on the watch at their end, and if so,
you must wait till we have cleared them out. You see, we shall have no
hesitation in shooting any of them if necessary, and though that would
bring the rest of them down on us, yet when our squibs and crackers begin
to fly among them, you may be sure they won't face us for an instant."
Dias grumbled that his wife had better stay where she was till they went
back for the mules; but Harry said: "I do think, Dias, that she had better
go with us. It would be cruel to leave her now that we are going into a
fight--leave her all alone to tremble for our lives, with a knowledge that
if things should go wrong with us the savages will soon be up here."
"Well, señor, if you think so, there is no more to be said."
"I am not going to be made a trouble of," Maria said. "I shall go down on
foot like the rest of you. I will take some other clothes with me, so that
when you all come back for the mules I can change into them."
"Perhaps that would be the best plan," Harry agreed. "Now I will go back
and take Bertie's place. It is my turn to be on watch, and he will be
wanting to hear the news."
"Well, Harry, is it all right?" Bertie asked as he heard his brother
coming up to him.
"It couldn't be better! There are sixty or seventy of them in a sort of
little ravine three hundred yards away, on the left-hand side of the
river. They don't seem to be keeping guard at all, and if they are not
more careful to-morrow night we shall take them completely by surprise. We
are going to saddle all the mules directly it gets too dark for any of the
fellows on the hills to see us, then we must set to work and pull down
enough of the barricade here to allow them to pass. We ourselves, when we
go down, will cross at that shallow place above here, and go down the
river at that side, otherwise we sha'n't be able to cross it except at
some distance beyond the other end of the torrent. Of course the mules
must go down this side, as we shall want to turn to the right when we get
off. We shall make our attack about ten o'clock."
Bertie went off, and three hours later Dias relieved Harry. As soon as it
was light the next morning Bertie and José set to work to fill the cases--
there were a hundred squibs and fifty large crackers.
Donna Maria after breakfast went out and returned with a number of
flexible sticks of about half an inch in diameter; these she carried into
her tent, where she shut herself up for the forenoon. When, at one
o'clock, she came out with the result of her work, it resembled a chair
without legs and with a back about a foot wide and three feet high.
"What in the world have you got there, Donna Maria?" Bertie asked.
"Don't you know?"
"No, I have never seen a thing like it before."
"This is the thing the porters use for carrying weights, and sometimes
people, over the Cordilleras. You see that strap near the top goes round
the man's forehead, and when there is a weight in the chair these other
straps pass over his shoulders and under his arms, and then round whatever
is on the seat."
"But what is going to be on the seat?"
"I am," she laughed. "Dias is so overbearing. It had all been arranged
nicely, as you know; and then when he spoke to me afterwards he said, 'The
first thing to-morrow morning, Maria, you will set to work to make a
porter's chair, and I shall carry you down the stream. No words about it,
but do as you are told.' Generally Dias lets me have my own way, señor,
but when he talks like that, I know that it is useless to argue with him.
And perhaps it is best after all, for, as he said to me afterwards, it is
a nasty place for men to get along, but for a woman, with her petticoats
dragging and trailing round her, it would be almost impossible for her to
keep her footing."
"Well, I thought the same thing myself when we were talking about it
yesterday," Bertie said. "Of course I did not say anything, but I am sure
Dias is right. I found it very hard work to keep my footing, and I really
don't believe that I could have done it if I had been dressed as a woman.
And Dias can carry you like that?"
"Carry me, señor! he could carry three times that weight. He has cut
himself a staff seven or eight feet long this morning to steady himself,
but I don't think there was any need for it. Why, it is a common thing for
people to be carried over the Cordilleras so, and Dias is stronger a great
deal than many of the men who do it. As he said, if I had been going
through on foot you would all have been bothering about me. And it is not
as if two people could go abreast, and one help the other. There is often
only room between the rocks for one to pass through, and it is just there
where the rush of the water is strongest."
THE SIGNAL STAR
During the afternoon Dias, who had been keeping a careful look-out at the
cliffs, said to Harry: "I think, señor, that the savages are leaving the
hills. An hour ago I saw a man walking along where we generally see them;
he was going straight along as if for some fixed purpose, and I thought at
once that he might be bringing them some message from the people below us.
I lost sight of him after a bit, but presently I could make out some men
moving in the other direction. They were keeping back from the edge, but I
several times caught sight of their heads against the sky-line when there
happened to be some little irregularity in the ground. They were not
running, but seemed to me to be going at a steady pace. Since then I have
been watching carefully, and have seen no one on the other side. I think
they have all been sent for, and will be assembled this afternoon at the
mouth of the torrent."
"I am very glad to hear it, Dias; that is just what we wanted."
"In one way--yes," Dias said. "It would be a great thing for us to catch
them all together, for I have no fear that they will stand when these
fireworks begin to go off among them."
"What is the drawback, then?"
"It is, señor, that they have either been collected because they have
given up the hope of catching us at present, and are going to scatter and
hunt till we venture out, which would be the worst thing possible; or they
have made up their minds to make a rush upon us."
"Don't you think that we can beat them back?"
"Not if they are determined, señor. You see, we can't make them out till
they are within twenty or thirty yards of us. At most you and your brother
could fire four shots, then you would take up your rifles. We shall have
then only four shots left. If they continue their rush where shall we be?
There would be two of us on one wall and two on the other. There would be
four shots to fire from one side and four from the other. Then the end
would come. Two on each side would not be able to keep back the rush of
two or three score. In two minutes it would be all over."
"Yes, Dias, I see that if they were determined to storm the place and take
us alive they could do it; but we have the fireworks."
"I did not think of that. Yes; but having once worked themselves up and
being mad with excitement, even that might not stop them, though I should
think it would. Yes, I believe we might feel assured that we should beat
them back, and if so, we should hear no more of them."
"If I knew that they would come," Harry said, "I would certainly say we
had best stay and defend ourselves; but we can't be sure that that is
their motive for assembling. They may, as you say, be going to move off,
leaving perhaps half a dozen men to watch the entrance and report if we
attempt to escape. That would be fatal, and our only chance would be to
leave everything behind and endeavour to climb up one side or the other;
and even that might not avail us, as there may be one or two men up there
to see if we make off that way. I am more inclined to think that this is
the course that they will take rather than risk a heavy loss of life. They
must have a good idea of what it would cost them to take the place."
"What do you think we had better do, then, señor?"
"I think we had better attack them as soon as possible after nightfall. It
is likely that they will do nothing before morning; as you say, they do
not like moving at night, and if they attack it will not be until shortly
before daybreak. There is sure to be a palaver when the men who have been
on the hills come down. It will be too late then for them to go back
before night, so that I think we are pretty sure to find them all in the
ravine this evening. If, when we get there, we find the place empty, we
must come to a decision as to what our best course will be. In that case I
think we ought to climb the hills and make our way up the mountains as
rapidly as possible. We could calculate on eight or ten hours' start, and
by keeping as much as possible on the rocks, might hope to get so high
among the mountains that they would not be able to follow our traces and
overtake us before we reach a point where they would not dare follow us.
In that case, of course we should have to give up all hope of finding the
gold valley, and lose the mules with all our belongings, which would
cripple us terribly."
"Very well, señor; I think that is the best plan."
"Then we will settle to start at nine o'clock, Dias."
They then discussed the arrangements for the attack. Each was to carry a
glowing brand, and when he got there, was to sling his gun behind him and
hold twelve squibs in one hand and the brand in the other. When they
approached within throwing distance of the savages, they were to lay their
guns down beside them, and then Harry was to put the ends of his squibs
against his brand, and hurl the whole of them among the Indians. A few
seconds later Bertie was to do the same, while Harry fired one barrel of
buck-shot. Bertie was to fire as Dias threw a dozen crackers, and then
José was to throw his squibs. Then all were to throw squibs and crackers
as far as they could go; and the other two barrels of buck-shot and José's
musket were to be poured in. By this time they calculated the savages
would be in full flight, and the three rifles could then be used.
Harry was to hand his rifle to Dias before the firing began, and he and
Bertie were to slip fresh cartridges into these guns and recap them before
sending off the last batch of their fireworks, so as to have them in
readiness either to empty their contents into the flying Indians, or to
cover their retreat should the fireworks fail to effect the panic they
hoped for. Their pistols were also to be reserved until the Indians fled.
Donna Maria was to stay by the water, and start at once on her way back if
Dias shouted to her to do so. Every step of the plan settled upon was
repeated again and again, until there was no possibility of any mistake
being made. Maria had not attended the council; her confidence in her two
white friends was unbounded, and Bertie's invention of the fireworks had
placed him on a level with his brother in her estimation. She therefore
quietly went on with her preparations for dinner without concerning
herself as to the details of the affair.
As soon as it was dark and the meal eaten, the tents were struck, the
baggage all rolled up and packed on the animals, and the fireworks
divided. When everything was in readiness they went together and made a
breach in the breast-work wide enough for the mules to pass. At nine
o'clock Maria was seated in the carrying-chair, and strapped on to her
husband's back; then four brands were taken from the fire and the party
started. When within fifty yards of the lower end of the ravine José went
forward, and, returning in a few minutes, reported that no savages were on
guard. A fire was burning outside the mouth of the ravine where he had
seen them on the evening before, and from the reflection on the rock he
believed that another fire was alight inside. His report caused a general
feeling of relief, for their great fear had been that the natives might
have made off before their arrival.
When they stepped out from the water Dias set Maria down. "You understand,
Maria," he said: "the moment I call, you are to start up the river."
"I understand," she said. "I have my knife, and if you do not rejoin me I
shall know how to use it."
"We shall rejoin you, Maria," Dias said confidently. "I believe that at
the first volley of fireworks they will be off. They must be more than
human if they are not scared, as they never can have heard of such things
Keeping close to the rock wall, they went along in single file until
within forty or fifty yards of the fire; then, going down on their hands
and knees, they crawled up a slight rise, from the top of which they could
see a hundred or more natives gathered round a fire. One was addressing
the others, who were seated listening attentively. Laying the guns down to
be ready for instant action, and keeping themselves concealed in the
herbage, Harry took his bundle of squibs from his pocket. They were but
lightly tied together; slipping off the string he applied the ends to the
brand. There was a sudden roar of fire, and waving them once round his
head he hurled them into the midst of the assembly. There was a yell of
astonishment as the missiles flew hither and thither, exploding with loud
reports. The last had not exploded when Bertie's handful flew among them;
then came the parcel from Dias, and at the same moment Harry poured a
barrel of buck-shot among them, followed by a volley of crackers, while
almost simultaneously Harry threw his squibs and Bertie fired a volley of
buck-shot. For a moment the savages were paralysed, then many of them
threw themselves on their faces in terror of these fiery demons, while
others started in headlong flight.
"Send them off as quick as you can!" Harry shouted, as he discharged his
second barrel into the flying natives. Bertie followed suit, and then both
paused to reload while Dias and José hurled their remaining fireworks. By
this time the last of the natives had leapt up and fled. José's musket and
the three rifles cracked out, and then the little party rose to their feet
and joined in a wild "Hip, hip, hurrah!"
"You can come up, Maria; they have all gone!" Dias cried out; and Maria
joined them a minute later. More than a score of natives lay dead or badly
wounded round their fire.
"What are we to do with the wounded?" Bertie asked.
"We can only leave them where they are," Harry said. "Some of the savages
may have wandered away, or not have come down from the hills, and will
return here unaware of what has happened, or one or two of the boldest may
venture back again to look after their comrades. At any rate, we can do
nothing for them."
"It would be better to shoot them, señor," Dias said.
"No, I could not bring myself to do that," Harry said. "Buck-shot, unless
they strike in a body, are not likely to kill. I expect they are more
frightened than hurt. After we have gone many of them will be able to
crawl down to the river. Savages frequently recover from wounds that would
kill white men; and even if no others come down, those who are but
slightly wounded will help the more incapable. We have cleared the way for
ourselves, which was all we wanted, and have taught them a lesson they are
not likely to forget for many years to come. Let us go back at once and
bring down the mules. I suppose you will sit down by the stream, and wait
till we come back, Maria?"
"Yes," she said, "there is nothing to be afraid of now; but you can leave
me one of your pistols in case one of these savages may be shamming dead."
"José will wait with her," Dias said. "Now, José, you strike up a song.
You are generally at it, and as long as they hear you they will know that
some of us are still here, and will not venture to move."
"You take my gun, José; it is loaded," Harry said. "If any of them should
move and try to crawl away, don't fire at them; but if they look about and
seem inclined to make mischief, shoot at once."
Coming down with the animals the three men carried torches in each hand.
The mules reached the mouth of the torrent without accident, and the
llamas were then lifted off the baggage mules which had carried them, and
all were turned loose to graze on the rich grass near the edge of the
river. José and Dias went to the fire in the ravine, and returned laden
with burning brands, and a fire was soon blazing near the water. Two of
them kept watch by turns at the spot from which they had fired, lest any
of the wounded Indians should, on recovering, try to avenge their loss by
sending arrows down amongst the party. During the night four of the fallen
Indians, after first looking round cautiously, crawled away, and the
watchers could hear them running fast through the bushes till they were
beyond the light of the fire.
At dawn a start was made. The river was crossed at the pool where José had
swum over. Dias, on examination, found that the water, even in the deepest
part, was not more than breast-high. Accordingly he returned; Maria,
kneeling on one of his shoulders and one of Harry's, was carried across
without being wetted. Then they joined the animals, which were grazing a
short distance away, and set off without delay. Although they kept a sharp
look-out they saw no more of the Indians. They ascended several more
streams unobserved. Rough carvings on the face of several of the rocks led
them to carry their excursions farther than usual, but beyond a few ounces
of gold, washed from the stream, they found nothing.
"They must have been put here for some purpose," said Dias.
"I have been thinking it over, Dias, and I should not be surprised if, as
you thought, they were done to deceive searchers. You told me there were
some marks by which you would be directed in the gold valley; it is quite
likely that other marks might have been placed in the valleys so that the
real ones would not be particularly noticed."
"That is possible, señor; they would certainly do everything they could to
prevent anyone not in the secret from knowing. The mark I have to look for
first is a serpent. It is carved on a rock at the end of a valley."
"In that case the indication of the star would not be necessary, Dias."
"That may be, señor; but the valley may be a large one, and the hiding-
place very difficult to find, so that even when the valley was known, it
would need the guidance of the star to take us to the right place."
"That might be so, Dias, if it were a hidden treasure that we were looking
for; but as, according to your account, it is simply an extraordinarily
rich deposit in the river, I hardly see why the guidance of the star
should be necessary when once the valley was known."
"That I cannot tell you, señor; but I am sure that it must be difficult to
find, for the Spaniards searched everywhere for gold, and although the
records of most of their discoveries still exist, there is no mention of
such a find, nor is there is any word of it among the Indian traditions."
A week before the appointed date they found themselves in the
neighbourhood where they felt sure the cleft must lie. Mount Tinta was
twenty miles in front of them, and from that point a range of mountains
trended off almost at right angles to that which they were following. One
lofty peak some thirty miles to the south-east rose above another.
"I believe that that is the peak," Bias said.
"I don't see any signs of a cleft in it, Dias."
"No, señor; it is a very narrow one."
The next day they halted at the mouth of another valley, and as they
unloaded the mules, Harry exclaimed: "See, Dias, there is a cleft in that
peak! From here it looks as if it were a mere thread, and as if some giant
had struck a mighty sword-cut into it."
"That is right. Sure enough, señor, this must be the valley. Now, let us
look about for the serpent."
The search did not take them long. An isolated rock rose a quarter of a
mile from the mouth, and on this was a rude representation of a serpent.
The next morning they explored the valley thoroughly to a point where,
five miles higher, it ceased abruptly, the rocks closing in on either
side, and the stream coming down in a perpendicular fall from a point some
eighty feet above them. Going down the river, they washed the gravel again
and again, but without obtaining even as much gold as they had found
several times before.
"I cannot understand it," Harry said, as they sat down to their meal at
dusk. "Your tradition says nothing about hidden treasure, and yet there
does not seem to be gold in the stream."
"It may be higher up, señor. We must ascend the hills on each side of the
valley, and come down upon the river higher up."
Harry was on watch that night, and at one o'clock he roused the others up.
"See!" he exclaimed later on; "there is a bright star apparently about a
foot above the peak. I should think that must be the star. No doubt that
will rise in exact line behind the cleft on the 21st, that is four days
from now; probably it can only be seen when we are exactly in the line
with the cleft and the position of the gold. This cleft is undoubtedly
very narrow--no doubt the result of an earthquake. It certainly goes
straight through, and very likely it is some hundred yards across, so that
unless we are exactly in the line we sha'n't see it. As soon as it is dark
on the 21st we will all go some distance up the valley, where it is only
about four or five hundred yards across. We will station ourselves fifty
yards apart across it, then one of us is sure to see the star through the
cleft. We had each better take two sticks with us. Whoever sees the star
will fix one in the ground and then go backwards for a hundred yards,
keeping the star in sight, and plant the other; then the line between
those two sticks ought to lead us to the spot."
Each night the star rose nearer to the cleft. "There is no doubt we shall
see it in the proper position to-morrow night," Harry said on the 20th of
the month. "That certainly is strong proof that the tradition handed down
to you, Dias, is correct."
They employed the next day in again searching for some indication that
might assist them, but in vain. Dias and José both asserted that the tiny
rift in the rocky peak looked wider from the middle of the valley than at
any other point, and even Harry and his brother admitted that it could
scarcely be seen from the foot of the hills on either side, and therefore
it was agreed that Dias, Harry, and José should take their places only
some forty yards apart across the centre; Maria and Bertie going farther,
near the sides of the hills. When midnight approached they took their
stations. Suddenly Harry, who was standing by the side of the rivulet,
exclaimed, "I see it!" It was more than a minute later before Dias saw it,
while it was three or four minutes before José spoke, by which time Harry
had crossed the streamlet and fixed his second rod some distance on the
other side. Dias and José did the same. Bertie did not catch sight of it
for some time after José, and Maria did not see it at all. Then they went
back to their camping place.
"It is curious that I should have seen it before either of you, when you
were standing so close to me," Harry said. "It was lower than I expected,
and it is evident that the cleft must continue much farther down than we
thought, and that it must be extremely narrow at the bottom. It is
certainly a splendid guide, and there can be no mistaking it. Unless I had
been standing on the exact line, I should not have noticed the star till
later, and the crack is so much wider towards the top that it could
probably be seen on a line half a mile across. It will be strange if we
cannot find the place in the morning. Certainly we searched in the stream
just where I was standing, and found nothing. But, of course, it is
possible that in all this time it may have changed its course
Dias shook his head. "It can hardly be that, señor, because, in that case,
anyone who had examined the valley could have found it. I begin to think
that it must have been a mistake about its being merely a rich place in
the river, and that it must be some vast treasure, perhaps hidden by the
people before the Incas, and kept by them as a certain resource when
needed. We shall have to search, I think, for some walled-up cave in the
rocks. We have already looked for it, but not seriously; and besides,
there are many boulders that have fallen, and formed a bank at the foot of
"Well, we shall know in a few hours. I feel absolutely certain that the
line between those two sticks will lead us to it."
None attempted to sleep, and as soon as it became light they took picks
and shovels and started up the valley. Harry gave an exclamation of
surprise as, standing behind the first stick, he looked towards the
second. "The line goes to the middle of that waterfall," he said.
This was so; for the stream made two or three sharp bends between the spot
where he had crossed it and the foot of the falls.
"'Tis strange!" Dias said; "we have examined that spot more than once.
There are great stones and boulders at the foot of the fall, and a large
deep pool. Can a treasure be buried in that? If so, it will be hard indeed
to get it."
Harry did not reply; his face was white with excitement. He walked forward
slowly till he reached the edge of the pool. It was some fifteen yards
across, and the colour of the water showed that it was very deep.
"I will dive, Harry," Bertie said; "I have gone down more than once in
five fathoms of water to pick up an egg that has been thrown overboard."
He stripped and swam out to the middle of the pool and dived. He was down
about a minute, and on coming up swam to the shore. "I could find no
bottom, Harry," he panted. "I am sure I must have gone down seven
"Thank you, Bertie," Harry said quietly; "we will make up our minds that
if it is there, we sha'n't get it at present. The foot of the valley is so
flat that it would need a cut at least a mile long to let the water off,
and we should therefore require either an army of men or a regular diving
apparatus, which there would be no getting this side of England. However,
it may not be there. Let us search now behind the fall."
There were some four or five feet clear between the sheet of water and the
rock. At times, as Harry pointed out, there would be an even wider space,
for the weather had been dry for the past two months, and the quantity of
water coming down was but small, while in the wet season a mighty flood
would shoot far out from the rock. The width of the stream in the wet
season was shown by the broad bed of what was now but a rivulet. Looking
upwards as they stood, the wall actually overhung them, and they could see
the edge where the water poured over unbroken.
"There may be a cave here," Harry went on, "and it may be covered by these
rocks piled up for the purpose. On the other hand, they may have fallen. I
think that is the most likely explanation, for as the top projects beyond
the bottom it is possible that some time or other there was a big fall."
They searched every foot of the rock within reach, but there were no signs
of any man's handiwork. The rock was solid, thickly covered with dripping
moss and ferns which had flourished in the mist and spray that rose from
the foot of the fall. This they had ruthlessly scraped off with their
picks. Silently they went out again at the end, and stood hopelessly
looking at the fall. It was some time before Harry said, "We must move
some of those stones now. Let us go at once and cut down some young trees,
for we can do nothing with our hands alone, but must use levers. For that
purpose we shall want straight wood, and strong. We had better get half a
dozen, in case some of them break; make them about ten feet long, and from
four to six inches thick, and sharpened slightly at the lower end."
In an hour the levers were ready.
"We had better breakfast before we begin, Dias. Your wife went off to
prepare it when we came out from the waterfall. I dare say it is ready by
In half an hour they were back again. They chose the central spot behind
the fall, and then set to work. Some of the rocks were dislodged without
much difficulty, but to move others, it was necessary to first get out the
smaller ones, on which they rested. So they toiled on, stopping for half
an hour in the middle of the day for food, and then renewing their work.
By evening they had made an opening four or five feet wide at the top, and
six feet deep, close to the wall. It was now getting dark, and all were
fagged and weary with their work, the light was fading, and they were glad
to return to camp. Maria came out to meet them. She asked no questions,
but said cheerfully, "I have a good olla ready, I am sure you must want
"I feel almost too tired to eat," Bertie said.
"You will feel better when you have had some coffee. I have fed the mules,
José, and taken them down to water."
"I think," Bertie said, when they had finished their meal, "that we might
splice the main brace."
"I do think we might," Harry laughed. "We have not opened a bottle since
we started, and certainly we have worked like niggers since seven o'clock
this morning. I will open the case; it is screwed down, and I have a
screwdriver in the handle of my knife;" and he rose to his feet.
"What does Don Bertie want?" Dias said. "I will get it, señor. I do not
understand what he said."
"It is a sea expression, Dias. After a hard day's work the captain orders
that the main brace shall be spliced, which means that the crew shall have
a glass of grog--that is, a glass of spirits and water--to cheer and warm
them after their exertions. José, will you bring a blazing brand with you?
I shall want it to see the screws."
In a few minutes he returned.
"This is brandy, Dias. I don't suppose you have ever tasted a glass of
good brandy. Is your kettle boiling still, señora? We shall want hot
water, sugar, and five of the tin mugs. Have you any of those limes we
picked the other day?"
"That is good. Just a slice each will be an improvement." Harry mixed four
mugs, and a half one for Maria. "There, Dias!" he said. "You will allow
that that is a considerable improvement on pulque."
He and his brother had already lighted their pipes. The other three had
made cigarettes. Dias and José were loud in their commendations of the new
beverage. Donna Maria had at first protested that she never touched
pulque, and this must be the same sort of thing. However, after sipping
daintily, she finished her portion with evident satisfaction. They did not
sit up long, and as soon as they had finished their first smoke all
retired to bed, leaving for once the llamas and mules to act as sentries.
As soon as it was fairly daylight, they drank a cup of coffee and started
again to work. Harry went first into the hole they had made, and, kneeling
down, struck a match to enable him to see the rock more thoroughly. He
gave a slight exclamation, then said: "Open your knife, Bertie, and come
in here and strike another match. I want both my hands."
"I have a torch here, señor,"
"That is best; then light it, Bertie."
There was just room at the bottom for Bertie to stand by the side of his
brother, who was lying down.
"Hold the torches as low as you can, Bertie."
Harry picked away with the point of his knife for a minute or two and then
"That is the top of a cave," he said. "Do you see, this crack along here
is a straight one. That, I fancy, was the top of the entrance to the cave.
That stone under it has a rough face, but on the top and sides it is
straight. It is fitted in with cement, or something of that sort, and is
soft for some distance in, and then becomes quite hard. I can just see
that there are two stones underneath, also regularly cut."
He made room for Bertie to lie down, and held the torch for him. "I think
you are right, Harry. Those three stones would never fit together so
closely if they had not been cut by hand, though, looking at the face, no
one could tell them from the rock above them."
Dias next examined the stones.
"There is no doubt that that is the entrance to a cave, señor," he said as
he joined them; and the three went out beyond the fall, for the noise of
the water was too great for them to converse without difficulty behind the
veil of water. José stayed behind to examine.
"Well, Dias, we have found the place where the treasure is hidden, but I
don't think that we are much nearer. Certainly we have not strength
sufficient to clear away those fallen stones, and probably the cave is
blocked by a wall several feet thick. We should want tools and blasting-
powder to get through it. No doubt it is a natural cave, and it seems to
me probable that they altered the course of the stream above, so that it
should fall directly over the entrance. I think before we talk further
about it we will go up there and take a look at it. If we find that the
course has been changed that will settle the matter."
It took them an hour to climb the hill and make their way down to the
gorge through which the river ran. They examined it carefully.
"It must always have come along here," Dias said. "There is no other
possible channel; but there are marks of tools on the rocks on each side
of the fall, and the water goes over so regularly that I think the rock
must have been cut away at the bottom."
"It certainly looks like it, Dias. The rocks widen out too, so that
however strong the rush of water may be it will always go over in a
regular sheet. Let us follow it along a little way."
Fifty yards farther on, the gorge widened out suddenly, and they paused
with an exclamation of astonishment. Before them was a wide valley, filled
to the spot where they were standing with a placid sheet of water four or
five hundred yards wide, and extending to another gorge fully a mile away.
Bertie was the first to find his voice.
"Here's a go! Who would have thought of finding a lake up in the hills
"I did not know there was one," Dias said. "I have never heard of it. But
that is not strange, for no one who came up the valley would dream that
there was anything beyond that fall."
Harry had sat down and thought for some minutes, looking over the lake
"I am afraid, Dias," he said at last, "that your tradition was a true one
after all, and that the gold lay in the bed of a stream in the valley we
now see filled up."
"But it must always have been a lake, señor," Dias said after thinking for
a minute, "and could not have been shallower, for there is no other escape
than the waterfall; and however heavy the rains it could not have risen
higher, except a few feet, as one can see by the face of the rock."
"It may have had some other way out," Harry said.
Dias looked carefully round the side of the valley. "There is no break in
the hills that I can see, señor."
"No; but my firm conviction is that the top of that cave that we found
behind the fall is really the top of a natural tunnel through which the
stream originally flowed. There are two or three reasons for this. In the
first place, it is certainly remarkable that there should be a cave
immediately behind that fall. I thought at first that the stream above
might have been diverted to hide it, but the ravine is so narrow that that
could not be possible. In the next place, your tradition has proved
absolutely true in the matter of the star, and in the hour of its
appearance in the exact line to the mouth of that cave. How correctly the
details have been handed down from generation to generation! If they are
right on that point it is hardly likely that they can be inaccurate on
other points, and that the tale of an extraordinarily rich treasure could
have been converted into one of an exceptional deposit of gold in the bed
of a river.
"I think that the passage was probably closed by the old people when they
were first threatened by the invasion of the Incas. No doubt they would
choose a season when the stream was almost dry. They had, as the remains
of their vast buildings will show, an unlimited supply of labour. They
would first partially block up the tunnel, perhaps for the first fifty
yards in, leaving only a small passage for the water to run through. They
might then close the farther end with sacks of sand, and having the other
stones all cut, and any number of hands, build it up behind the sacks, and
then go on with the work till it was solid; then no doubt they would heap
stones and boulders against the face of the wall. By the time the Incas
had conquered the country the valley would be a lake many feet deep. The
Incas, having gained an abundant supply of treasure elsewhere, would take
no steps towards opening the tunnel, which in any case would have been a
terrible business, for the pressure of water would drive everything before
it. Having plenty of slave labour at their disposal, they knew that it
could be done at any time in case of great necessity, when the loss of the
lives of those concerned in it would be nothing to them. When the valley
became full the water began to pour out through this gap, which perhaps
happened to be immediately over the mouth of the tunnel, or it may have
been altered by a few yards to suit, for they were, as we know from some
of their buildings, such good workmen that they could fit slabs of the
hardest stone so perfectly together that it is hardly possible to see the
joints. Therefore they would only have to widen the mouth of the gorge a
little, and fit rocks in on either side so that they would seem to have
been there for all time; and indeed the natural growth of ferns and mosses
would soon hide the joints, even if they had been roughly done."
"And that all means, Harry--?" Bertie asked.
"That all means that we have no more chance of getting at the gold than if
it were lying in the deepest soundings in the Pacific."
Bertie sat down with a gasp.
"There is no way of getting that water out," Harry went on quietly,
"except by either cutting a channel here as deep as the bottom of the
lake, or by blasting the stone in the tunnel. The one would require years
of work, with two or three hundred experienced miners, and ten times as
many labourers. The other would need twenty or thirty miners, and a
hundred or two labourers. There is possibly another way; but as that would
require an immense iron siphon going down to the bottom of the lake, along
one side of this ravine, and down into the bottom of the pool, with a
powerful engine to exhaust the air in the first place and set it going, it
is as impracticable, as far as we are concerned, as the other two.
"In the same way I have no doubt that, with a thousand-horse-power engine,
the lake could be pumped dry in time; but to transport the plant for such
an engine and its boiler across the mountains would be an enormous
undertaking; and even were it here, and put up and going, the difficulty
of supplying it with fuel would be enormous. Certainly one could not get
up a company with capital enough to carry out any one of the schemes
merely on the strength of an Indian tradition; and with the uncertainty,
even if they believed the tradition, whether the amount of gold recovered
would be sufficient to repay the cost incurred.
"Well, we may as well go down to dinner."
He shouldered his pick and led the way back. Scarce a word was spoken on
the way. Bertie tried to follow the example of his brother, and take the
matter coolly. Dias walked with his head down and the air of a criminal
going to execution. The disappointment to him was terrible. He had all
along felt so confident that they should be successful, and that he should
be enabled to enrich those he considered as the preservers of his life,
that he was utterly broken down with the total failure of his hopes.
A FRESH START
Not until he got to the camp did Harry look round. When he caught a
glimpse of the guide's face he went up to him and held out his hand.
"You must not take it to heart, Dias; it has been unfortunate, but that
cannot be helped. You have done everything you could in the matter, and
brought us to the right spot, and no one could tell that when we got
within half a mile of the gold river we should find the valley turned into
a deep lake. We can only say, 'Better luck next time'. We would say in
England, 'There are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it'. I
have never felt very sanguine myself about this; it has all along seemed
too good to be true. Of course we are disappointed, but we may have better
luck next time."
"But I don't know, señor, with certainty of any other place. No one was
ever entrusted with more than one secret, so that if the Spanish tortures
wrung it out of him two treasures would not be lost."
"We need not talk any more about this place, Dias. I see your wife has got
some of the fish that we caught yesterday fizzling on the fire. Now I
think of it, I am very hungry, for it is six hours since we had our coffee
this morning. After we have had our meal we can discuss what our next move
had better be."
While they were speaking, José had been rapidly telling Maria the
misfortune which had befallen them, and the tears were running down the
"You must not feel so badly about it, Maria," Harry said cheerfully; "you
see my brother and I are quite cheerful. At any rate, no one is to blame.
It would have been an enormous piece of luck if we had succeeded, but we
never looked on it as a certainty. Anything might have happened between
the time the gold was shut up and now, though we certainly never expected
to find what we did. We only thought it possible that we might have the
luck to find the treasure. Now you had better look to those fish, or we
shall lose our breakfast as we have lost our gold, and this time by our
own fault. We are as hungry as hunters all of us; and in fact we are
hunters, although we have not brought any game with us this time."
The woman wiped away her tears hastily, and, taking off the fish which she
had put on when they were coming down the hill, she laid them on plates
with some freshly-baked cakes. The fish were excellent, and Bertie, as
they ate, made several jokes which set them all laughing, so that the meal
passed off cheerfully.
"Now for the great consoler," Harry said, as he took out his pipe. "When
we have all lighted up, the council shall begin. Never mind clearing away
the plates now, Maria; just sit down with us, there is wisdom in many
counsellors. Now, Dias, what do you think is the best course for us to
adopt at present?"
"Unless you wish to stay here and make further search?"
"By no means, Dias," Harry said; "for the present, I have seen enough of
this side of the mountains. We will get back to Cuzco and make a fresh
start from there."
"In that case, señor, there is no doubt as to the best route. There is a
pass over the mountains just on the other side of Mount Tinta; it leads to
the town of Ayapata, which lies somewhere at the foot of that peak. I have
never been there, but I know its situation. It is a very steep pass, but
as it is used for mule traffic it cannot be very bad. Once we have passed
over it on to the plateau we shall not be more than seventy or eighty
miles from Cuzco."
"That is quite satisfactory. We will set off to-morrow."
"We had better catch some more fish, for we have had no time for hunting
lately," Maria said. "The meat we ate yesterday was the last we had with
us. If we cut the fish open and lay them flat on the rocks, which are so
hot one can scarcely hold one's hand on them, they will be sufficiently
dry by sunset to keep for two or three days, and before that you are sure
to shoot something."
The river was full of fish, and in half an hour they had caught an
abundance, having fifteen averaging eight pounds apiece. These were at
once cut open, cleaned, and laid down to dry.
"The fishing on this river would let for a handsome sum in England," Harry
laughed; "and I think the fish are quite as good as trout of the same
size. The only objection is that they are so tame, and take the bait so
greedily, that, good as the stream is, they would soon be exterminated."
That evening there was a slight stir among the animals which had just lain
down. José leapt up and walked towards them.
"There is something the matter, Dias," he cried; "the llamas are standing
up with their ears forward. They see or hear something."
"It may be pumas or jaguars," Dias said. "Take your gun, señor."
He picked up his rifle, and Harry and Bertie followed suit, and further
armed themselves with their shot-guns.
"You had best come with us, Maria," her husband said. "There is no saying
where the beasts may be. See! the mules are standing up now and pulling at
their head-ropes. Let us go among them, señors, our presence will pacify
They all moved towards the mules, which were standing huddled together.
Dias and José spoke to them and patted them.
"You stand at their heads, Maria," the former said, "and keep on talking
to them. We must see if we can discover the beasts. There is one of them!"
he exclaimed, but in a low tone. Do you see the two bright points of
light? That is the reflection of the fire in his eyes."
"Shall I fire?"
"No, señor, not yet. If we were only to wound him he would charge us; let
us wait till he gets closer. Probably there are two of them, male and
female, they generally go about in pairs."
Even as he spoke the seeming sparks disappeared.
"He has moved," Dias said; "he will probably walk round us two or three
times before he makes up his mind to attack."
"If he would go near the fire we could get a fair shot at him, Dias."
"He won't do that, señor; he will most likely go backwards and forwards in
a semicircle, getting perhaps a little closer each time."
Ten minutes passed and then Maria said:
"There are two of them. I can see their outlines distinctly."
"Do you think, if we were to fire a gun, they would move off, Dias?"
"They might for a time, señor, but the probability is that they would come