The Incas' Treasure House
By A Hyatt Verrill
Originally published serially in Open Road for Boys Oct, Nov 1931, Jan, Feb, Mar, 1932. Also revised and published as an overseas book, 1936 by Harrap. Digital capture 2008 from Harrap source by Doug Frizzle
Chapter 1 Lost!
THEY were lost! For some time both boys had felt sure of it. But each, hoping that he might be mistaken and that the other was right, had kept his fears to himself. Now they could no longer conceal their helplessness or the full realization of the dangers they faced. They gazed at each other wide-eyed, without speaking, for each dreaded to voice his fears and, boylike, neither one could bring himself to be the first to admit that he was afraid.
It seemed days since they had crawled from under the overturned car, unhurt, to find the Cholo chauffeur crumpled lifeless under the steering-wheel; days of wandering over rock-strewn plains, through the deep sand of deserts; clambering over hot, naked mountainsides. Yet Pancho's watch told them it had been only eight hours! Only eight hours since they had been laughing and chatting in the car as it bumped across the desert towards La Raya mining-camp, where the boys had planned to pass their vacation with Bob Stillwell's father, the manager.
For months they had looked forward to the trip, ever since Bob had received a letter from his father describing the wonders of Peru, telling Bob that he had arranged for him to come to the mines for his summer vacation, and suggesting that he should bring a friend with him. Of course Bob had chosen Pancho McLean, his most intimate chum, who, having lived for several years in Mexico, spoke Spanish fluently.
And now, after all the months of planning and of expectation, after the wonderful voyage, the Panama Canal, the strange sights and strange places they had seen—they were hopelessly lost in the bleak foot-hills of the Andes!
Bob's father had sent word that he could not meet the boys as he had planned; but one of the officials of the La Raya Company's office in Lima had greeted them aboard ship at Callao; he had shown them about the capital, and had seen them safely started on their way to the mines in one of the company's cars.
How the accident had occurred neither boy knew. It had happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly. One instant they were speeding across seemingly trackless desert, the next instant the car had skidded, crashed into an outcrop of jagged rock, and overturned, pinning the occupants beneath it.
Fortunately the boys had been protected by the back of the seats. Shaken and terrified, they had cut through the wrecked top and with trembling hands they had tried to drag the chauffeur free. But he was wedged fast, and when Pancho had wriggled beneath the wreckage to free the man, he had given one horrified glance at the fellow's crushed head and battered face and hastily retreated. Panic-stricken they had turned to run. “Hey, this won't do!” Bob had exclaimed. "We'll get lost, and besides, now we've got to walk, we'll need food.”
"And water,” supplemented Pancho. "We don't know how far it is toñwell, to anywhere.”
“Let's take the food and water-bottles and get going,” said Bob. “That poor chap is beyond help. We're a couple of boobs to be afraid of a dead man, and there's no use staying here.”
“How about the guns?” asked Pancho, as they prepared to burrow beneath the car in search of food and thermos bottles.
“What's the use?” replied Bob. “There's nothing to shoot in this desert. Besides, we'll have to get some one to bring in the stuff in the car. We can get the guns then. I'm not going to lug a gun across this desert. It's bad enough hiking as it is.”
“Some one might come along and steal the guns,” objected Pancho. “And I'll feel safer with my rifle.”
“All right, take it if you wish,” said Bob, “but mine stays here.”
It was not a pleasant job, salvaging the precious water-bottles, the lunches provided for the journey, and the other necessities, while the dead chauffeur lay so close beside them. And it was a still more unpleasant duty to cover the body with the cushions and ripped top in order to protect it from the black vultures which already were gathering. But at last it was done, and the boys breathed sighs of relief.
“Now, which way do we go?” asked Pancho, glancing at the glaring desert and distant mountains.
“Follow the road, of course,” replied Bob.
“Yes, if there was a road to follow. But I don't see any.”
“The car skidded off it,” Bob reminded him. “It must be over to the right.”
But beyond the spot where the car had skidded in a patch of loose sand there was no sign of a road, no traces of traffic, nothing to distinguish one part of the waste from another.
The boys gazed about in bewilderment. “I never noticed we weren't following a road,” muttered Bob. “There was one some way back. I wonder when we left it, and how far back.”
“Maybe he was taking a short cut,” the other suggested, “or maybe there isn't any road here. As far as I can see, anyone could drive across this desert in any old place.”
Suddenly Bob laughed. “We are boobs!” he exclaimed. “Even if there is no road we can follow our wheel-marks back the way we came.”
“And walk fifty miles before we get anywhere,” said Pancho. “We passed the last village a little after eight, and it's now eleven. And we've been doing twenty miles an hour. That makes it sixty miles. No, we can't try that. I wonder how far 'tis to the next village ahead.”
“The Cholo said we'd be at a place he called Palitos in time for lunch,” Bob told him, “so it can't be more than twenty-five miles. But it might as well be a hundred if we don't know the way.”
“Perhaps we'd better wait here until some one else comes along,” suggested the other.
“We'd die of thirst before then,” declared Bob. “This isn't the regular route to La Raya, you know. They generally go down the coast by steamer to Lobos. Dad had us come this way because there's no ship for ten days. I don't believe even the Cholos cross this desert. If they did we'd see burro tracks. But what's twenty-five miles? It's hot, but the walking isn't bad. All we've got to do is to head for the hills, if Palitos is there.”
“Fine!” cried Pancho sarcastically. “But which hills? There are mountains to right of us, to left of us, and in front of us, like the cannon about the famous ‘Six Hundred.’”
“Well, the car was heading north-east, so we can hike that way,” declared Bob. “Come on, Pancho, move your feet! If we don't strike Palitos we may find a Cholo's hut or some one when we get off the desert. And anything's better than staying here to fry in the sun. Come on, let's get going.”
“Guess you're right,” agreed Pancho. “And there's one thing. We can't get lost as we might if we were in a jungle. There are plenty of landmarks here.”
The walking was not hard. The sand between the outcrops of rocks was firm, and though the sun beat down mercilessly, and the desert quivered with heat, the boys trudged doggedly on. They had heard too much about mirages to be fooled when expanses of water appeared ahead and on either side. But they did not know that mirages in Peruvian deserts play strange tricks, and that the oddly shaped hill they had selected as their objective was a phantasy, as unreal as the lakes. Suddenly Bob gave a surprised cry. The hill had vanished! The boys halted, frightened, nonplussed.
“Say, how did we get turned around?” demanded Bob. “We were headed straight for that hill with the three notches in the top, and now we're headed for that pass back in the mountains, and I can't see the hill.”
Pancho glanced at the sun and the surrounding landscape. “I'm not sure,” he said, “but I should say we're still headed north-east. See” —he pointed back—“our tracks run straight towards the car. It's darned queer.”
“It certainly is,” agreed the other. Then he cried, “Look! There's the hill away over to the right!”
Pancho stared. “You're right,” he said. 'We must have swung gradually to the left without knowing it. Well, it looks pretty near now.”
Distances, however, are deceptive in the desert, and though the two walked steadily they appeared to get no nearer the hill which, in reality, was ten miles distant, beyond a long range of rolling sand-dunes.
At last, tired and hot, the boys threw themselves down to rest at the foot of a billowy sandhill. They ate greedily, and washed the food down their parched throats with copious draughts from the thermos bottles.
“We must be pretty near there,” remarked Bob when, refreshed and with appetites satisfied, they rose and looked about. “But I hate to think of climbing over these sand-dunes.”
“No reason why we should,” said Pancho. “The car couldn't have done it, so there must be a way around.”
They soon found there were a dozen ways around— or rather between—the sandhills. Moreover, they were criss-crossed with innumerable narrow trails.
“Some one must live up this way,” declared Bob. “But I don't see why they should tramp all over the place instead of keeping to one pathway. And I'd like to know which one is the main road.”
“I don't see what difference it makes,” said Pancho. “If there is a village it must be farther in towards the mountains. Not even a Cholo would live in this sand. Probably there's a valley there.”
In the loose sand it was hard going, even when following one of the trails, and the boys panted as they struggled on along the narrow pathway that twisted interminably between the dunes. But at last they reached firmer ground where a rocky area sloped upward between red and grey hills, with here and there clumps of blackish spiny cacti among the boulders.
“Looks like an old river-bed to me,” observed Pancho, as they pushed on between the converging hills. “Whew! I don't see how a car ever could get in here.”
“Those Fords can go anywhere,” grunted Bob. “Anyhow, this is a sort of pass, and this trail leads right up to it, so there must be some one in here.”
Presently the path swung around a jutting shoulder of the mountain and, leaving the stony area, zigzagged up the steep slope.
The boys halted, undecided. Should they follow the wash or stick to the trail? Finally, deciding that the trail was probably the shortest cut, and that from a height they could obtain a view of their surroundings, they turned up the narrow pathway.
Up and up they toiled, until at last, just as they were about to give up and return to the easier pass, they came to a wide stretch of hard, stony puna, or upland desert.
“It doesn't look as if anyone ever lived here!” cried Bob. “Whew! I hope we don't have to go all that way back.”
“I don't know,” said Pancho, who was studying the surroundings carefully, “it looks to me as if there were a valley over between the hills to the left, and there's some green among the rocks. That means water, and most likely the village is there in the valley. Let's go on and see.”
“There's green all right,” declared Bob, a few moments later. “Perhaps you're right. Gee whittaker! I'd like to lie down and rest!”
“There's a house!” Pancho shouted suddenly. Elated at the thought of having found a village—or at least human beings—they rushed forward. Clinging to the hillside was green vegetation, and, at the edge of the stunted growth, a hut. But the boys' faces fell as they reached it. The rude shelter of sticks and dry wild cane was empty; it had been deserted for months, as even the boys' inexperienced eyes could see. And the vegetation, the green that had lured them on into feeling confident that it meant a settlement, was a scanty growth of wild cane, thorny bushes, giant cacti, and scraggly algorobo trees that clustered about a tiny fissure in the rocks where a trickle of moisture showed. Worst of all, there was no real valley—only a dark, yawning cañon surrounded by forbidding cliffs.
Utterly spent, Bob and Pancho flung their weary bodies to the ground in the shadow of the deserted hut. Already the sun was dipping towards the west, and the mountains cast long purple shadows across the rocky puna. Their tramp had been for nothing, and night was rapidly approaching. Still, the two did not realize the predicament they were in. They were confident that, had they kept on instead of striking off on the trail, they would by now have been in the village they sought. Moreover, they had some food and water left, and they were far more tired and disappointed than discouraged or scared. The thought of being forced to retrace their steps troubled them more than anything else, and Bob suggested that they might as well stay where they were overnight. But Pancho was against it, “If we eat what food we have and drink all our water to-night we'll be without either tomorrow,” he reminded Bob. “And”—he added—“it won't be any fun, trotting back and then up that pass with nothing to eat or drink. We don't know how far we may have to go, and now that the sun's setting it will be a lot cooler and more comfortable walking than it has been so far.”
“My feet are two big blisters,” Bob groaned. Then, glancing at the trickle of moisture on the rocks, “Why can't we catch some of that water and drink it?”
“We might manage to fill the bottles,” agreed the other. “I hadn't thought of it before.”
As he spoke he moved over to the spot, held the top of a thermos flask against the rocks, and lifted the discoloured liquid to his lips.
“Grr!” he exclaimed, shivering and sputtering. "It tastes like a mixture of alum and soft soap. Golly, what stuff! Nothing doing that way, Bob."
Bob rose wearily. "If we've got to go we might as well be on our way," he sighed resignedly. "I'd be too stiff to move if I stayed here much longer."
For several minutes they tramped with heavy feet across the puna and then came to an abrupt halt. "Say!" exclaimed Pancho. "Where's the place we came in? It didn't take us this long to get over to that hut."
Bob stared about. "It was—gosh, Pancho! I don't know. But it must be near here. Where's the trail we followed?"
Pancho shook his head. Then—"Here 'tis!" he cried.
Five minutes later they halted again. The trail led up, not down the hill! Silently the two boys, now fearing the worst, turned and followed the path in the opposite direction, only to find that it described a wide loop and again led uphill.
"Oh gee!" groaned Bob. "I wouldn't climb that hill for—for a million dollars."
"Neither would I," assented Pancho. "But how are we going to get out of here?"
"There must be some way," Bob insisted. "We came in, and all we have to do is to find the place."
"But we've tried and tried, and we haven't found it.”
Bob looked about hopelessly. "Why didn't we notice some landmark?" he sighed.
"Because we felt too cocksure there were people here," replied Pancho. "But there are lots of trails— perhaps there's some other entrance besides the one where we came in."
"That's the whole trouble," declared Bob. "There are too many paths. But all we can do is to try them. It's getting late and will soon be dark."
For an hour the boys searched, weary, foot-sore, seeking for some trail, some exit from the bowl-like, stony desert among the hills. But search as they might, they could find neither the path by which they reached the spot nor any place where it appeared possible for them to descend to the pass which, they felt sure, would lead them to Palitos. And at last the unspoken fear that had filled both their minds became a certainty. They were lost!
Yet even when they fully realized the fact, they were not wholly discouraged nor hopeless. It seemed so ridiculous—to get lost in such a spot, in open country with plenty of landmarks as guides and — so both imagined—only a short distance from a village. Besides, they argued, people must pass frequently, else why so many pathways? And why, they asked themselves, should they be frightened? They might have to spend the night on the puna, to be sure; but what of it? At any other time they would have thought it a lark—a bit of adventure—and, in the morning, after a good rest, they surely would be able to find their way out.
“It's lucky it doesn't rain here,” observed Bob. “Even if we have got to sleep in the open we'll be dry.”
“And it won't be cold,” added Pancho. “Only I wish it would rain for once, so that we could get some water.”
“I'm not thirsty—now,” declared Bob, trying his best not to feel as if he could drink a gallon of water. “And besides, we've still half a bottle full.”
“Oh, we won't die of thirst overnight,” laughed Pancho, “and what water we've got we'd better save for to-morrow. Come on, Bob, it's getting dark. Let's camp over by the old hut. That's the best place.”
“What I can't understand,” muttered Bob, as they turned towards the hut, “is why so many people go through here. There must—”He stood staring at a column of indistinct figures that had appeared upon one of the trails and was moving slowly towards the boys.
Suddenly Pancho laughed. “There are your people!” he cried. “Gosh, we have been idiots, Bob! They're goats, and these paths are only goat-trails!”
Bob groaned. “Then there may not be anyone near,” he said. “I—say, what are you doing?”
Pancho had dropped to one knee and was cocking his rifle. “Going to have fresh meat for dinner,” he replied. “I'm glad I brought my gun. We won't starve now.”
The goats, semi-wild creatures that everywhere roam the Peruvian deserts and foot-hills, did not possess the dread of man that is instinctive in really wild animals, and they had approached within easy gunshot. A half-grown kid dropped at the report of the rifle, and the boys hurried forward to secure their quarry.
There was plenty of fuel in the little thicket, a fire was soon blazing, and a hearty meal of broiled kid worked wonders in restoring the boys' confidence and spirits. To be sure, the sip of water they allowed themselves seemed only to add to their thirst; but they were too tired and sleepy to worry over such trifles. Stretching themselves on the warm sand, they were soon sleeping soundly.
Chapter 2 Into the
SUNLIGHT streaming on their faces awakened the boys.
“I've been thinking,” observed Pancho as they ate a hearty breakfast, “that the best plan is to climb one of these hills before it gets too hot. Then perhaps we can spot a valley where there's water or a village or houses. Even if we don't see anything else we may be able to locate some place where we can get back to the desert or the pass.”
“All right,” assented Bob, “but I hate to think of climbing up there and then finding we're no better off.”
“Well, we can't be any worse off,” Pancho reminded him. “We've either got to find people or a stream or we'll be up against it. There's no sense in kidding ourselves. We're lost, and we haven't a decent-sized drink of water left.”
“Can't we get some water from a cactus, if worse comes to worst?” asked Bob. “I've read of travellers in the desert doing that.”
“Not a chance,” the other assured him. “I haven't seen a cactus that looks as if it had a drop of water in it. The kind you mean grow in Mexico, but I'll bet none grow here. No, Bob, we're in a nasty hole, and we've got to keep our heads and try to get out of it somehow.”
“Gosh, I wish an aeroplane would come along so we might signal it. They're flying backward and forward all the time. But it's just our luck not to see one when we need it.”
“Might as well wish for a car or a shower or a spring or a lot of things,” said Pancho tersely. “Wishing won't get us anywhere. But I do think we were darned fools to have left the car. If a plane had flown over there, they'd have spotted the wreck. And we might have used the water in the radiator at a pinch.”
Bob leaped up. “Say!” he cried jubilantly, “that's a great idea. If we climb the hill maybe we can locate the car and go back to it. And we could stay there two or three days, and a 'plane or somebody would be sure to show up.” Pancho looked at Bob, a strange expression on his face. “How about the dead Cholo?” he asked.
Bob sank back. “Gosh, I'd forgotten about that,” he moaned with a shudder. “Anyhow, I don't believe we could see the wreck from here,” declared the other.
“And we're not sure there would be water in the radiator. The chances are it has all leaked out. No, our one chance is in the hills—not on the desert. Anything is better than that. Come on, we'll have one more look for the place where we entered and then, if luck's not with us, up the hill.”
It was a terrible climb on the steep slope. Loose rocks rolled beneath their feet, the razor-edged outcrops cut their hands and shoes, and their thirst became maddening, an almost unbearable torture. But at last they gained the summit, panting, perspiring, dust-covered, and bleeding. Far below them was the little hidden puna surrounded by rock ridges. Beyond the western hills lay the hazy expanse of the big desert, a shimmering sea of sand. Their eyes swung hopefully, expectantly, and they shouted triumphantly. Almost at their feet a deep valley lay between the hills, and in the bottom of the cleft was rich green vegetation and a sparkle of running water!
Promptly they drained the last of the precious fluid in their bottles. No need to conserve those drops now. Then, waiting only long enough to pick out a descent that seemed passable, they hurried downward towards the valley.
How they managed to reach the bottom without breaking limbs or necks neither boy ever knew. But they got there somehow, and although the valley was much farther away than it had appeared from the hilltop, they reached it at last and threw themselves down beside the little stream.
“Golly! I never knew water could taste so good,” exclaimed Bob when at last he raised his dripping face. “I'm going to stay here until we're rescued.”
“I'm not,” declared Pancho. “But just the same, that water's the best thing I ever tasted. Just think, Bob, how it must feel to be days and days without water! We've been only a few hours without all we wanted, and scarcely two hours without any, and—” Once more he buried his face in the brook.
Refreshed, and having bathed their dust-covered bodies and blistered feet in the cool water, they discussed their next move.
“I'll bet there are people not far away,” declared Bob. “This is the only place we could see that had water, and people can't live in this country without water, so there must be some in this valley.”
“Good logic,” laughed Pancho, “and I hope you're right, but I don't believe every valley has its village. Besides, just because this is the only one we saw doesn't prove there aren't others over the next hill. Just the same, our best plan is to keep on up this valley. I'm for sticking by the water as long as possible. If we don't find anyone up here we may find a way to another valley that's inhabited. We won't die of thirst, and there should be game in these thickets."
"I wish we had a map," muttered Bob. "Then we might head straight for a village."
"Wishing again!" grinned the other. "But even if we had a map I'm not sure that it would help us much. You see, we don't know where we were when the car was smashed. And a map wouldn't show those goat-trails. Suppose we did know there was a village a few miles north or south. How could we reach it unless we went straight over the hills like goats?"
"Well, it would be some satisfaction to know a village was near," Bob insisted. "Gosh! I'll bet Dad's worried. He won't know what's happened to us."
"He'll probably think the car's broken down or something of the sort," Pancho assured him, "and he won't worry yet. We weren't due at La Raya until late this afternoon."
"That's so," cried Bob, "and perhaps by that time we'll be at Palitos or some place, and can send word we're all right."
As they walked up the valley, following the little stream in its wide stony bed, Pancho held his rifle ready. The place, however, seemed strangely lacking in wild life. Now and then a mocking-bird dashed from thicket to thicket; tiny green and blue parroquets chattered and scolded at the intruders; a few long-tailed humming-birds hovered over the flowers of wild heliotrope and morning-glory vines, and tiny ground-doves fluttered from almost beneath the boys' feet. But there was no sign of large birds or of other game, and the boys had begun to fear they would be forced to go hungry or else depend upon small birds for their lunch, when they saw some creatures moving among the rocks on the hillside. "Looks like a rabbit to me," said Bob. "See, it's got long ears."
"Or some sort of woodchuck," said Pancho. “Anyway, it may be good to eat."
The creature was now standing erect on its haunches, watching the boys in the ravine below. It was an easy shot, and at the report of the rifle the beast tumbled and slid down the steep slope almost to where the two stood.
“I never saw a rabbit with a long bushy tail," said Bob as they examined their kill. "And what soft fur it has!"
"Maybe it's a chinchilla," suggested Pancho. “They live here in Peru, and their fur is valuable. We'd better save the skin, Bob."
“Do you suppose it's good to eat?" Bob asked.
“I guess that depends on how hungry we are," replied Pancho. "And it looks as if we'd have to eat him or starve. We'd better wait a while, though. It's not lunch-time yet."
As they continued up the valley the boys shot two more of the viscachas as the odd rabbit-like creatures are called in Peru, and at Bob's suggestion that it would be easier to carry the game in their stomachs than in their hands, they found a shady spot, built a fire, and proceeded to broil the animals. They proved tender and tasty even without salt or pepper, and the boys vowed they were the most delicious meat they ever had eaten.
"Funny," mumbled Bob as he picked a bone, "down here in the valley where it's green there doesn't seem to be any game, and up on the bare hillsides are these chaps. I wonder why they prefer such spots. And what do you suppose they find to eat up there?"
"Maybe they eat rocks," laughed Pancho. “But whatever they eat it seems to agree with them. They're as fat as butter. And in Mexico lots of the birds and beasts prefer deserts and rocks to other places. Anyhow, it's lucky for us that these rascals do live out in the open; we'd never have seen them in this brush here."
"I'm mighty glad you did bring your rifle," Bob told him, as they rose and continued on their way. "I wish I’d brought my shot-gun. But I never thought we'd need guns."
“Nor that we'd get lost," Pancho reminded him. “We're not lost," Bob grinned. "We've just gone astray. It's the village that's lost. We—"
His words were interrupted by a whirr of wings as a large brownish bird sprang from the underbrush beside them and dropped into a tangle beyond the stream. "Partridge!" cried Bob.
"Pheasant!" exclaimed Pancho, "or some sort of wild turkey."
"He’ll be good for dinner whatever he is," declared Bob. "That is, if we can get him."
Cautiously they crept forward, but the vines and weeds were so dense that they could not detect the big mountain partridge, or perdiz. Not until they were within a few feet did the bird take flight with a roar that startled them. Had they possessed a shot-gun they might easily have brought it down, but with only a rifle and limited ammunition their one hope was to get a fair shot when the bird alighted. But the perdiz, whose plumage blended perfectly with the sand and rocks, appeared to vanish as it dropped to the hillside. Again and again the boys crept, crawled, and stalked the elusive bird, until at last Pancho killed it with a lucky shot.
"Here 'tis!" cried Bob, dashing forward and holding up the game. "Now we'll have a good dinner."
"And here's the end of the valley!" exclaimed Pancho. "And not a sign of a house or human being."
It was true. The valley narrowed to a mere rift in the mountains; a ravine with almost perpendicular walls, and with the stream descending in a series of small cascades.
"Gosh, how are we going to get out of here?" queried Bob, as they gazed at the rocky walls towering far above their heads.
“Where will we be and where will we go if we do get up there?" demanded the other. "Perhaps we'd better stay here until some one finds us. There is water here at any rate, and game enough to keep us from starving."
"For how long?" Bob asked him. "You've about twenty cartridges left. Even if you killed something every shot that means only twenty meals or about a week's food. And how could anyone find us down here?"
Pancho grinned. "I wasn't serious," he said. "But honestly, we are in a fix. We don't know where we are or where we'll be if we climb up there. We don't know where the nearest village or Indian house is, and we can't be certain we'll find another place where there is water or game if we leave here. We must have tramped at least twenty miles to-day and we covered a long distance yesterday. If we've been going fairly straight we're about thirty miles back in the mountains and getting farther and farther from civilization all the time."
"I know that," agreed Bob, "but we aren't necessarily going away from villages. I remember when I looked at the map there were places marked all over these mountains. Besides, there are mining-camps. And didn't Mr Griswold say the mountains are full of Indians and Cholos? We must strike some of them; they're always moving about from place to place. Besides, if we're back in the Andes there's sure to be water and something to shoot. Even this stream comes from above, so why not fill our bottles here and try to climb up. We're bound to find the same stream up there. And before we try it we might hunt about and kill enough game to last us a few days."
"First we'd better find out if we can climb out," said Pancho.
For some time they examined the rocks, searching for a way up, but in vain. Then Bob discovered some ancient crumbling masonry, and the two examined it with intense interest.
"Looks like a regular flight of steps leading out of here," declared Bob.
"I don't think so," said Pancho. "It curves the wrong way. Say! I know what it is. Look, you can see more of it sticking to the rocks up there. It's part of an old bridge or a viaduct that has fallen down. There must have been a road up there crossing this ravine!"
"I'll bet it's the old Incan road that Mr Griswold told about!" cried Bob. "If so, we can follow it to some place. And I'll bet we can climb up by this masonry."
Carefully, for a slip meant a nasty fall and possibly broken bones, the two began clambering up the steep side of the cañon, aided by the bits of masonry still adhering to the cliff. It was a hard climb, and more than a dozen times the boys' faces paled and their hearts seemed to skip a beat as bits of the masonry gave way under their feet. But at last it was accomplished, and they stood safely on the summit above the cañon. Then, for the first time, they remembered about food and water.
"Whew!" ejaculated Bob. "We forgot to get water and the bottles are empty. And where is that brook?"
"We are boobs!" declared Pancho. "Well, we'll have to climb down. I don't see the stream up here, I guess it must flow out through some crack farther down the cliffside."
"We might explore around a bit before trying to go down," said Bob. "Gosh! Look here, Pancho. We're on a road!"
Chapter 3 The
THERE was no doubt of it. What they had mistaken for a natural ledge of rock unquestionably had been cut by hand. It was too level and even for a natural formation, while any lingering doubts that might have remained were set at rest when the boys discovered the remains of stone pavement among the debris that had been washed down from the mountain-side through long centuries.
"Yes, it's a road all right," agreed Pancho. "Maybe it is the old Inca road. See, there's more of it across the cañon. It must have crossed over by the bridge. I wonder where it leads."
"That's what we're going to find out," announced Bob. "We'll just hike along until we get somewhere."
"For all we know we may go in the wrong direction," objected the other. "Perhaps we should be on the other side of the cañon."
"Well, don't all roads have two ends?" demanded Bob. "A road doesn't lead from somewhere to nowhere."
“No but that somewhere may be deserted and in ruins now," argued Pancho. "Lots of places that were important in Inca times are just ruins to-day. And this old road hasn't been used for ages."
"You're a pessimist," Bob told him. "Of course it hasn't been used—how could anyone get anywhere with that ravine in the way and with no bridge? And it's not likely anyone would tramp over the road just to have a look at the scenery. But I'll bet we find people somewhere along the old pike. Come on. We'll have a look to see if there's water without having to climb back into the valley."
Luck favoured them. A few hundred yards beyond the cañon a stream trickled down the mountain-side, and the two drank all they could hold and filled their bottles.
"Now if we can only find game we'll be all right," observed Bob. "But I don't see even a chinchilla, or whatever those beasts were."
"Plenty of buzzards," laughed Pancho. "We may have to take to them before we're through."
“Ugh! I'd starve first," declared the other.
"No, you wouldn't," insisted Pancho. "I knew a man in Mexico who lived on vultures once. He swore they tasted fine but were rather tough."
"I'd rather eat dogs or burros or rats," Bob insisted.
"So would I," admitted Pancho. "But you forget if we saw a dog or a burro—or even a rat—we'd know people were near, and so we wouldn't be forced to eat the beasts."
"Well, lizards or toads or snakes," said Bob.
"I haven't seen but two tiny lizards since we started," Pancho reminded him. "And not a toad or a snake. I never saw a place where there's so little wild life."
Thus talking they walked steadily on, gradually ascending, until by the time they began to think of preparing for another night they were thousands of feet above the desert where their car had been wrecked. On every side was a great wilderness of peaks, ridges, and purple-shadowed cañons. Deep in every chasm was a stream. Here and there were patches of vegetation. In the distance snow-clad peaks gleamed against the sky, and wisps of clouds clung to the mountain-sides far below the spot where the boys stood.
"We're on top of the world!" cried Bob, as they gazed about. "Gosh, what scenery!"
"And not a house or village anywhere!" exclaimed Pancho. "I never knew there was so much of Peru without anyone living in it."
Not far from where they had stopped a triangular, flat-topped spur of rock jutted like a cape into the abysmal gulf below, and as this was the only level space visible the boys decided to spend the night there. As they searched for dry agave stalks and twigs for fuel, they discovered the half-ruined walls of a stone building.
"Some one lived here once," declared Pancho. "Let's clean it out and camp inside. We're in luck to find this. We'd be frozen outside. Come on, we'll build a roaring fire and get the stones hot, and they’ll stay warm all night."
Although there were no trees on the little plateau, there were plenty of dead cacti, wild heliotrope bushes, clumps of greasewood, bunches of tough, wiry grass, and the twenty-foot flower stalks of the agaves, or century plants.
Very soon a fire was blazing in the ruins, and the perdiz was broiling over a bed of coals. Outside the chill mountain wind whistled; but the boys were snug, warm, and comfortable. They laughed and chatted as they picked the bones of the big partridge, apparently as light-hearted and free from worry as if on a week-end camping trip, instead of lost among the Andes. As a matter of fact they did not yet fully appreciate their position or realize the very grave dangers they faced. So far they had not really suffered any hardships. They had been a bit thirsty, they had been tired and footsore, they had been frightened and worried, but they had found water before they had been in agonies from thirst; they had not gone hungry and they were both confident that they would soon find houses or Indian huts where they could secure a guide to lead them to La Raya. In their case ignorance was bliss. They did not know there were vast uninhabited areas in the Andes. Neither realized that the most experienced miners, prospectors, and engineers—who had spent years in the country—would never attempt to find their way through a strange section of the Andes unless provided with compass and Indian guides. And they were not aware of the fact that by merest chance they had wandered into the wildest, least known, and most deserted portion of the Peruvian mountains.
The fact that they had come upon the old road, that they were enjoying the shelter of what had once been a building, convinced both that they would soon reach a settlement. That the road had not been in use since the mail-clad soldiers of Pizarro traversed it more than four centuries before, that the stone walls that sheltered them from the biting wind were the remains of an Incan tambo or rest-house and had not been occupied since the days of Atahualpa, never occurred to them. Unaware of these facts, never dreaming that every mile they travelled along the ancient highway was taking them farther from La Raya, Palitos, and all other outposts of civilization, the boys slept soundly, to awaken shivering in the chill morning air and with ravenous appetites.
"I wish we'd saved some of that bird for breakfast!" lamented Bob, as he crouched over the smouldering ashes of the fire.
"You're always wishing," Pancho reminded him. "I could wish a lot better than that. I could wish we had a heaping dish of hot buckwheat cakes and maple syrup and fried sausages or—"
"Oh, shut up!" cried Bob. "I wish we had some of that coca that the Indians chew to keep from being hungry!”
"No use wishing for anything," said Pancho philosophically. "Come on, let's be on our way. Maybe we'll find something to shoot, even if it's only a buzzard!"
But the boys were not doomed to be forced to subsist upon buzzards. Half an hour after leaving the ruined tambo, they surmounted a ridge and came in sight of a gravelly slope dotted with clumps of coarse grass. Instantly they dodged back. Less than a hundred yards distant they had seen several animals grazing on the hillside.
"Deer!" whispered Pancho, cocking his rifle and wriggling cautiously forward.
His shot rang out as he leaped to his feet. "Got him!" he cried as he fired two more shots in rapid succession. "Golly, Bob! See how fast those fellows go!"
"Whew, I've never seen anything step on it like that!" exclaimed Bob as the frightened creatures vanished in the distance.
"Well, we've got one, and now we can have breakfast," said Pancho.
"It's not a deer," announced Bob as they stood over the dead animal.
"Looks like a llama, only smaller and thinner," said Pancho. "Gosh, I hope we haven't shot some Indian's llama."
"I know what 'tis!" exclaimed Bob. "We saw one in the zoo at Lima. It's a vicuña!"
"Guess you're right. Anyhow, I suppose he's edible, so let's find a place where we can build a fire and eat."
"We can't cook him whole," Bob observed. "We'll have to skin and dress him and wait until he's cold, you know.
Pancho scratched his head dubiously. “I never dressed a big animal," he said. "How do you start?"
"I don't know," Bob confessed. “But I've seen butchers skin and dress calves, and I guess we can manage."
"Seems to me it would be easier and quicker to cut off his legs and leave the rest," said Pancho. "We couldn't carry the whole body with us anyway, and we couldn't eat it all before it spoiled. Those two hind legs will be as much as we can manage, and they'll last us for several days."
Even to cut off the vicuña's hind-quarters with only their pocket-knives was no easy job, and the boys were tired, blood-spattered, and heartily sick of amateur butchering before it was finally accomplished. But they were hungrier than ever, and each carrying a haunch of vicuña, they left the carcass to the buzzards and made their way to a stream, where they washed the blood from their hands and from the meat. Soon two steaks were sizzling over a fire, and though the meat was blackened, smoky, and half-cooked, the boys vowed it was delicious.
As they were eating they made a surprising discovery. They had built their fire against a big, rounded, greyish-green object that Bob had thought was a lichen-covered rock. Now, as he gnawed at a slice of the meat and glanced at the dying fire, his jaws stopped working and he stared incredulously. The supposed rock was burning!
"Look! Look there!" he cried, seizing his companion's arm. "That rock's on fire!"
Pancho exclaimed in amazement. Picking up a heavy stone, he threw it at the glowing mass. A shower of sparks flew up, there was a dull thud, and a piece of the burning object broke off.
"It's not a stone," he announced. "It's some sort of wood, or cactus, or giant mushroom. Bob, we're in luck! I've seen lots like it, and now that we know they'll burn, we won't have any more trouble over fuel."
"Hurrah! We've made a discovery!" cried Bob. "Let's build a big fire and roast all this meat now. Then it won't spoil, and we can eat it at any time."
At once they began gathering great piles of the strange woody masses which were really yaretta plants, the customary fuel of the denizens of the higher Andes. Then, after roasting the vicuña meat, they started along the ancient road.
Backward and forward around the mountain-sides, along narrow ridges, zigzagging up the precipitous slopes, winding along the edges of mile-deep cañons, the old road led, until the boys were hopelessly confused. By noon they had travelled many weary miles, and out of breath from their exertions in the rarefied air of the high altitudes, they threw themselves down and lunched on cold meat.
Seemingly near at hand, an immense snow-capped peak thrust its dazzling summit far above the surrounding mountains.
"I'll bet we're not far from La Raya," declared Bob. "Dad said the camp was on a mountain within sight of a glacier. And that's the only mountain with a glacier that we've seen. My guess is that the mine is right on the other side of it. It's on the northern side of a mountain, and we've come from the west, so all we have to do is to walk half-way around it."
"Sounds easy," Pancho replied. "But how do you know there is a way around? There may be cañons and ridges and other obstacles in our way. Anyhow, its miles to that mountain and a lot more miles around it. And I don't believe La Raya is anywhere near it. There may be a dozen more snow-capped peaks that we can't see from here, and we haven't the least idea in which direction La Raya or Palitos lies from here.
"Of course we have," Bob contradicted him. "We knew La Raya was north-east of the desert, and we've been walking pretty nearly north-east, so it should be ahead of us. We—" The words died on his lips and he stood staring about, a puzzled expression on his face.
Pancho grinned. "I wondered when you'd notice that," he said. "So we've been going north-east, have we? Then the sun must be all wrong and sets in the south-east up here, because it's on our right instead of to the left, old man."
"Whew! I am twisted!" admitted the other. "I can't make it seem right. I was sure we were headed north-east."
We have been—some of the time," replied Pancho. "But this old road has twisted and turned every which way. Likely as not, half a mile ahead, we'll be moving west or due south or perhaps back to the north-east. And there aren't any landmarks to guide us. Just as soon as we go over a ridge or turn a corner everything behind us is shut off. We've been lost ever since we left the desert and we'll stay lost until we find a house and get some Indian to guide us out of these mountains."
"It doesn't seem to worry you much," commented Bob. "And somehow I can't get terribly scared myself but I am sorry about Dad. He must be worrying and wondering what's happened."
"Yes, that's too bad," agreed Pancho. "But he must have Indians who can follow our trail. They'll know we're all right. Do you know, the more I think of it the more I feel that we were fools to have left the vicinity of the car. If we'd stayed there they would have found us. It's too late now, though. Come on. The sooner we get started the sooner we'll get somewhere."
"We might use that glacier for a guide," Bob suggested. "We can see it from almost any place. Then we'll know what direction we're going."
"I don't see as it makes the least difference where we go," declared the other, "as long as we're not headed for any place in particular. And we're as likely to find people in one place as in another. Besides, we've got to go wherever this road leads— we couldn't travel a mile through these mountains if we left it."
Presently they realized they were no longer climbing upward, and glancing back Bob saw that they already had descended several hundred feet.
“We're going downhill!" he cried. "Probably this old road leads into some valley where there are people."
"We're going down all right," agreed Pancho, "but likely as not we'll be climbing up again in a minute. The fellows who built this road didn't bother about grades—they just went wherever they felt like and took the easiest route. But—hello, you're right, Bob, there is a valley down there, and green vegetation!"
They had turned a sharp bend in the road, and ahead and far below them lay a deep valley, richly green. Feeling sure they were nearing inhabited country, the boys hurried forward. Suddenly they halted. From far up the mountain-side a vast mass of stones and earth had been dislodged at some time in the remote past, and a terrific landslide had come thundering down, sweeping away the road for hundreds of yards and leaving nothing but a bare stretch of impassable cliff.
"Well, that's the end of the old road," was Bob's comment. "Looks as if we'd have to get down to that valley by way of the mountain-side. Do you suppose we can manage it?"
Pancho shook his head. "I don't know," he replied. "It'll be a tough job, but it may get better lower down. Anyhow, we've got to try."
It was a tough job, as he had prophesied. But it was not so bad as the boys had feared, and it wasn't half as bad as if they had been forced to go up. Sliding and slipping, barking shins and knees, yelping with pain as they bumped against cacti, digging their heels into the loose debris to check their descent, they reached the bottom in a cloud of dust and a small avalanche of gravel and stones.
" Well, here we are!” announced Bob as he wiped sand and dust from his eyes and gingerly felt his bruised limbs to assure himself no bones had been broken.
"Yes, here we are, but where are they?" echoed Pancho.
"How should I know?" grinned Bob. "But it's a valley, there are trees farther on, and there's water. Let's have a bath and wash some of this mountain off of us."
Cleaned and refreshed by their bath in the cold water, they started down the valley.
“There's one thing sure," announced Pancho. “If we can follow this stream, it is bound to lead us to a river. And as people nearly always live near rivers, we're certain to find some one in time. And if there's game anywhere it will be where there are water and trees."
“The vicuña wasn't," Bob reminded him.
"No, but we might hunt for a month and not see any more of those fellows," declared Pancho. "I'll bet—gosh, Bob! What was that?”
The boys halted in their tracks, listening intently. From somewhere ahead sounded a piercing scream, followed by snarling growls, groans, and the crashing of brush!
Chapter 4 Jaguar
STARTLED though they were by the piercing scream and the fearsome sounds so unexpectedly breaking the silence of the valley, the boys' terror was only momentary. The cries and groans were human; somewhere close at hand a man or woman was in trouble; and heedless of their own peril Bob and Pancho dashed into the thickets towards the sounds. Bursting through the dense tangle, they came abruptly to an open space in which an Indian was battling for his life with a tawny, spotted creature— a huge jaguar. His poncho was torn and bloodstained, one arm hung limp at his side, and though he struggled frantically to rise to his feet, an injured leg refused to support his weight.
His only weapon, a heavy wooden club, provided little defence against the great cat. Rearing on its hind legs, striking viciously with lightning speed, green eyes blazing and gleaming teeth bared in a snarl, the creature seemed certain of its prey, playing with the man as a cat plays with a mouse before dealing the blow that would end his life.
All this the boys took in at a single glance. Never before had they seen a dangerous wild beast, and to their horrified eyes the jaguar appeared as huge as a lion or a Bengal tiger. But in their pity for the helpless Indian they gave no thought to their own danger. Springing to within a few feet of the jaguar, Pancho poured four bullets into the spotted hide as fast as he could pull trigger. With a savage roar the creature turned and leaped for its new enemy, with jaws open and great claws widespread. For an instant Pancho's heart seemed to stand still. His bullets appeared to have no effect, and he could almost feel the ripping blow of those terrible claws, the agony of those crushing, gleaming fangs. Bob's excited yells, the groans of the Indian, and the snarling growls of the jaguar rang in his ears. He felt certain they were the last sounds he would ever hear. Staggering back, he swung his empty rifle upward; but before he could strike, the spotted fiend half turned in its leap, bit savagely at its flank, and collapsed in a lifeless heap.
Pancho and Bob hurried to the side of the Indian who was stretched unconscious, seemingly as dead as the jaguar, on the ground. Wide-eyed, trembling, the boys gazed at the man's ghastly wounds. Scarcely an inch of his skin was left unscored by the jaguar's claws. The left wrist was broken, the flesh was torn from the shoulder exposing the bone, and one leg had been bitten through below the knee. But the man still breathed, although death seemed imminent. It appeared hopeless to attempt to help him; but the boys remembered their Scout training and they started at once to do what they could for the unfortunate Indian.
"I'm mighty glad we brought our first-aid kits," muttered Pancho. "Fill your hat with water from the brook, Bob. We'll need lots of it."
With shaking hands they bathed the worst wounds, applied antiseptics, and exhausted their supply of bandages, lint, and tape. Quickly they tore their shirts into strips, sprinkled them with the remaining disinfectants, and placed tourniquets about the torn arm and leg to stop the flow of blood. Fortunately the leg-bone was not broken; but the fractured wrist was bad, with the shattered bones protruding from the torn flesh.
"Gosh, we'll never be able to fix that!” declared Pancho, turning white and feeling deathly sick as he examined the injury.
"Maybe we can fix up some sort of splints," suggested Bob. “Then if we can get him to a doctor—"
“Doctor!” cried Pancho. "Where do you think you'll find a doctor out here? I'll bet this fellow never even heard of a doctor. And he may be miles from his own home. No, we've got to try and do the best we can. I know you're supposed to pull a broken bone into place, but I—I'm afraid to pull this. It looks as if the least pull would tear the hand from the arm. It's terrible!”
Bob, too, was pale, and he had most unpleasant sensations in the pit of his stomach. "Perhaps if we shut our eyes and felt it we could tell where the bones belong, and sort of push them back," he said.
Pancho shook his head. "No," he declared positively. "We've got to get a grip on ourselves and grit our teeth and pull these bones into place as well as we can. Then bandage it and put on splints and trust to luck. Even if it heals crooked it will be better than nothing. And it's lucky he's unconscious and can't feel how it will hurt."
Never had the boys faced a more trying job; but at last it was done, and they breathed sighs of relief. There were still the deep flesh-wounds to be attended to, however. The tourniquets had practically stopped the flow of blood, but they could not remain in place indefinitely. So, mustering their courage once more, the boys examined the raw flesh, washed away the blood, and tentatively loosened the ligatures. To their joy they found the bleeding had almost ceased, and feeling sure no arteries had been severed, they removed the tourniquets and bound up the wounds. As they finished, they suddenly became aware that the Indian had regained consciousness. His eyes were open, he was gazing at the boys; but no murmur or groan came from his lips.
"Gee, he is stoical!” exclaimed Bob. "And he must want a drink."
As he spoke, Bob placed a water bottle to the man's lips. He drank greedily, and then, mumbling unintelligible words, reached weakly with his uninjured hand towards a small leather wallet at his waist. Wondering what the contents might be, Bob opened it and guided the trembling fingers to it. Within were a number of dried leaves and a small lump that looked like grey chalk.
“What do you suppose those are?" muttered Bob as the Indian's fingers withdrew a few leaves and the chalky lump, and he placed them in his mouth.
"I know!" cried Pancho. "It's coca. Don't you remember your father writing about the way in which these Indians chew coca leaves and can go all day without food or rest because of them?”
“Yes, I guess you're right," agreed Bob. "Say, I wouldn't mind having some myself. I'm as weak as a cat."
"Don't talk about cats being weak!” said Pancho. “There's one over there that was anything but weak. And don't touch the coca. That's the stuff they make cocaine from, you know."
"What'll we do next?" demanded Bob. "Here we are with a half-dead Indian on our hands and no place to take him, even if we could carry him. He won't be able to walk for weeks, even if he gets better."
"I guess we'll have to make some sort of camp here and wait till he's able to walk—or until he dies," said Pancho resignedly. "We can't go off and leave him, even if we knew where to go. I guess we can find game. Anyway "—with a wry grin—" we can eat the jaguar if worse comes to worst."
"Not I," declared Bob. "I'd as soon eat buzzard. And isn't it just our luck to find the first Indian we meet all chewed up and about ready to die?”
"It's a shame to have to lose that beast's skin," mused Pancho, ignoring the other's remark. "I may never kill another. And—"
He was interrupted by the Indian, who was mumbling words. The boys could make nothing of them, but they caught the words "Tonak," "huauki," "utur-unku," "kispishkuni," and others. But they meant nothing, for the man was speaking in his native Quichua dialect. The two boys shook their heads. Then Pancho spoke to the man slowly in Spanish, telling him they did not understand. The Indian nodded, was silent for a moment, as if puzzling over something, and then in halting, broken Spanish he mumbled: "You are my brothers. You have killed the great tiger. I, Tonak, am your brother and your slave."
"That's all right," commented Bob. "We'd have done as much for anyone. But I'd rather find a village than to have a slave. Ask him where he lives and if it's far."
But the Indian had again lapsed into unconsciousness.
"He's a queer-looking chap," observed Pancho, "not at all like any of the other Indians we've seen."
"Well, we've only seen civilized Indians, and he's probably only half civilized," Bob reminded him. "Just the same, he is a fine-looking Indian; that is, he would be if he wasn’t so torn to pieces and sick."
Now that they had begun to notice the man's appearance, the boys discovered a number of strange facts. As Pancho had said, the man was quite different from other natives. His skin was a clear golden yellow, his nose large, thin, and aquiline, and his long hair was held in place by a narrow silver band. Even his clothes were unlike those of the other Indians the boys had seen. He wore a poncho, but it was a gorgeous affair covered with an intricate design in which flowers, birds, llamas, and human figures were combined. And his tunic-like blouse and knee-length trousers were richly decorated in bright colours, while about his neck hung a coloured cord supporting a carved stone llama and a lapis-lazuli charm.
"I wonder what he was doing here," mused Bob. "Funny he had nothing but a club. I should think— hello! Look there. He had a spear too."
Not far away lay a broken lance or javelin with the point missing, and the boys also found a powerful bow and two broken arrows.
"Looks as if he had been hunting," said Pancho. "Probably the jaguar came at him unexpectedly. Say, what do you suppose this is?”
He had picked up a peculiar object, a slender hardwood stick about fifteen inches long, with a curved bone handle at one end and a small silver hook at the other.
"Looks like a magician's wand to me," declared Bob, "or like one of those batons used by the leaders of orchestras. But I don't see what that hook and handle can be for."
Suddenly Pancho whistled. "I know what 'tis!” he exclaimed. "I remember seeing things just like it in Mexico. The Indian boys at Tlascalan used them. They called them atlatls, and used them for throwing spears in a game they played."
"I don't see how anyone could throw a spear with that thing," said Bob.
"I'll show you," replied Pancho. Picking up one of the arrows, he grasped the atlatl in his right hand, rested the arrow on his doubled fingers, holding it in place with his first finger, and with its butt against the silver hook. Then, with a sweep of his arm, he sent the shaft flying across the clearing.
"Say, that goes all right!" cried Bob. "But look, the old chap's waked up."
They hurried to the side of the Indian, who asked for water, and when this had been given him he again closed his eyes.
“He's in bad shape," muttered Pancho. "I don't believe he'll live through the night. But we'll make him as comfortable as we can."
By means of canes and palm-leaves they managed to rig a shelter above the Indian, and gathering a supply of brush and dead limbs they prepared a camp-fire near by. It was not pleasant to think of spending the night beside the dying man; but it was far better than spending the night in the open, especially with such creatures as the jaguar prowling about.
As the sun sank behind the western ranges, the boys prepared their evening meal, cutting slices from the partly roasted haunch of vicuña and toasting them over a small fire. As they worked, the Indian watched them with half-closed eyes and expressionless face.
"I wonder if he's hungry," said Bob. "Maybe he could eat a slice of meat."
"I don't know," replied Pancho. "If I were as badly hurt I wouldn't have any appetite. I guess Indians must be tougher than white men. If we had a cup or something of the kind we might make him a sort of broth."
"Can't we use the tops of the thermos bottles?” suggested Bob.
"Fine!" cried Pancho. "They're small, but probably he won't want much."
Shredding some of the juiciest of the meat, the boys simmered it over the coals in the metal covers of the bottles. The result, despite the bits of cinders and ashes it contained, was nourishing, and the Indian gulped it down ravenously and asked for more.
"Doesn't look as if chewing coca stopped him from being hungry," remarked Bob as they prepared the second mess of broth.
"Well, he's lost a lot of blood," Pancho reminded him "And there's only half a cupful in these covers. I'll bet he could get more satisfaction out of chewing the meat. Some of it's pretty nearly raw and full of juice."
Despite his innumerable wounds the Indian's jaws were unharmed and he chewed steadily and with obvious satisfaction on the almost raw meat which Pancho gave him. At last, apparently satisfied, he closed his eyes.
"Poor chap!” muttered Pancho, "I'll bet he's suffering terribly. But he hasn't even groaned since we began fixing him up."
"If he dies before morning he won't die hungry at any rate," said Bob. "And I'll bet he pulls through."
"If he can eat and drink and the wounds aren't infected, I don't see why he shouldn't," said Pancho. "Of course, he'll be a cripple. And—"
"And we'll have to stay here until he recovers," groaned Bob, interrupting the other's words. "I'm terribly sorry for him, of course. But it does seem hard luck to have to stay here when we might be on our way to La Raya."
“Yes, that's so," agreed Pancho. "Just the same, it's got to be done unless the poor fellow can tell us how to reach his village, and one of us goes there and gets help. Anyhow, there's no use worrying over it to-night. Things may be different in the morning."
Chapter 5 The Unknown Tribe
NEITHER boy really expected the Indian to live through the night. But when morning dawned he was still alive. Moreover, he appeared stronger, brighter, and more comfortable than on the preceding evening. He had no fever, although he drank prodigiously, and he not only chewed but ate the meat the boys gave him. "He surely is a tough old bird," commented Bob. "I suppose we should change the dressings on his wounds."
“Yes," agreed Pancho, "we should, but we can't. If we tear up any more of our clothes we'll be pretty near naked; and we're just about out of all antiseptics. We'll have to let it go for another day and trust to luck and his toughness, I guess."
“We might wash the bandages and use them over again," suggested Bob. "If we boiled them it would sterilize them."
“That's so," assented the other. "I hadn't thought of doing that. I—"
The Indian's voice interrupted him. He was speaking in Spanish, slowly, in almost inaudible tones.
"An hour towards the rising sun is the village of my people," he said. "The way lies down the valley to a great black rock, and beyond the trail is clear. That my people may know you are my brothers and that you come from me, take you this." As he spoke he reached uncertain fingers to the charm about his neck.
Pancho stooped and lifted the cord over the Indian's head.
The injured man smiled wanly and after a brief silence spoke again. "Fear not to enter my village. Cry aloud these words: 'Ama-yula-ama, sua-ama-kuolya.' " (No enemy, no thief. The ancient Incan salutation.)
"That's easy," declared Pancho as he repeated the six words. Then, to the Indian, "Your people— they know Spanish?”
The man nodded.
"There are some who do," he replied. "Kespi, Wini, Kenko, and others who have dwelt among the whiteskins. And at this hour they will not have left the village."
"Hurrah! We are near a village!” cried Bob. "Only two hours' walk. Come on, let's get started."
Pancho shook his head. "One of us must stay here," he said. "If we left this man alone and helpless as he is, a jaguar or some beast might attack him and—well, there are those vultures up there." He glanced up at the sky where the buzzards swung in wide circles. "Ugh! It gives me shudders to think of them," he continued. "Just sitting around and waiting for him to die."
"Gosh, I don't want to start off alone," objected Bob.
“Then I'll go, and you stay here," said Pancho. "My Spanish is better, and I can talk with the villagers and understand them if they speak bad Spanish."
"It'll be just about as bad staying here," declared Bob. "And who's going to have the rifle?”
''Whoever stays here," Pancho decided. “There's more danger of wild beasts here than on the trail to the village."
"Let's draw lots to see who stays and who goes," Bob suggested.
The lot to remain fell to Bob.
“Well, that settles it," he said. "But hurry up, old man. Four hours are going to seem like a year to me."
“They won't seem much shorter to me," Pancho told him. "And I'll hurry all I can."
The route offered little difficulty to Pancho. But he was nervous. He felt very helpless without his rifle and he glanced fearfully from side to side as he hurried on, constantly repeating the Quichua words to himself. Without incident he reached the black rock the Indian had mentioned. Then, finding a plain trail, he turned to the right and came presently to the ruins of a great stone bridge. Here the stream forked, but the path was easily seen. The jungle had been cleared away, and the hillsides were covered with small terraced gardens in which grew maize, barley, peas, sweet and white potatoes, peanuts, and other vegetables, while here and there were fruit trees.
Picking up some ripe peaches that had fallen, Pancho almost ran down the winding pathway through gardens and orchards until he saw the village just ahead. Evidently the Indians at once caught sight of him, for he heard cries of alarm and saw hurrying figures vanishing in doorways, and children scurrying to cover like frightened partridges.
Not until then did he remember to call the six words he had learned from the wounded man. Slowing down, he shouted the salutation at the top of his lungs, repeating it again and again. For a moment there was no response, but presently the people timidly appeared, ready to turn and run at any instant. But when he held up the cord with the carved stone llama, their manner completely changed. Chattering, exclaiming, they pressed about Pancho as he tried to explain what had happened. Presently two young Indians stepped forward. One was about Pancho's age, the other a few years older, and both were bright-looking, light-skinned sturdy fellows.
"I am Kespi," announced the elder of the two, speaking in fairly good Spanish. "I am the nephew of Tonak, the one whom you say was wounded by the great tiger. And this "—indicating his companion— "is my brother, Kenko. We are your slaves, for you have saved the life of our curaca (chief). We will prepare a litter to bring Tonak to his village. But you are weary. Eat and drink and rest that you may be strong for the journey before us."
Pancho had not realized how very tired and hungry he was, but he had fairly rushed along the trail and had eaten a very meagre breakfast. As the two brothers led him through a narrow lane between the low stone houses he looked about with intense interest. Everywhere were Indians, but they were not at all as he had imagined they would be. As a youngster he had seen plenty of Indians in Mexico, and the Tlascalan children had been his playmates on his father's ranch. Also, he had seen many Indians about Lima. But somehow he had imagined that the Indians of the remote Peruvian mountains would be more like North-American redmen —painted, feather-bedecked. Instead, he found them far more civilized in appearance than the aborigines of the Peruvian towns. Their streets, houses, garments, and persons appeared even neater and cleaner than those of the white villagers or the Cholos or half-breeds he had seen. He knew that the Peruvian natives at the time of the Spanish conquest had been highly civilized under the Incas; but he had never dreamed that any of them had retained vestiges of their ancient culture and habits.
Had he been an ethnologist or archaeologist, he would have been most amazed and excited, for though he did not realize it, he was among the Huancas, so remote from contact with white men that they had retained practically all the customs, the religion, and the costumes, as well as the civilization, of the Incas. Though some of them had visited the outside world, few of them had even seen railway trains, automobiles, and aeroplanes, and Kespi, Kenko, and several others had dwelt long enough among Spanish-speaking people to acquire a knowledge of that language. But the village, miles from the last outposts of Spanish civilization and settlements, had literally been lost for centuries in the mountain fastnesses, unknown even to the Peruvian authorities. And Tonak, and his fathers before him, had taken every care that the people should remain isolated. They had frowned upon the introduction of anything savouring of the white men, the despoilers of their race. No modern inventions were permitted in the village, although steel machetes, axes, knives, needles, and similar tools and implements were used. And here in their lost or forgotten village the Huancas lived just as their ancestors had lived before the days of Pizarro.
With snares, traps, bows and arrows, throwing-spears, and slings they secured all the game they needed. There were plenty of fish and crawfish in the streams. They raised their own cotton, had their llamas and alpacas, wove the finest of cloths on hand-looms, and were expert potters and basket-makers. From the beds of the streams they washed what gold they required for making ornaments. Copper was abundant in the hills, as were silver and tin.
Of course Pancho did not learn all this at once; but as he ate his breakfast of mote (hulled corn), purutu (beans), and charki (dried meat), and drank the sweet cider-like aka made from maize, and revelled in the luscious duraznos (peaches) and cherimoyas (custard apples), Kespi and Kenko asked innumerable questions and told him something of their own life and of their village. By the time the litter and the men were ready to start for the glade where the wounded curaca lay awaiting them, Pancho had begun to realize that he had suddenly stepped back four centuries or more.
The litter proved to be a hammock-like affair of llama wool ropes woven into a coarse net and filled with soft woollen robes, the whole arranged to be slung to poles. Four stalwart men went along as bearers, together with two others armed with heavy spears, slings, clubs, and bows and arrows, and finally, Kespi, Kenko, and Pancho.
The return journey seemed very short, and almost before Pancho realized it, they came in sight of the little glade and the rude shelter over the wounded chief.
Bob sprang to his feet as the party appeared. "Looks as though you've brought a regular army along!" he cried. "Seems as if you'd been gone a week. Gosh, but I'm glad you're back. And say, do you know who our Indian is? He's—"
"King of the place," supplied Pancho with a grin. "How is he feeling?"
The Indians gathered about their chief, prostrating themselves before him, lifting his uninjured hand to their foreheads, and moaning with pity and sorrow at sight of his injuries. Presently one of the warriors hurried to where the dead jaguar lay, and began to talk to it.
"Look at him!" exclaimed Bob. "What do you suppose he's doing?"
Pancho shook his head. "I'll ask Kespi and Kenko," he said.
To his questions the Indian boys replied that the man was asking the spirit of the creature to forgive them for having killed it. "But why?" demanded Pancho. "Why should he ask forgiveness when the beast nearly killed your curaca?"
Somewhat hesitantly, Kespi explained that as the Huancas regarded a jaguar as sacred, and as the abiding place of a very powerful divinity, they felt that whenever it was necessary to take a jaguar's life they must try to propitiate the offended spirit.
"Well, if that doesn't beat anything!" said Bob. "I thought they were civilized Indians."
Pancho grinned. "You don't know the half of it, Bob. Wait until you see their village. Talk about the Yankee at the court of King Arthur! Why, that fellow wasn't in it with us. We're at the court of an Inca! What do you know about that?"
Bob laughed derisively. "Go on, you can't kid me," he declared. "The last Inca died over four hundred years ago."
"So they say," remarked Pancho, as the little group with the wounded curaca in his improvised litter left the glade. "I'm not kidding you, Bob. From what Kespi and Kenko have told me I shouldn't be a bit surprised if their uncle Tonak here is an Inca. Inca merely means a king, you know. And he's the king of this place all right."
Chapter 6 Among the Incas
IN due time they reached the village. Tonak seemed none the worse for his journey, and with a plentiful supply of clean cloth at their disposal the boys dressed his wounds and were relieved to find that there was no infection and that the cuts were beginning to heal nicely.
"Who'll say we're not great doctors?" laughed Bob. "Let's hang out a sign and start a hospital! I'll bet we'd get all the patients we could handle, and more too."
Pancho grinned. "I'll bet we would," he agreed, "because one patient would be more than we could attend to. We haven't a teaspoonful of antiseptic left."
But they soon found that there was no chance to start a medical career in the village, even had they been supplied with all the essentials. A bent, wrinkled old woman arrived on the scene with a supply of herbs, roots, and powders, and took complete charge of Tonak's case. Although she grumblingly condescended to let the boys attend to the broken wrist, and allowed them to do the bandaging, she replaced their antiseptics with bruised leaves and strange-looking unguents and dosed the curaca with weird brews. To the boys' surprise the treatment had an almost magical effect.
"No hocus-pocus about the old witch," declared Bob. "She knows her job all right. I wonder what the things are that she uses. If a fellow could find out he could make a fortune putting them on the market. Funny these Indians should know about medicine."
"Why?" demanded Pancho. "These Peruvian Indians used quinine ages before white men ever heard about it. They had sarsaparilla, ipecac, rhubarb, cascara, castor oil, and cocaine—or at least the coca from which it is made—so why shouldn't they know about other medicines unknown to white men?"
"Listen to the professor!" laughed Bob. "Where did you learn all that, old man?"
"Out of a book, dumb-bell," grinned Pancho. "I read all I could find about Peru before we came down here."
"So did I," replied Bob. "But I've forgotten nearly all I read. Say, why can't we be on our way to La Raya or somewhere, now the chief has a nurse to look after him?"
"I suppose we can," said Pancho. "I'll ask Kespi and Kenko about getting one of the men to guide us."
To the boys' astonishment and chagrin, Kespi insisted there was no one in the village who could guide them to La Raya or even to Palitos. Tonak, he declared, was the only person who knew the route to the white men's settlements. And the journey, he added, would be difficult and dangerous. Better wait until Tonak recovered, he advised them.
"I'll bet the chief won't be able to walk for nearly a month," lamented Bob. "And it will be twice as long before he'll be strong enough to take such a trip."
"If he ever is," supplemented Pancho. "With that injury to his leg, I don't see how he'll ever be able to do much. And it seems to me there's something queer about the matter. You can't tell me these people don't know the way to every place in Peru. I don't believe we're so awfully far from La Raya either. Now, why don't they want to take us there?"
"Ask me another," muttered Bob. "Maybe they're holding us for ransom or a reward. I'll bet that's it. They know we're lost, and they're going to keep us here until there's a reward offered for us."
Pancho laughed. "If we were in China or Greece or some other wild place where there are brigands, or even in Mexico for that matter, I might think it possible. But not with these Indians, Bob. In the first place, Tonak owes his life to us, and Indians remember a kindness just as long as they remember an injury. And how would they know whether there is a reward or not? No, old timer, it's something else, but—"
"Well, whatever 'tis, we're stuck," declared Bob gloomily. "Now we've found a village we're as badly off as ever."
"Not by a long shot!" said Pancho. "We're safe, we have plenty to eat and drink, and if you weren't worrying about your father you'd think it a swell adventure."
"Maybe you're right—in a way," admitted Bob. "But I can't help thinking how Dad must feel, not knowing what's become of us. If I could only let him know, it would be different."
"Being gloomy won't help any," Pancho told him. "I don't believe he thinks anything serious has happened to us. Probably he has men trailing us through the mountains right now. I shouldn't be a bit surprised to see them appear any time."
"Well"—Bob sighed—“I guess you're right. Let's see how old Tonak's getting on, and then go fishing or hunting or something."
The chief was doing wonderfully well. Thanks to his rugged constitution and the old woman's medicines, his wounds were healing rapidly. He smiled as the boys approached his doorway where he was basking in the sun, and asked if they were comfortable. Again and again he declared they were his sons and brothers and that he and all his people were their slaves.
"I wish they were," muttered Bob. "Then I'd order them to take us out of here. Why don't we ask him what the trouble is?"
Tonak nodded as Pancho told him of their desires and asked why the men seemed unwilling to guide them to a settlement or to the mines. Then for a space he sat silent, apparently deep in thought.
"My people obey the orders of their curaca," he said at last in his slow, halting Spanish. "I have told them not to take you through the mountains. Ill might befall you and then I, Tonak, would be sad. Few know the way, and it is my wish to go with you. But that your father may not be worried I have already sent a messenger to carry word that you are safe and will return soon. I and my people owe you what we can never repay, but white men, my sons, love riches, and riches we can give you. Wait but a little time, and all will be well."
"I guess that's final," remarked Pancho as Tonak ceased speaking. "I was wrong about there being any mystery. Tonak's just afraid something might happen to us unless he goes along himself. And you needn't worry over your father, now that the chief has sent word to him."
"I like his nerve!" exclaimed Bob angrily. "Why didn't he tell us a man was going to La Raya? Then I could have sent a letter to Dad. And what does he mean about giving us riches?"
Pancho shook his head. "Probably some sort of present” he said. "He used the word ‘ricos,’ which is rotten Spanish and means rich people. But I suppose he meant 'riquezas.’ Maybe it's ponchos or robes or some gold and silver things such as the women wear. I admit it's queer about his sending a man to La Raya and not letting us know. But what's the good of worrying? Let's enjoy ourselves the most we can. Hello, here come our three friends. Now let's see how much Quichua we've learned."
Kespi, Kenko, and Wini were returning from their hillside gardens, and the two boys hurried to meet them. Ever since reaching the village they had been picking up the Indians' language. They had found the words hard to pronounce, and the proper use of verbs and the Quichua grammar was beyond them; but already they could "get along," as Bob put it, by padding out with Spanish.
"Alli-punchantin!" cried Pancho in greeting. "Maipi—er—"
"Maipi rinqui?" supplied Bob, laughing. "Only," he added, "I don't believe that's right either. It means where are you going, and I suppose you wanted to ask where they'd been."
"No, you were right," Pancho told him.
The three Indians grinned. "Alla-right!" exclaimed Wini suddenly. The boys looked at him in astonishment. They had not realized that the Indians with their retentive minds had been quietly acquiring a smattering of English as they listened to the boys conversing with each other.
"Say!" exclaimed Pancho. "Where did you learn that?"
His question was beyond Wini's comprehension. "Na macunipac huasita" (now to my house to eat), he replied in answer to the boys' first question.
"Chaupi punchau huaska chitanipac" (after noon we go for a hunt), added Kespi. "Rini munani?" (want to go?)
The boys grinned. "Too much for me," declared Pancho in Spanish. "I get the part about the house and eating and the ‘want to go?' But what's the rest?"
"Something about hunting," put in Bob.
Kenko translated. "Kespi says after noon we go to hunt. You like to come with us?"
"You bet!" replied the boys in chorus.
"Chu-pet?" repeated Wini with a broad grin. "What that mean?"
Unable to explain in Quichua, the boys told him in Spanish, and added "your life" to the Indian's vocabulary.
Kespi had been mumbling something to himself. "What it mean—karsh?" he asked.
The boys laughed. "Gosh!" Bob corrected him. "It means—well, it means about the same as caramba"
Kespi grinned from ear to ear. "Karsh-chu-petchu-lif-alla-right!" he cried delightedly.
Pancho slapped him on the back. "Fine!" he exclaimed. “You'll be talking American pretty soon."
"Maybe the boys at home wouldn't be surprised if they could look in and see us here," said Bob as they joined their Indian friends at lunch. "Eating with a couple of Incan Indians up here on the back side of the
Pancho, who was gnawing at an ear of sweet corn, nodded. "I'll bet if anyone asked them they'd say we'd have to eat monkey or raw fish or bugs or lizards or something of that sort," he said. "And here we are eating just as good food as we would at home—corn and beans, baked potatoes, squash, and wheat cakes—"
"Barley cakes," Bob corrected.
"Well, barley then, and honey and crawfish and peaches and—"
"If you eat all that you'll die," laughed Bob.
"Anyway, it's here to eat if we want it," argued Pancho. "Say, it's not so bad being a wild Indian, after all. I—"
"They're not wild," the other reminded him.
"Not exactly," Pancho admitted. "But what I was going to say was—"
"Cut it out," Bob advised. "You've eaten twice as much as any of the rest now, and they're all waiting for you. You forget we're going on a hunt for vicuñas."
Chapter 7 Hunting Vicuña
I'D like to know how they expect to get vicuñas with those things," said Bob, as the boys watched their Indian friends preparing for the hunt. "From what I saw of the vicuñas we met, a fellow needs a good rifle and has to be some shot to get them. These chaps have only spears and clubs."
"Maybe vicuñas over here aren't so shy," Pancho hazarded. "But more likely the Indians think one rifle enough for the crowd."
As they saw Kespi drop two huge balls of twine into a bag slung over his shoulder, they were even more puzzled.
"Now what do you suppose that's for?" exclaimed Pancho. "It's too fine to use for tying anything."
"Look!" cried Bob. "They're taking a drum and one of those flute things they call querns, and a horn trumpet. Anyone would think we were going to a dance instead of on a hunt. And why on earth are they carrying that bundle of sticks?"
Pancho laughed. "Perhaps they want to entertain the beasts before killing them," he said, "or maybe they charm them with music. Dad used to tell about attracting antelope within range by making queer noises or waving a rag or something of the sort. Perhaps vicuñas can be attracted by Indian music."
"After seeing that man begging the jaguar's pardon because we killed him I can believe almost anything," declared Bob. "Anyhow, I'm going to ask about it."
The Indians either could not or would not explain. They grinned, and Kespi declared: "All things for make get vicuñas. Pretty soon you see."
It was a long tramp from the village to the puna beyond the mountain summit, and the boys panted, puffed, and perspired as they toiled up the steep, narrow pathway, though the Indians made nothing of it.
“Whew! Why did they make this path straight up instead of going zigzag?" gasped Bob.
"I guess they've studied geometry and know a straight line is the shortest distance between two points," panted the other. "They're regular goats and don't mind it."
Bob glanced down at the valley with the village beside the river directly beneath them. "Well, it wouldn't be any trouble to get back there," he said.
"All a fellow would have to do would be to roll, and he'd land right in the middle of the village."
"I'd rather slide," Pancho told him. "Lucky there aren't any stones on this mountain-side. If a good-sized rock rolled down there it would smash things to bits."
"And if we should slip we'd be smashed to bits," observed Bob as they resumed their climbing.
As they neared the top of the ridge, the Indians gestured for silence, and crawling on hands and knees, cautiously raised their heads and peered over the rocks. Bob and Pancho did the same. Before them was a wide, almost level expanse of puna, and about five hundred yards from where the hunters crouched was a herd of at least fifty of the graceful, slender-limbed, buff-and-white vicuñas. Wholly unaware that enemies were near, they played and gambolled about while the boys watched them fascinated. Never had they imagined that any living creatures could move so rapidly. Running in circles so swiftly that they appeared but blurs, the creatures would suddenly leap upward as if impelled by springs, and, wheeling in mid-air, would resume their mad race in the opposite direction. Others would bound from the earth like rubber balls, and, turning complete somersaults, would be off like the wind the instant their feet touched the ground, moving so swiftly that, as Bob put it, "You couldn't see anything but their dust.”
"It seems a shame to kill them," whispered Pancho. "Anyhow, I couldn't hit one of them at this distance, when they're moving all the time."
"I don't see how we can get any nearer," said Bob. "The minute they see us they'll be off like a shot. There isn't enough cover to hide a rat between here and where they are."
The Indians evidently had no intention of approaching closer to the vicuñas. Two of them, crouching low, hurried off to the left, while Kespi and Kenko, motioning for the boys to follow, went to the right. For a quarter of a mile the Indians led the way around the ridge, always keeping below the summit.
Then once more they crept up and peered over. The vicuñas were now scarcely visible, and their position was betrayed only by the cloud of dust they stirred up in their frolics. Rising, the Indians climbed over the intervening rocks with Bob and Pancho at their heels. Then, to the boys' surprise, Kespi took a stick from a bundle he carried and planted it firmly in the sand. One end of a ball of twine was fastened to the stake, and unwinding it as he proceeded, Kenko walked rapidly forward across the desert for several hundred feet. Then another stick was erected, the twine attached to it, and again
Kenko hurried forward. By the time the third stick was in place and the string had been stretched between the three stakes, the boys could restrain their curiosity no longer.
"Now what do you know about that!" cried Bob. "Are these fellows going to build a fence or are they stringing twine so we can find our way back? I—"
"Look there!" exclaimed Pancho, pointing to the north. "Those other two are doing the same thing. It's the strangest stunt I've ever seen."
"Looks more like a washing-day than a hunt," said Bob. "All they need are some clothes to hang on those lines."
"They wouldn't hold up a shirt," declared Pancho. "If the Indians were using wire I'd say they were running a telegraph line or making a fence."
"Even if it were wire it wouldn't be a fence," Bob said. "It's over two feet above the ground, and any beast could go under it or jump over it."
"Maybe it's some sort of a game," Pancho suggested.
Bob laughed. “It looks to me as if they were stringing us as well as the sticks. Anyhow, I'm going to ask them what the big idea is. I don't suppose they'll tell—they love being mysterious—but there's no harm trying."
"They must be crazy," Pancho announced, when Kespi had replied to the boys' questions. "The idea of saying they are preventing the vicuñas from getting away! Can you beat that? Imagine a piece of thread tied to half-inch sticks keeping anything from running off."
"Oh, they're just kidding us," declared Bob. "Same as when you ask a man if he's fishing and he says 'No, sawing wood,' or something of that sort."
"Hello!" cried Pancho. "Look! Those other chaps are close to us."
For the first time the boys realized that the two lines of posts and string were converging. Presently Kespi and his brother were side by side with the others. Placing two of the strongest sticks about three feet apart they fastened the strings to them and dropped the remainder of the balls of twine on the ground. Close to where they stood was a low ridge of rock, and, beckoning to the boys, Kespi and Kenko, armed with spears and clubs, seated themselves behind the little rise, while the other Indians, one carrying the drum and quena, the other with the horn trumpet and a bright red poncho, turned and started back across the puna, following the lines of string.
"Didn't I tell you it was so that they could find their way back?" cried Bob triumphantly.
"No, you asked if they were doing it for that purpose," Pancho reminded him.
"Well, it amounts to the same thing," Bob insisted. "And that's what they are for. Those fellows are following the strings back. I wonder when the hunt's going to begin."
Pancho turned and put the question to the Indians. The two Huancas looked astonished. Then, with a broad grin, Kenko told them that the hunt already had begun. Seeing that the white boys were still mystified, the Indian began to explain. Vicuñas, he said, were strange creatures. Though very wary and fleet of foot, they were stupid beasts in some ways and could be easily killed. One way was to find where they slept, and while the vicuñas were absent during the day, to build little stone shelters or blinds close to the beds. Then at night the hunters could hide behind these and shoot down the creatures when they came to rest. At such times, Kespi stated, several vicuñas could be taken before the others took fright and ran off, and, no matter how many were killed, the others would return to the spot night after night until all had been destroyed.
Another way was much easier and quicker. Vicuñas, he informed the boys, could never dare to cross a barrier in the shape of a string. Even were it a mere thread the animals would avoid it and would follow it along, seeking some spot where they might escape through an opening. So, by stretching converging lines of strings and then driving the herd between them, the stupid beasts would rush along until, at the narrow opening at the end, they could readily be clubbed or speared. In a few moments, he added, they would see the creatures coming towards them, frightened into panic by the noise of the drum and horn, and the waving red poncho.
"They must take us for fools if we believe that yarn," declared Bob. "Can you imagine vicuñas— able to jump a dozen feet off the ground—being herded in by a string? These Indians can beat anyone I ever saw when it comes to tall stories."
"It does sound fishy," agreed Pancho. "But I've seen so many strange things I'm beginning to think almost anything possible. And there are two lines of string coming together here, and there are those fellows walking back with ballyhoo stuff, and here we are, waiting at the gate."
" Well, if the vicuñas do come trotting along as if the strings were twenty-foot walls, I'll swallow anything they tell me hereafter," declared Bob, "but so far the queerest thing I've seen was that chap begging the jaguar's forgiveness."
"I don't know about that," Pancho stated. "Isn't it queer to find Indians living the way their ancestors lived five hundred years ago? Isn't it queer to find Indians like these speaking Spanish? And isn't it queer to find them with a chief who is an Inca?"
"Oh, rats!" ejaculated Bob. "What's queer about a bunch of Indians living up here and speaking Spanish? And who says they're living the way they did hundreds of years ago? And where did you get that tale about old Tonak being an Inca? Be yourself, Pancho. You're too romantic and imaginative."
"And you're too blind and stupid to see what's right in front of your nose," the other retorted. "These Indians wear the same sort of clothes and use the same weapons as those shown in the old pictures of the Incans. They don't use anything modern except knives and hatchets and such things; and I heard one of the men talking to Tonak and he addressed him as ‘Inga.’ Besides, if you noticed, you'll remember that whenever the old woman doctor comes in, or anyone else visits Tonak, they always are carrying something on their backs. Well, I read in a book that in the old days they always did the same thing when approaching the Inca. Besides, they still worship the sun! You know that half-ruined stone building back of the village?"
Bob nodded. "Yes, I thought of going up there, but Kespi said there was nothing to be seen there."
Pancho chuckled. "He would say that," he declared, "but there's really a lot to be seen. I went over there yesterday when you were off with that little sister of Wini's gathering peaches. And it's all fixed up inside with rugs and hangings and an altar and idols and a big plate with a face on it that looks like gold!"
"You're a nice pal not to tell me before!" cried Bob.
"I wanted to wait until I could take you along and let you see for yourself," Pancho told him. "Say, Bob, do you suppose that big plate can be gold?"
Bob's eyes widened. "Gold!" he exclaimed. "How big is it?"
"It's bigger than an automobile wheel," replied Pancho, "and about as thick through. If it's really gold it must be worth a fortune. And these people wear gold ornaments, so why—"
His words were interrupted by the distant sounds of shouts, blasts of a horn, the shrill notes of the quena, the tattoo of the drum, and a queer, low rumble. The Indians grasped their weapons and rose to a stooping posture, tense, expectant. Excited, wondering if the Indian's yarn could be true, the two boys cautiously lifted their heads and looked across the puna. They were dumb with astonishment at what they saw!
Chapter 8 Surprising Discoveries
NOT more than two hundred yards distant, a herd of vicuñas was dashing towards the spot where Bob and Pancho with the two Indians, Kespi and Kenko, were hidden. And behind the terrified creatures, shouting, beating their drum, blowing on the horn, and waving the red poncho, raced the other Indians in a cloud of dust.
The vicuñas seemed to have lost their heads completely. Every moment or two those in the lead would swing towards the slender lines of twine as if about to break through, only to halt abruptly, snort with terror, and come dashing onward, seeking for some spot not closed by the flimsy barrier.
The boys could scarcely believe their eyes. That such strong, active creatures could be kept within bounds by mere strings, breakable almost at a touch, seemed incredible. But there was little time for wonder. The converging lines soon forced the vicuñas into a struggling mass. They saw the narrow opening ahead and paid no heed to anything else. Behind them were enemies and a terrifying noise; on either side were the fearsome white strings; but before them was an opening, and their one thought was to reach it. Even when the waiting Indians leaped up and took positions on cither side of the opening, the creatures did not turn back. A moment more and the first vicuña leaped between the two last posts, only to be struck down by a club in Kespi's hand. Quickly the Indian stooped, seized the fallen creature by the legs and dragged it aside as a second animal plunged through the opening to be pierced by Kenko's spear.
Bob and Pancho gazed upon the strange scene speechless with wonder. Paying no heed to their dead, the vicuñas continued to spring through the opening and to be killed, until nearly a dozen had fallen. Then, with a shout, the two Indians dropped their weapons and jerked up the posts. The strings fell, and instantly, like a released torrent, the remainder of the herd bolted in every direction.
"More like butchering cattie than hunting," commented Pancho, "but I suppose you can't blame the Indians. It's the only way they can get the beasts, and they need skins and meat."
"How on earth do four Indians expect to carry all these vicuñas to the village?"
Pancho chuckled. "Perhaps they expect us to carry some of them," he said.
Neither boy realized the carrying ability of the Indians. The best portions of the meat, with the livers and hearts, were wrapped in the hides and lashed into four compact bundles by means of woollen ropes. With each Indian carrying a bundle on his back, supported by a band around his forehead, they started back across the puna, gathering up the string and sticks as they proceeded, and seemingly oblivious of their hundred-and-fifty-pound loads.
When they came to the precipitous descent leading down the mountain, the boys shuddered to think what a false step might mean, but the Indians went down at a dog-trot, laughing and chatting as gaily as if the thousand feet of almost perpendicular rock were merely a gentle slope.
Although Bob and Pancho resented the fact that a messenger had been sent to La Raya without their knowledge, the thought that their friends would soon learn of their safety relieved them a great deal. They ceased to bemoan the necessity of waiting until Tonak could make the journey to La Raya with them, and took great interest in their strange surroundings.
Bob was eager to see the interior of the old temple
Pancho had described, and by choosing a time when the men were busy in their fields and gardens, the two managed to reach the place unobserved. Why they assumed that the Indians would object to the visit, neither boy could have explained, yet they both felt that there was some mystery about the place and that their visit must be in secret, and they both felt excited and keyed up when at last they reached the temple and approached the entrance.
"Say," whispered Bob, "suppose some one's in there. What do you think they'd do if they caught us here?"
"I don't know," replied Pancho, also in a whisper. "I'd hate to be caught sneaking about in here—it's a sacred place to them, you know. I don't believe anyone is here now. Come on, let's go in."
On tiptoe they crept forward with fast-beating hearts, and reaching the low doorway with its inward-sloping sides, they peered inside.
"Look!" cried Pancho. "See that big plate on the wall? Isn't that gold?"
"Gosh!It does look like it," said Bob. "Let's go in and have a better look. The place is empty."
Emboldened by the fact that the temple was deserted, and with a final glance about to assure themselves no
Indians were in sight, the boys dodged inside the doorway, where they stood silent, awed, gazing about at the interior of the temple. The walls, of massive blocks of stone marvellously fitted together without mortar or cement, were stuccoed and covered with elaborate frescoes in bright colours showing innumerable figures of men, beasts, birds, plants, geometrical designs, and weird monsters. Many of these were meaningless to the boys, but others were so excellently done that they left no room for doubt.
"That chap seated on the throne looks just like Tonak himself," whispered Bob, pointing to a figure covering half of one wall.
"He certainly does," agreed Pancho, "only he's all dolled up with a crown and everything. Guess he's some old Inca. See how all the others are running towards him carrying presents? And look at that picture over there with all those Indians dancing. And every one is dressed like these Indians in the village. Didn't I say these people are living as they have for ages?"
"Of course the pictures show the same kind of clothes," said Bob. "They were painted by these people. I don't see how that proves anything."
“These people never painted them," retorted
Pancho. "I'll bet these pictures were made hundreds of years ago."
"Well, these rugs on the floor weren't," declared Bob. "And say, isn't that the skin of the jaguar you killed?"
Before them, beneath the great golden sun-disk, was an altar-like affair of dark red stone, and placed upon it was the jaguar skin that had attracted Bob's attention.
Glancing nervously about and moving silently, for the boys felt awed and fearful in the mysterious place, they stepped forward and examined the hide.
"No doubt of it," said Pancho. "It's got four bullet-holes through it and it's a fresh skin. What do you suppose it's doing here?"
"You know how that fellow begged the beast's forgiveness," Bob replied. "I expect they put the hide here to show the creature's spirit they respected it."
"Guess you're right," the other agreed. "Look, see the rainbow over there. It's made of metal, but isn't it natural?"
"Yes, but see here!" cried Bob, who had stepped behind the altar. "Here's a suit of old armour and a sword! Now where did they get those?"
Pancho shook his head. "Must have found them somewhere," he said. "Indians always keep anything that's strange. In Mexico they keep all the burned-out electric light bulbs and almost worship them. They— Holy cats! There's a mummy in it!"
Bob started and jumped back. "Let's get out of here!" he cried.
Pancho laughed. "He's been dead a long time," he said, "nothing much more than a skeleton—like those mummies from Incan graves we saw in the Lima museum. I'll bet he's some old Spaniard the Indians killed in the days of Pizarro. There's no need to be afraid of it."
"Who's afraid?" demanded Bob. "You just startled me for a minute. Hello! What are those things over there along that wall? They look like big rag dolls."
Pancho turned in the direction the other indicated. Resting in niches in the wall were half a dozen bulky, shapeless figures wrapped in bright-coloured cloth, decked with woven bags, ornaments, and feathers. Each was furnished with a crude, artificial head covered with a mask-like face of yellow metal surmounted by a gorgeous feather crown held in place by a gold fillet and topped by a golden ornament.
For an instant Pancho stared at the queer things. Then: "They are mummies!" he exclaimed in a hoarse whisper, "and covered with gold and jewels! They—they must be mummies of kings—of Incas! Gosh! We'd better get out of here."
Bob had not waited for the other to finish. He was already half-way to the door, and the next moment both boys were in the open air.
"Now, who was afraid of mummies?" demanded Bob.
"You were," Pancho told him. "You turned and ran the minute I said they were mummies."
"I did not, I walked," Bob insisted. "It was you who ran after me."
"Well, why did you walk so fast?" persisted Pancho. "You didn't even wait for me to finish speaking."
"I heard what you said — that we'd better get out," declared Bob. "I'll bet you don't dare go back in there."
"I didn't mean we'd better clear out just because of those old mummies," Pancho explained. "But if it's the private burial-place of these Indians' kings, we've no right to be poking about in there. And I'm not afraid to go back. Mummies can't hurt anyone."
"I know that," said Bob. "All the same, it was kind of spooky with that skeleton in armour and all those dead Indians staring at us with their yellow faces."
"Gold!" Pancho corrected him. "Do you know, Bob, very nearly everything in there is gold. There must be a fortune in that temple. I'll bet that's the reason Tonak didn't tell us about sending a man to La Raya, and why he won't let us go back until he's quite ready."
"I don't see what that has to do with it," said Bob.
"Everything," declared the other. "If they had let us send a note we might have told our friends about the place and the gold, and then men would come here and rob the temple in no time. It's the same about going out. Tonak wants to make sure we couldn't find our way back. These Indians are wise birds. If they admitted they knew the way to La Raya they know we'd insist on going, and because they owe the chief's life to us they'd hate to be unfriendly and refuse. So the easiest way for them is to pretend they don't know the way. If they don't, how is that messenger going to get there?"
"Gosh! I never thought of that," Bob admitted. “And—and if they really are afraid that we'll tell about this place, then they'll never let us go."
"I don't know about that," said Pancho. "If they actually sent a man to La Raya they must expect to send us back some time. But just the same, I shouldn't blame them much if they did keep us here. If I were Tonak I'd never take the chance of having a lot of white men come in here and loot my temple and my ancestors' bodies."
"Perhaps he never sent the messenger," suggested Bob. "And why couldn't the men from La Raya follow him back here if he was sent?"
"He'd lose them easily enough if they tried that," Pancho declared. "I can understand now why Tonak was anxious to send word we were all right. He's afraid that if our people don't know, they'll hunt for us and might find this place. But if they know we're safe and sound, and the messenger tells them we'll be back soon, they'll stop searching."
"Yes, I can see that, too," said Bob. "But what I can't see is why the old chief should ever let us go. We might get a lot of men and come back and take away the gold for all he knows."
Pancho laughed. "Don't kid yourself he's such a fool," he said. "He'll probably blindfold us or something. But he can't keep us prisoners here after we saved his life. If you knew Indians, you'd realize that as long as they're in your debt, they're bound to treat you right."
"I wouldn't trust an Indian," declared Bob. "They're all treacherous and tricky, and they hate white people."
"Wild West stuff!" cried Pancho. "You've been reading cheap novels. A lot of Indians always have been friends of the whites, and have helped them fight other Indians. How about Uncus, for example? And in Mexico the babies' nurses are Indians, and the nicest, gentlest, most trustworthy people you ever saw. Besides, even the worst Indians have a sense of humour and remember a friend. Once Dad and some other men were captured by Yaquis—they're like the Apaches, you know—when the tribe was at war with Mexico and they were killing every white man they met. One of them recognized Dad as the man who had cured an Indian kid of a snake-bite, and just because of that the chief freed Dad and the others and guided them to the railway at risk of his life. If a Yaqui will do that, you can bet on Tonak doing as much for us."
"Maybe," assented Bob," but I won't bet on it, all the same."
"Let's forget about what's in the temple," suggested Pancho. "I wonder why white men always seem to think an Indian hasn't any right to his own gold and other valuables. I'll bet we wouldn't like it if some other race came along and helped themselves to everything we owned."
"I'll keep mum," said Bob, "that is, I may tell Dad, but I know he won't tell anyone else if I ask him not to. Come on, let's go down the valley and see if we can find some sort of game."
Chapter 9 The Monster
AS the Indians depended largely on vegetables for food, and secured what meat they required by drying the flesh of deer and vicuñas, the smaller game was seldom disturbed and afforded excellent sport. To be sure, the Indians trapped quail, partridges, and wild pigeons, as well as a variety of wild guinea-pig of which they were very fond. But as they did not possess firearms and their native weapons were not suited to bringing down game on the wing, the big pheasant-like perdiz, the wild ducks and geese, and the smaller mammals were all unsuspicious. Had the boys possessed a shot-gun they could readily have secured all the game they wished. Pancho's supply of ammunition was limited, however. He could not afford to risk wasting cartridges by firing at flying birds or running quadrupeds with the rifle, and even with game as abundant as it was it required no little skill and a great deal of patience to stalk it and bring it down with a rifle-bullet. On this occasion the boys had secured two big partridges, and were stealthily creeping towards a little pond where they had seen a flock of ducks alight, when a peculiar noise in a thicket of brush and small trees attracted their attention.
"What's that?" whispered Bob. "It sounded like a pig grunting."
"Perhaps there are wild pigs here," whispered Pancho. "Listen! There 'tis again."
Peculiar low grunting noises, and the sounds of a creature of some sort scratching or tearing at something, came from the miniature jungle.
"Sounds like something pretty big," said Bob. "Maybe it's another jaguar."
"Let's sneak over and see," suggested Pancho. "I wouldn't mind getting a jaguar's skin."
Silently the boys crept towards the spot from which the sounds continued to come. The brush was so dense that they could see nothing, and when they tried to force a way in they made considerable noise. But the animal, whatever it might be, seemed oblivious of their approach, for the grunts and ripping sounds continued. A moment later the boys were through the thick fringe of brush and were standing in an open wood. The sounds had now ceased, and the two peered about, searching for the creature they had heard. For a moment or two they saw nothing. Suddenly Bob gave an involuntary exclamation. "Look! What in the world is it?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.
Pancho saw it at the same instant. "Gosh! I don't know!" he replied.
Staring at them from behind a tree trunk was a terrifying face. Semi-human it seemed, with small, wicked eyes surrounded by light-coloured circles that looked as if they had been painted upon the dark brown features.
Into the boys' minds flashed visions of savage Indians, of gorillas, of unknown gigantic ape-like beings. They had expected to see some large animal—perhaps a wild pig, a deer, or even a puma or a jaguar. Instead they had come face to face with this monster, this being with its demoniacal face, with its body concealed by the tree. No wonder they were frightened; the weird apparition was enough to scare anyone. It was unlike anything they had ever seen, unlike anything they had ever seen pictured—a truly appalling, diabolical thing. Nameless—almost superstitious—terror gripped them. The monster was so uncanny—gazing fixedly at them, motionless, silent, the red-rimmed wicked eyes unblinking in their stare. And they felt as if hypnotized by the face that appeared more like some horribly grotesque mask than a part of any living animal. Pancho even forgot that he held a rifle in his hands, and that the beast, or monster or whatever it might be, was within easy range, scarcely fifty feet distant, a target he could not miss. Then as realization came back to him, he cocked the weapon and started to raise it to his shoulder.
The click of the lock broke the spell. With a horrid growl the thing fairly hurled itself at the boys. They had a brief glimpse of a huge, black, shaggy body, of long sinewy arms as the creature, rearing itself on its hind legs, and looking more gorilla-like than ever, rushed at them. Then came a flash, a roar as Pancho's shaking finger pressed the trigger, and at the report the monster plunged forward and rolled over almost at the boys' feet.
They leaped back, staring at the great beast which the chance shot had killed. Then cautiously, with steady rifle, Pancho took a step nearer. The relaxed limbs were motionless, there was no sign of life, and confident that the monster was actually dead, the boys approached more closely.
"Gosh!" cried Bob. "It's a bear!"
"Bear?" reiterated Pancho. "I never heard of a bear with a face like that. Just the same," he added as he stooped and examined the beast, "I guess 'tis a bear. But what a monster!"
"I'll say it's a monster," agreed Bob. "I didn't know they had bears here. Say, maybe I wasn't scared stiff when I saw that fellow's face looking at us."
"No more scared than I was," admitted Pancho, "and it was just by luck that I hit him. I wasn't aiming at him, and I didn't even know I fired."
"Luck all right," said Bob. "He'd have been on us in a second more. Whew! Look at those claws. There wouldn't have been much left of us if he had got within reach."
"We'd have been mincemeat all right," agreed Pancho. "Now we've killed him, what are we going to do with him? He must weigh hundreds of pounds, and we can't carry him. We haven't anything but pocket-knives and we could never skin him with those. And if we leave him here and go to the village to get the boys to help us, the buzzards will get him."
"I don't see anything else to do, though," declared Bob. "Perhaps if we cover him up with branches the vultures won't find him before we get back."
As there appeared to be no other solution to the problem, they gathered leaves and branches and spread them over the carcass of the beast which, they learned later, was one of those rare, spectacled bears that inhabit portions of the trans-Andean regions and are only equalled by the grizzly for ferocity.
Hurrying back to the village, they told the Indians of their kill, although unable to describe the creature so as to make the Indians understand what it was. However, they realized that the boys had slain some big beast, and Kespi and several others accompanied the boys to the spot. As they pulled aside the covering of leaves and revealed what lay beneath, the Indians commenced to yell with delight, prancing and laughing.
"Ukumari!" they shouted. "Ukumari! (great bear) kamkuna kashkankechic pinyakuk! Huanyusfika na nyukanchik kushinchik (You were brave, but now we rejoice that you are dead)." Then, dancing about, they broke into a triumphant chant: "At the hands of our white brothers you fell!" they sang. "At the voice of the rod that speaks with fire your life fled. Though we may not destroy you, our white brothers fear not the demon within you. Now do we laugh at you. We will feast on your meat, and your head shall hang in our temple, and your teeth and claws shall be hung about the necks of the brave ones who slew you. Great is our rejoicing."
"Now what's all that about?" exclaimed Bob, as, unable to grasp the meaning of the words, they watched the Indians dancing about the dead bear and chanting their Quichua song.
Pancho shook his head. "You'll have to ask them," he replied. "They're the only ones who know. I guess they're celebrating because the beast's dead. But I can't understand why they're so pleased over a dead bear when they weren't at all pleased by a dead jaguar."
"They're a queer bunch," declared Bob. "When we killed the jaguar and saved their chief's life they begged the beast's forgiveness. But now you've killed a bear they dance about and shout like wild Indians."
Pancho chuckled. "Why shouldn't they?" he asked. "That's what they are—wild Indians."
Presently the Indians ceased their impromptu celebration, and cutting stout poles, lashed the bear's feet to them. Then they placed their shoulders under the poles, straightened up with grunts, and lifting the carcass clear of the ground, staggered along towards the village.
As they toiled along, the boys plied Kespi with questions. Were these beasts common? Were they always savage? Was this an unusually big fellow? Why did he and the others dance and sing about the creature?
Kespi told them that ukumari seldom came so far into the mountains, that he was "the father of all bears," that he was always dangerous. This, he declared, was because of a terrible demon who dwelt within the bear's body. The Indians, he explained, were forbidden to kill the bears, because whoever destroyed one would at once be possessed with the demon, and ever after would live apart, attacking all whom he met.
"But we killed the bear," objected Bob, "or rather Pancho did, and no devils have taken possession of him."
This argument did not worry the Indian in the least. He explained that the demons would be powerless against white men who believed in a strange God and were not afraid of spirits. And how, he asked, could a Quichua devil survive in the body of one who was not a Quichua and did not even speak the language naturally?
Pancho grinned. "Lucky we haven't learned the language properly," he said to Bob. "If we had, the devil might have got into us by mistake."
"One advantage in not being an Indian," Bob said. "But I don't blame them for believing a devil lived in that beast—he certainly looked like one when he stuck his head from behind that tree."
"And he acted like one when he started for us," added Pancho.
Chapter 10 The Search
WHEN Bob and Pancho failed to reach La Raya on time, Mr Stillwell was not greatly troubled. He knew that any one of a dozen or more things might have delayed them. Blow-outs or punctured tyres were to be expected on the deserts. The cars, even when driven by experienced Cholos, frequently got off the road and were stalled for hours in the loose sand. Something might have gone wrong with the engine, or the boys might have become tired and so stopped overnight at Palitos. Mr Griswold had wired that they had left Lima with Hernandez, the company's most reliable chauffeur, and that he had seen to it that the boys were provided with food and water and that an extra can of petrol was in the car. So Bob's father never dreamed that anything serious had occurred.
He was disappointed, however, because their delay meant they would not find him at the mining-camp when they did arrive. He had received instructions to examine some newly located mining properties, and he waited until the last minute before leaving, hoping that the boys would turn up. But he could not delay longer. Leaving a letter explaining that he would be absent for some time, he rode away towards the distant mines.
Three days later, the pilot of a southbound aeroplane saw a strange-looking object upon the glaring surface of the desert. It had not been there when he had passed the spot on his northbound flight five days before, and dropping swiftly he discovered it was a wrecked car surrounded by hundreds of vultures. Landing a few rods from the wreck, he recognized the car as belonging to the La Raya Company. Thanks to the boys' foresight, the body of the chauffeur had been protected from the buzzards, and the aviator—a hard-boiled World War ace—had dragged the cushions and top aside. Though the features were unrecognizable, the clothing and cap identified the corpse as that of Hernandez. The aviator was puzzled. He knew there must have been other occupants of the car, for the dead chauffeur had been carefully covered. And obviously the missing passengers had not been killed or seriously injured. But what, he wondered, had become of them? In vain he searched about for tracks. But it was not strange none were visible, he reflected, for he judged that the accident had occurred several days previously, and any footprints would have been obliterated by the wind and drifting sand. Presently he discovered a shot-gun and two suit-cases. Inside the latter might be evidence of the missing persons' identity. But the bags were locked, and he did not feel justified in breaking them open. So, placing the gun and suit-cases in his plane, he took off on his interrupted flight to Lima, where he at once notified Mr Griswold and the authorities, and delivered the gun and the two bags to the La Raya Company.
Mr Griswold was almost prostrated by the news. He was grateful that Bob's father was ignorant of the accident, for he would be spared the worry and suspense, and before he returned the missing boys might be found. But Mr Griswold was too experienced a man, and too familiar with Peru and the dangers the boys faced, to minimize the seriousness of the situation. There was, of course, a chance that they had met some one on the desert, and had been guided or carried to some small village or to some isolated house. But if so, why hadn't they sent word of their whereabouts? Many settlements and houses were out of reach by telegraph or telephone, but there had been ample time for the boys to have sent messengers to their friends, till, he reflected, they might have joined a party of Indians on their way to homes among the mountains, and if so it might well be several days more—even a week—before they could reach La Raya or even send a message there. There was another possibility which he hated to consider: that the boys had gone on alone and had become lost in the hills. In that case, he knew, there was not one chance in a thousand that he or anyone else would ever see them again. They were ignorant of the country—veritable tenderfeet; they had no experience with deserts or mountains such as those of Peru; and Mr Griswold knew that, in the district where the car had been wrecked, the boys' chances of finding an Indian hut or village in the mountains were scarcely worth considering. Even an aeroplane would have little chance of locating the boys amid that labyrinth of hills, punas, ravines, cañons, peaks, ridges, and great mountain ranges.
But he did not intend to leave any stone unturned in his efforts to find the missing boys. He engaged the aviator and flew at once to the scene of the accident. But when he reached the spot he found that the mystery of the boys' disappearance was, if anything, deeper than before. A keen-eyed Indian whom Mr Griswold had brought with him found marks which might have been made by the boys' boots; but even the Indian could not follow them far. Still, there was a chance they might be picked up somewhere, and the searchers circled about the desert, examining every patch of sand, but in vain. Then they commenced searching the hills, although Mr Griswold could not believe that Bob and Pancho had been so foolhardy as to head towards the mountains. There was no reason for their having done so, he told himself. They were cool-headed, and they must have known that the route to Palitos lay across the desert for miles ahead, for he felt sure they must have talked with the chauffeur and plied him with questions, boylike. But if they had continued on they certainly would have found the road where it left the sandy area and ascended the first foothills. But, of course, Mr Griswold did not know of the mirage, the phantasmal peak the boys had selected for a guide.
Accompanied by his Indian, he commenced his slow, almost hopeless task while the plane cruised in great circles over the hills, the sand-dunes, and the mountains, the pilot searching every square yard of country through his glasses; and the missing boys, unaware of the feverish hunt for them, were moving steadily farther and farther from all chances of rescue.
By the time the searchers reached the sand-dunes and at last found the boys' footprints, Bob and Pancho were miles away, broiling a perdiz in the ruined tambo beside the ancient Incan road.
The footprints, which proved beyond question that the boys had so foolishly entered the uninhabited district, were once more lost amid the labyrinth of goat trails, and Mr Griswold realized that it was hopeless to go farther. It was beyond human powers to pick up the trail again. Even had the Indian known precisely where to look for it he would have found no traces of the boys' passage across the hard, rocky hillside where they had descended into the valley. Neither could the flier detect anything that resembled a human being, alive or dead. Once, seeing a flock of vultures gathered at the edge of a small desert near a deserted hut, he swooped down, fearing the worst. But the object that had attracted the vultures proved to be merely the skeleton of a half-grown goat, and there was nothing to tell the searchers that the goat had fallen to Pancho's rifle or that the missing two had rested beside the thatched hut.
At last, having searched afoot and by air, Mr Griswold returned to Lima. There was but one hope remaining—the remote chance that the boys might have reached some isolated Indian village or hut and might still be alive and well. Mr Griswold tried to buoy himself up with this last chance. The boys had their rifle, they had food and water—he had found the thermos bottles and lunches missing when he had searched the wrecked car—and if they had known enough to follow the valleys and had not lost their heads, they might have found game and water enough to enable them to pull through. But he was aware that game of any sort was extremely hard to find in the mountains, and his greatest fear was that the boys in their efforts to find food might lose all sense of direction. Still, there was this chance, and chance plus luck will often work seeming miracles. Moreover, Mr Griswold felt somewhat reassured by the fact that no trace of the boys had been seen from the air. If they had died, the buzzards or the condors would surely have betrayed the presence of their bodies. And as long as there was no proof of their death, Mr Griswold resolutely refused to abandon all hope. He sent men into the mountains in every direction. Every Indian they met was questioned, and large rewards were offered for information regarding the missing boys.
The days passed, and one by one these searchers returned without news. Mr Griswold felt no more could be done, and was fast losing all hope when an Indian reported that high on the Andes, on a small puna, he had found the skeleton of a vicuña from which the hind-quarters had been removed. A short distance away, behind a ridge of rock, he had picked up three empty rifle-cartridges. He could find no trail, nothing to show whence the hunters had come nor whither they had gone.
The Indian's report changed Mr Griswold's attitude at once. He did not for an instant doubt that they had killed the vicuña, for rifles were never used by the inhabitants of the Andes; the empty shells were the same calibre and make as those used by Pancho, and no regular hunter and no Indian would kill a vicuña and take only the hind-quarters. And if the boys had gone that far without disaster their greatest perils would be over. The spot where the vicuña had been found was at the very summit of a high pass, and on the farther side of the ranges they would have little difficulty in living off the country, for there is abundant water on the eastern slopes of the Andes, and game is plentiful. Moreover, beyond the divide were many Indian huts and villages, some of which the boys would be almost certain to find. Indeed, Mr Griswold felt so relieved and reassured by the Indian's discoveries that he fully expected at any time to receive word of the boys' safe arrival at La Raya.
But more than a fortnight passed, and no further news was received, although Mr Griswold had not ceased his efforts to find the boys or some definite evidences of their fate. But apart from the rifle-shells and the remains of the vicuña, nothing had been discovered. One searcher had, it is true, found where some one had passed a night in a ruined Incan tambo. But there was nothing to indicate whether the fire had been built by the boys or by wandering Indians. Bob and Pancho appeared to have vanished from the face of the earth; yet Mr Griswold could not believe them dead. Day and night he racked his brains, striving to think out some plausible solution of the mystery of their disappearance; but no theory wholly fitted the case. If the boys had not perished, they were either wandering about, lost in the Andes, or had found refuge in some Indian hut or village. Yet this supposition appeared illogical, for it would have been little short of miraculous for the boys, unfamiliar with the Andes, to have subsisted for over two weeks. It would seem still more incredible that they could have wandered for that time without having been seen or having left visible traces that would have been found by the searching parties. And if, on the other hand, they had found refuge in a village or an Indian hut, where was it? And why had they not appeared, guided by an Indian, or why hadn't they sent a message telling of their whereabouts?
For hours Mr Griswold had studied every available map of the district; he had sought information from every official and private citizen whom he thought might possess first-hand information about the country; he had visited La Raya and had interviewed every Indian at the camp, every prospector, every miner and engineer who had tramped the mountains. Then, one day, a grizzled old prospector arrived in camp, an old-timer who had spent years roaming the country.
"If anyone can give you accurate information of the district where the boys vanished, it will be old Carmody," the acting superintendent told Mr Griswold. "The Indians call him 'Etchitari'—that's the Quichua for ‘The man who sees the stone in front.’ If there's a corner of the Andes that he hasn't seen, he's heard about it. He speaks all the Indian dialects, and it's common gossip that Carmody hopes some day to stumble on the fabulous Incan treasure—the gold and jewels intended for Atahualpa's ransom and supposed to be worth a hundred million dollars at least. Pure legend, of course, though there may have been a good-sized treasure hidden when the Indians heard of their Inca's death at Pizarro's hands. Wonder what Carmody would do with a few millions if he found them! But the point is, he's for ever picking up bits of information and stories from the Indians, and some of them may have heard of the missing boys. Besides, he'll be sure to know if there are any villages in the district where you think the boys went, and what the chances are of the youngsters pulling through if there are no Indians in the district."
Mr Griswold at once sought the old prospector, told him the story of the boys' disappearance, and asked him for information and aid.
The old man shook his head. "Do yer know," he said, his grey eyes under the overhanging brows half-closed as if thinking deeply, "you've asked me 'bout the onliest bit of this everlastin' country that I don't know top, bottom, criss-cross, an' sideways, back and forth, inside an' outside. I've allus had a hankerin' to get in there an' have a look at her; but some'ow or other I ain't never got round to doin' it. Mebbe it's richer'n all get out, but I ain't never had no reports 'twas. An' mos' gen'rally I get hints from Injuns. They know if I find a prospec' worth anything that I'll pay 'em handsome, an' if it pans out O.K. an' minin' starts in, it means work an' money an' likker for 'em. Now 'bout this here bit of country what you want to know about. I reckon they ain't nary a village nor an' Injun in there, friend. 'Cause why? 'Cause every Injun I've asked don't know a everlastin' thing about any. True, I ain't never met up with one as can swear he's actually been through there. Allus 'peared to me a mite skeered of them parts. Like as not there's some old-time taboo on to it. Lots of places thataway, you know. An' I've heered a heap of yarns about it fir a fact. I recollec' when I was up to Picobamba hearin' how the old Inca road ran plumb through the distric', an' that back in the old days a lot of folk lived in there. Some say as how, hearin' the Spaniards was a-comm', them as lived in theere smashed down a bridge an' ambushed the Dons in a pass and nigh wiped 'em out. Mebbe it's just a Injun yarn, an' then again mebbe it's true. Quien sabe? Anyhow, 'cordin' to the story there's a lot of ol' ruins an' sech in there. That's one reason I've been aimin' to have a look myself—mebbe theere'd be some gold idols or such hid in them ruins."
"Possibly the Inca's treasure is hidden in the district," suggested Mr Griswold.
The old man grinned. "So you've heard I'm nuts on that, eh?" he chuckled. "Well, mebbe I be. But 'cordin' to all accounts 'tain't in that bit of country. But I reckon there is a taboo on the place 'cause of something what took place there—earthquake or landslide or flood—Injuns is for ever thinkin' them things is done by devils to show folks they ain't wanted; or mebbe there's some old ruined temple what's sacred. Then again mebbe no one lives there 'cause there ain't no reason to live there. Heaps of better places, you know—more soil, more water, nearer settlements, or one thing or another. Yep, I've seed heaps of ruined cities with no one livin' in em, just 'cause the old Spaniards kilt the Injuns, and them as escaped run off an' never come back, an' set a taboo on the places. Sort of a curse like. No, sir, I can pretty near swear there ain't a livin' soul in there—that is, permanent like—lessen it's them two boys.
"Now you're askin' could they manage for to live offen the country for nigh on three weeks. That depen's. Me, I could live for three months or three years, for the matter of that, most anywheres in these here hills. But I'm a old-timer, an' I been hobnobbin' with Injuns an' Cholos for that long I kin live same's they do an' not mind it. Yes, sir, if a man's willin' to go thirsty for a spell an' eat lizards an' owls and sech-like, he can stick it out mos' any time. But I ain't calculatin' them youngsters is like me. Still an' all, as long as they got past this west slope of the hills— an' I calc'late they done so, 'cause there ain't no folks up in them mountings usin' thirty-thirty rifles, an' you say you got them shells—well, as I was sayin', if them kids got over t'other side of the top I'd say as how they might be makin' a livin' offen the country. Course there's a chance they might tumble offen a cliff an' get kilt or somethin', but that's a slim chance. If they had them vicuña hams like you think they did, they'd have plenty to have kept 'em for four or five days, an' by then they'd ought to have run across some other critters to shoot. Yep, there's plenty of water t'other side the divide. An' you say they wasn't altogether green at knockin' about on their own.
"Now lemme se what I'd have done if I'd been in them kids' shoes. Havin' crossed the range, an' found water an' somethin' to eat, I'd say to myself: ‘This here's a likely country for findin' Injuns, an' the farther down I go the likelier it'll be.' So I'd keep on goin' downhill an' bimeby I'd come to the montaña—that's jungle country, you know—with plenty of water an' trees an' game an' Injuns. Them Chunchos—the forest Injuns, you know—ain't half bad, even if they do collec' their neighbours' heads an' shrink 'em till they ain't no bigger'n a baseball, an' hang 'em up in their house for souvneers. But they don't take nothin' but other Injuns' heads, an' they're friendly enough with white folks. Then havin' got that far, I'd hunt about for some Injun who knowed the way to La Raya or some-wheres. Chances are they wouldn't be nary one as did, over in the montaña, 'cause them Chunchos never cross the mountings—too dry an' cold for 'em. But they'd likely take me to some other Injuns what'd know the way to some others what could go a bit farther, an' bimeby I'd run acrost Quichuas or Huancas or sech as could take me plumb back here.
"Course, if I wasn't bound for no place pertickler I'd just get them Chunchos to paddle me down river to Massisea where the airplanes stop, an' then I'd send back word where I was by radio, or come a-flyin' home if I could kid the pilot to take me back on credit. Now it don't need a old-timer to figger all that out. Any smart youngster could do the same. Easiest way's downhill, an' if they kept on downhill they'd be bound to come out somewheres, so I calc'late them kids is O.K. some-wheres over to the east of the ranges, an' most likely on their way here now. Shouldn't be a mite surprised if you was to get a radio from 'em any day, or hear they'd showed up in a plane over to Lima or come walkin' in on you here, proud as fightin' cocks at havin' come through O.K. No, sir, I wouldn't worry none over them boys. Not even if you don't hear nothin' for a couple of months. Takes a long time to get word back from the montaña, lessen you strike Massisea or some place what's got radio. They'll be havin' the time of their young lives, I'll bet you. Have a bunch of experience, too; an' experience never hurt no one yet."
Although the prospector had not thrown much light on the boys' whereabouts or fate, Mr Griswold was greatly relieved and encouraged by the interview. It had never occurred to him that the boys might have crossed the Andes and reached the forested tropical montaña district about the tributaries of the Amazon. But now that Carmody had mentioned such a possibility, he could see how reasonable was the supposition. The mountains, at the point where the boys had vanished, were far lower than either to north or south. Also, the Andean range was narrower here, and two active boys, accustomed to long hikes, could easily cover twenty-five miles a day over fairly rough country. They had been gone twenty-two days, which would have been ample time for them to have reached the borders of the montaña. And if they had gone that far, it might easily be another three weeks or more before they could return to civilization or could reach some outpost whence a message could be sent to their friends.
So, feeling reassured as to the boys' safety, and hoping and praying that definite word from them might be received before Mr Stillwell returned to La Raya, Mr Griswold abandoned all further attempts at searching for the boys.
Chapter 11 A Stranger appears at La Raya
ALTHOUGH La Raya was called a "camp," it was in reality a sizeable little town, with nothing suggestive of a camp about it. Far up on the mountain-sides, coloured vivid rose, with splashes of orange and vermilion from the lead and silver oxides, were the shafts and tunnels of the workings. From these a steeply-inclined gravity railway extended to the valley where the mills and refineries were located. Here were the crusher sheds and ball-mills, the flotation plants, the laboratories and assaying office, and the smoke-belching smelters. From this busy, noisy, dirty spot a railway was being constructed into the foothills, following the winding valley towards Cruces. On the western shore of the river squatted the long, low, shed-like quarters of the native Indian and Cholo labourers, while across the river—which was spanned by a suspension bridge— was the town itself, occupying a level space between the hills.
La Raya, originally an almost unknown Indian village, had become an obscure Peruvian town, dirty and poverty-stricken, despite the fact that untold fortunes were hidden in the mountains overhanging its red-tiled roofs. Then the Americans had acquired the mines, and had cleaned, modernized, and rebuilt the old town until it had been completely transformed. In the centre was a little plaza, neat and green, with concrete walks, with lawns and flower-beds and blooming shrubs, where pine and eucalyptus trees grew side by side with palms and bamboo. Facing the plaza was a little church, the age-old pink-and-blue church of the Dominican friars, a white-washed jail.
Here, too, was the cabildo or city hall, presided over by the fat, fiercely-moustached but good-natured alcalde, Don Diogenes Beltran, who officially represented the Peruvian Government, but who never had anything to do except gossip with Padre Augustin, doze in the sun, play cards with Lieutenant Navez, or read the month-old Lima newspapers. The lieutenant, a boyish, smiling youth with a budding moustache, and a sword almost as long as himself, represented the Peruvian army. He had six brown-faced little soldiers and four policemen in khaki and scarlet uniforms to aid him in maintaining law and order in this spot where disorders were almost unknown and where laws were rarely-broken.
There were shops here, too, neat general stores kept by bland-faced, grinning Chinamen, a drug store that bore the imposing name of Botica Mundial (the World-wide Pharmacy), a barber shop presided over by a tack-headed, bespectacled little Jap, and one or two native shops where patient Indian artisans made furniture, rawhide and leather work, filigree silver jewellery, or converted discarded oil-drums and preserved food tins into most practical utensils for thrifty housewives. Also there was a little open-air market, a petrol-filling station and a Ford agency, while last but by no means least, was the moving-picture theatre or cinema. But nowhere was there a saloon or a spot where liquor, other than beer and native wines, was sold, for La Raya was a strictly 'dry' camp.
In the old portion of the town dwelt the Peruvian employees of the company, the few Peruvian officials and their families, and some of the American and British employees. But the majority of Anglo-Saxons, or "gringos," as they are always called in Peru, dwelt in the attractive bungalows that formed the "camp" proper on a little rise beyond the town. Here the company reigned supreme. The "camp" was one hundred per cent. American. It was policed, sanitized, and administered by the Americans. They had their own churches, motion-picture theatre, library, gymnasium, tennis courts, baseball field, swimming-pool, golf-course, and even their own local newspaper. And in lieu of stores and shops there was the company's commissary where everything necessary, as well as many unnecessary goods, was sold at prices almost as low as in the States. Also there was a perfectly equipped hospital with American doctors, surgeons, and nurses; a clubhouse, guest-house, a school with American teachers, and, yes, it was there although seldom used—a tiny jail.
Although it was all included under the general name, "La Raya," yet the American "camp," the Peruvian section, and the labourers' quarters were almost as distinct as though on separate continents. On the one hand was the centuries-old town with its low, massive-walled buildings, its red-tile roofs, its narrow cobbled streets, its iron-grilled windows and outjutting balconies, and its Spanish-speaking people—a typical Latin-American town, clean and sanitary, it is true, but otherwise little changed since the days of the Viceroys. On the other hand was the equally typical American village with its concrete and wooden buildings, screened windows and doors, with flower-beds and kitchen gardens and concrete pavements, with its afternoon teas and its bridge parties, where no one spoke Spanish except when addressing a servant.
And finally, there were the native quarters where poncho-wrapped Quichuas and Cholos led their lives after almost the same fashion as if in their remote mountain villages. As long as they obeyed the sanitary regulations and kept the peace, neither the Americans nor Peruvians interfered in any way with their habits, recreations, or private lives. Here Quichua was spoken almost exclusively and here the population was continually changing. Each day there were new arrivals from the hills—sandalled, shock-headed, poncho-wrapped Indians with their apple-cheeked women, each with a baby strapped to her back; and each day men and women left and stalked off into the vast labyrinth of mountains.
Such was the "camp" to which the boys had been invited; a community of more than six hundred inhabitants, as nearly as could be estimated—for, as I have said, the Indians came and went as they pleased, and, in addition to the ever-changing labouring force, there were those who brought fruits, vegetables, and native handiwork to the La Raya market. Moreover, llama trains laden with hand-picked ore from small outlying mines and prospect holes arrived frequently. And while the arrival of a strange white man would have been known throughout the settlement within an hour after he appeared, no one paid the least attention to the brown-skinned, sturdy natives. Rarely did they venture into the American section, but preferred to stroll through the old town or gravitated naturally to the barracks across the river.
So, when, on the day old Carmody had talked with Mr Griswold, a strange Indian drifted into La Raya, none of the Americans or Peruvians noticed him. But the other Indians he met looked at him curiously and, as he passed, they raised their hands to foreheads in salute. Soon the market-place and native quarters were fairly buzzing with speculation as word of the strange Indian's arrival spread. To the white inhabitants the man was just another Indian; but to the observant eyes of the Indians he was a very different personage.
Taller by a head than the stocky brown employees of the mines, with a keen, hawk-like face and pale ochre-coloured skin, he was obviously of a distinct and superior race. And his costume—although to the unobservant eyes of white men it seemed merely a variation of the inevitable poncho and loose trousers— instantly identified him to the Indian denizens of La Raya. Instead of the ordinary knitted cap, he wore a bright-coloured woven band of llantu tied turbanwise about his head. His poncho was covered with an intricate design and reached only to his hips. His trousers barely reached his knees, and the lower edges were ornately embroidered. In place of rawhide sandals he wore moccasin-like shoes of deer skin. About his legs below the knees were ornamental garters of turquoise beads, and in one hand he carried a staff of polished hardwood bound with silver bands and with a heavy mace-like silver head.
For a time the stranger wandered about, gazing into shop-windows and staring at the two ramshackle cars the place boasted. Then, having conversed in low tones with two of the Indian labourers, he made his way towards the American camp, while two he had addressed stood staring after him as if they had seen a ghost.
Carmody was talking with the superintendent when one of the assistants entered the office.
“There's an Indian outside who insists on seeing you, sir," he informed the superintendent. "I told him if he wanted a job to go down and see Mr Allen. But he says he isn't looking for work—wants to see the boss, as nearly as I can make out. He speaks very little Spanish, and I'm not much on Quichua."
"Confound these fellows!" exclaimed the superintendent. "They think I can bother with every Tom, Dick, and Harry who comes along. Ask him what he wants, Johnson."
"I did, sir," replied Johnson. "I had one of our Indians act as interpreter. But he refuses to say—says he must see you personally. And I think he is some sort of cacique or chief. He carries one of those silver-headed sticks."
"Tell him I'm busy—can't see him now anyway. He'll have to wait if he can't tell what he wants."
Johnson vanished but reappeared a moment later. "He says he can't wait, sir," he announced. "He refuses to state his business, but he asked me to give you these."
As he spoke, Johnson placed four empty rifle cartridges on the desk. The superintendent stared at them, a puzzled frown on his face. "Now what the—" he began, but his sentence was never finished, for Carmody had sprung forward and seizing one of the shells examined it intently.
"By gum and Godfrey, bring him in!" he cried excitedly. "These here ca't'idges is from them missin' boys' rifle! I'll bet my boots this Injun's got a message from them!"
The superintendent whistled. "Maybe you're right!" he exclaimed. "Perhaps—" His words were interrupted by the reappearance of Johnson, followed by two Indians—one, the stranger who had brought the cartridges, the other, Chico, one of the company's interpreters.
Chapter 12 An Amazing Visitor
AS the strange Indian entered, Carmody uttered a sharp ejaculation, and gazed at the fellow with a strange expression of mingled amazement and perplexity on his weather-beaten face.
"By Jupiter's black pocket!" he exclaimed. "Now, where the everlastin' blazes did this bird come from? He gets my goat, an' that ain't no easy job neither."
"What's the matter with him?" demanded the superintendent, "He looks like any cacique to me."
Carmody snorted. "You may know a lot about mines, but you ain't no jedge of Injuns," he declared. "Matter with him? Why, by Judas, he ain't no Injun, he's a everlastin' ap-ap'rition, that's what he is. There ain't nothin' like him been seen knockin' 'bout these here diggin's since Pizarro killed the Inca. He's a reg'lar honest-to-goodness chasqui, that's what he is. He—"
"Chasqui?" repeated the superintendent, whose knowledge of Peruvian history was limited to the country's mining industries of the past. "What's a chasqui?"
"Lor' bless your dumbness!" replied the old prospector. "A chasqui was a runner what them old Incas used for to send messages. An' that's why these here Injuns kow-towed to this chap. But shucks! There ain't no Incas an' no chasquis nor nothin' of the sort left, less'n— Here we be, wastin' time chinnin' 'stead of findin' out what this queer bird has to say about them two youngsters."
At the fellow's reply, Carmody started. "By gum, he ain't speakin' no Quichua like I ever heard afore," he exclaimed. Then, turning to the superintendent, "He says them two boys is all O.K. Fine an' dandy up to his village. I don't savvy every word what he says, 'cause he's chinnin' some dialec' what I ain't never heard afore; but I get the meanin' right enough. An' he says somethin' 'bout them boys havin' kilt the 'spotted one'—meanin' a jaguar, I expect, an' a-savin' of his curaca's life. Shucks, there ain't been no such thing as a curaca for nobody knows how long. Anyhow, he says how, soon's ever the old chiefs able to git about on his pins, he'll be bringin' the boys down hisself, not trustin' their safety to no others. Them there ca't'idges he brung in is to show you he's on the level. Yep, an' he swears they're the eyedentical ones what the kids used in killin' of spotted tail when he was maulin' the chief. Reckon that settles it 'bout them there kids, boss. No use worryin' no more over them."
"Where's the village? Why didn't the boys send a note or a message?" snapped the superintendent. "How do I know he's not telling this yarn just to get the reward? How do I know he didn't pick up those shells somewhere? Sounds fishy to me, Carmody."
The old man shook his head. "Don't 'pear so to me," he declared. "Derned sight likelier than us bein' here chinnin' with a Injun what might as well come to life outen one of them there of graves."
Turning to the waiting Indian, Carmody again questioned him. "Nothin' doin'," he announced presently. "Says his village is way back in the mountings Chaca Lyacta, he calls it, meanin 'Place of the Bridge'; but he shuts up tighter'n a sardine tin soon's ever I ask him anythin' 'bout it. Likewise he don't know why them kids didn't send no message nor note nor nothin'. Swears all he knows is what the chief, or curaca, as he calls him, told him for to do. That was to come here, hand over them there ca't'idges, and tell the boss here that the kids is O.K. an' would be arrivin' here soon."
"Tell him we'll send men back with him when he goes—you can go along as interpreter, can't you, Carmody? No sense in those boys waiting for some fool Indian to get well. Tell him we'll leave first thing to-morrow morning. He can bunk in with Chico and Manuel to-night. And"—the superintendent thrust a hand into his pocket—"here"—tossing some coins on the desk—"give him these and tell him to buy what he'd like or go to the cinema if he prefers."
Carmody grinned and burst into a laugh. “Lor' bless your soul, boss!" he cried. "You've shure got a lot to learn 'bout Injuns. I dunno how to figger it out—an' it seems mighty like a dream to me—but howsomever 'tis, he's a chasqui, or king's messenger. Why, boss, you might just as well ask the British Minister over to Lima to bunk with a chauffeur or a groom as to tell this bird to bunk with Chico an' Manuel. What's more, nothin' on 'arth'd ever get them two Injuns to dare act like they was his equals. They'll clear out an’ let him have their quarters to hisself. But I shouldn't be a mite surprised if he'd enjoy seein' of a movie. Reckon Chico wouldn't mind bein' honoured by takin' him."
When asked, Chico seemed highly delighted at the opportunity, and trotted off at the strange Indian's side.
"Now I'm a-goin' for to hunt up Mr Griswold an' tell him the good news," the prospector announced. "He'll be mighty glad to know them there boys is safe an' sound. Wonder how danged far 'tis to that there village. Well, 'pears to me like we'll be back here with them youngsters 'fore Mr Stillwell comes back an' starts to worryin' about 'em."
The old man burst in upon Mr Griswold, his eyes alight with excitement. "By Godfrey, I got news for you!" he cried. "It's just like I said! Them boys is safe an' sound, an' barrin' accidents they'll be back here in camp in less'n no time."
"Thank Heaven!" exclaimed Mr Griswold when the old prospector had related all that had occurred. "I'm going along with you and the others, Carmody. I'll leave a note for Stillwell telling him everything. I thought you said there were no Indians in that district!"
The old man's eyes half closed, and his face set in a new expression. "I did so," he admitted. "I sure said so, but I reckon I'll have to set back an’ admit I was wrong. Jes' the same, I was right in a manner of speakin'. Yes, sir, when I was savin' as there wasn't no Injuns in there I was referrin' to these here ordinary Injuns. But "—he lowered his voice—"ain't I been tellin' you this chap's different an' ain't no ordinary Injun? No, sir, not by a long chalk he ain't. Now, like as not you'll laff at me, an' call me a looney-headed ol' fool; but I'll tell you somethin', Mr Griswold, that I ain't breathed to no other livin' soul. 'Member what I told you 'bout that ol' story of how the Injuns back in the ol' days knocked down a bridge to keep the Dons from a-gettin' through by the Incan road, an' then ambushin' of 'em an' killin' 'em afterwards? Yep, an' how the Injuns all cleared out an' deserted that there place? Well, sir, by Jupiter, I been thinkin' an' a-puttin' two an' two together for to make five, as you might say. Wheresoever a man goes knockin' about 'mongst the Injuns in this here country, he's bound for to hear a couple of yarns. One of 'em's how there was a everlastin' big treasure of Atahualpa's hid; an' t'other's 'bout a place back in the mountings som'eres where there's Injuns Iivin' just like they done afore the Spaniards come here. Now I ain't never had no faith in findin' of that there treasure as most folks think; but since I seen this here chap who bobbed up to-day, I'm beginnin' to have a heap of faith in both them yarns.
"Now figger it out for yourself, Mr Griswold. There's the story 'bout them Inca folk an' the bridge. Why did them Injuns knock it down? Why didn't that bunch do jus' like all the others done? Why didn't they just clear out, or else treat the Dons friendly? Now my answer is, 'cause there was somethin' in there what they didn't want the Spaniards to come acrost. An' my guess is that the reason they fought so hard was because they wanted to keep the Dons from tryin' to come back thataway.
"Now look at the name of this here village what this queer bird hails from. ‘Place of the Bridge' he calls it in his lingo. Don't that hitch up with the story? I'll say it does! These Injuns don't never name a place arter some ordinary thing like a common everyday bridge. An' who knows if the Injuns didn't go back there arter they licked the Dons outer the way?
"Now then, by gum an’ Godfrey, this is how I figger it out. The treasure was hid up there, an' them Injuns tore down the bridge to keep the Spaniards from findin' it. Then, arter the Dons had gone, they come back and went on Iivin' there jus' the way they allus done afore the Dons stuck their long noses into the Incas' pie. An' bycrickety chopsticks, I'll bet this here Injun's one of them guys! Didn't—"
"But, my dear man!" interrupted Mr Griswold, trying hard not to smile at the old fellow's enthusiasm and impossible theories. "Admitting that your logic is plausible and your reasoning sound, how about the boys? If by chance they had stumbled on such a hidden treasure and a lost city, they would have been killed. The Indians would never have permitted them to live, and still less return to civilization where they could divulge what they had seen. And it would be unreasonable to imagine that such isolated, hidden natives, who desire to retain their secret, should send a messenger to us. Not only that, but even assuming they went to such lengths, they would have disguised him to resemble an ordinary Quichua. Finally, you must remember he has consented to guide us back to his village. Do you imagine he would do so if there was anything secret or hidden near his home?"
Carmody stroked his scraggly grey beard reflectively. "I've thought of all them argyments," he said. "But I ain't altogether agreein' with you, sir. Now, 'bout them two boys. Like as not they would have been put out of the way, or kept prisoners, 'ceptin' for the fact they done the Injuns a good turn by killin' of a jaguar what was maulin’ the ol’ chief, like I tol' you. An' knowin' Injun ways well's I do, I know there ain't no Injun who'd ever harm hide or hair of anyone who done 'em a good turn like that. No, sir, they'd treat them kids like friends an' brothers, by jiminy. Nothin'd be too good for 'em. 'Sides, how'd the boys suspec' there was a secret or a treasure there? Mos' likely they don't know 'nough 'bout Injuns an' Injuns' ways to sawy there was anything queer 'bout the place an' the folks. An' you can bet your boots them Injuns could keep them kids from guessin' or findin' out anything what they wanted kep' secret. Far's this chap comin' here's consarned, like as not he come through country where there's Injuns an' needed to be helped on his way, an' his get-up every mother's son of an Injun'd reckernize him as a king's messenger an' speed him along an' help him all they could. Only thing bothers me is this. Why in thunder that bird's willin' for to take us back. That's clean beyond me, by gum!"
Nothing Carmody had said impressed Mr Griswold so much as the fact that, beyond any question, the boys were safe and comfortable in some remote Indian village. He was familiar with such quaint characters as the old prospector; he had met dozens of such restless wanderers ever following their will-o'-the-wisps through the hills, for ever seeking some "lost mine" or hidden treasure or some fabulously rich "strike"; men who knew the Andes, the deserts, the jungles as well as he knew the streets of New York or Lima; tough, seasoned, self-reliant, delightful old fellows, full of interesting anecdotes, tales, and legends; but all credulous to a degree and willing to believe the wildest, most impossible stories if they fitted in with their own highly romantic dreams. And Mr Griswold had heard the traditions of the Incas' treasure and a "lost" city of Incan people far too many times to become excited or even interested in Carmody's deductions. He had no doubt that the Indian messenger was not an ordinary Quichua, for Carmody was far too familiar with the aborigines to be mistaken in that respect. But that he was a chasqui or had come from the legendary village where ancient customs prevailed was too preposterous a supposition. All that really mattered—in Mr Griswold's estimation— was that the fellow knew where the boys were, and on the following morning would lead a party to their rescue.
Mr Griswold was up early the next morning, and was lacing one of his boots when Carmody burst into the room without the formality of knocking.
"Great jumpin' Jemima!" he exploded. "He's gone! Vamoosed! Cleared out! Yes, by gum an' Godfrey, he's given us the slip! That Injun chasqui, I mean."
"What!" exclaimed Mr Griswold. "You mean the fellow has left?"
The prospector flung himself into a chair. "Yep!" he replied. "I knowed there was somethin' funny 'bout him bein' so dumb willin' for to guide us back there to his village. He didn't never mean to do it. Just said he would so's we wouldn't suspect nothin', an' then cleared off in the middle of the night. An', by Jupiter, now I'm dead certain I figgered things out kerect."
"Can't—don't the other Indians know where he went?" asked Mr Griswold. "Can't they follow his trail?"
Carmody laughed hoarsely. "Lor' bless you, 'course they know—more or less," he replied. "But they'd never tell us nothin'. Torture wouldn't drag it outen 'em. No, sir, we just got to set here an' wait for them there boys to turn up."
He rose and turned towards the door. "Yes, by cricky," he sighed. "He's gone, an' lessen I'm plumb luckier than I ever been afore I ain't never goin' for to set my eyes on that there Place of the Bridge, or know whether them Injuns has got that Atahualpa's treasure or not."
“Perhaps," suggested Mr Griswold, the boys will be able to tell you about it."
Chapter 13 The Incas' Treasure House
BOB and Pancho found that time passed quickly in the Indian village. Almost before they realized how the days and weeks had flown, Tonak was up and about, apparently as well as ever, apart from his wrist, which was twisted and partly useless.
The boys were troubled over this, and lamented the fact that they had not been skilful enough to set the bones properly. But the chief, or rather the king, for Tonak, as Pancho had surmised, was of royal Inca blood, made light of it. He was tremendously thankful that he still retained his hand and was fully convinced that the boys possessed some magical powers, else they could not have saved the crushed bones at all.
But day after day went by, and Tonak did not mention guiding them back to La Raya. At last, impatient to be off, they asked him how soon he could go with them
He shook his head sadly. For a moment or two he sat gazing into space, and the boys began to fear he was about to tell them he had no intention of ever letting them go. Then, rising, he placed his hands on their heads.
"My sons and brothers must leave us," he said. "I and my people will be sad that it is so. But it is the call of nature. Each creature must go with its kind, and so must each tribe of men. The condor nests not with the buzzard, the dove and the falcon dwell not side by side, the eagle lives not in the hole with the owl. Does the Chuncho of the jungles dwell with the Collas on the mountains? Does the Huanca find happiness in the villages of the Panos? No, my sons, when Pachakamak the Creator made all things on this earth, and breathed life into their bodies, he ordered that each living thing should for ever seek the company of others of its kind. Though we of Chaca Lyacta love you as our own, and think not of you as strangers, yet it is best that you should return to your own people.
“Three days past, he whom I sent with a message of your safety returned. Much do your friends grieve for you and miss you. Who am I and my people but your slaves to do your bidding? We owe you what we cannot repay. But my sons' people love riches, and as I promised, riches will be given to you. To-morrow Chukis Tonak of the House of Chukis Yupanqui Inca, will lead you forth to your friends. And to you I will give that which will make you great chiefs in your own land and among your own people. Now, my sons, I go to prepare for the journey before us. It is long and hard, and it will be a road of sorrow, for it will rob me and my people of our white brothers. Yet we must rejoice, for it will bring joy and happiness to those who await you in the place of the houses that smoke."
Much that Tonak had said was in his own dialect, and his broken Spanish was difficult to understand. But if the boys missed many of his words, nevertheless they caught the meaning of his long speech.
"Whoopee! To-morrow we'll push off!" cried Bob jubilantly.
"Didn't I tell you he's a real Inca?" exclaimed Pancho triumphantly. "I wonder—"
"How do you know he is?" demanded the other. "He didn't say so."
"Didn't he? I'll say he did!" retorted Pancho. "He said he was Chukis Tonak, of the House of Chukis Yupanqui Inca! Well, that makes him an Inca if the Inca Yupanqui was one of his ancestors, doesn't it? Let's see" — he began counting on his fingers — "I think Yupanqui was the father of Huayna Kapak, who was the father of Atahualpa. Gosh, Bob, Tonak must be a brother or a cousin or a direct descendant of Atahualpa!"
"Rats!" scoffed Bob. "Probably those old kings had hundreds of relatives. I'll bet they're as common here as counts are in France. But I would like to know what he means about giving us riches that'll make us big chiefs when we get home. That's the second time he's mentioned it."
"Say, perhaps he's going to give us some of those things in the temple!" cried Pancho.
"I hope he doesn't make us a present of those old mummies or that dead man in armour," said Bob. "But I don't believe he'll give us anything except some ponchos and blankets and curios. And I don't see anything round here that will make us chiefs, as he calls it, at home. That is"—Bob chuckled at the thought —"unless he means we can dress up in Indian clothes so every one will think we're chiefs!"
"I think you're all wrong," declared Pancho. “I don't know what he has in mind; but I'll bet it will be something that will surprise you."
Tonak was awaiting the boys when they appeared the following morning. He was simply dressed like the other Indians, wearing nothing to denote his rank, and was leaning on a heavy staff of dark wood with an elaborate silver head and finely chased silver bands. With him were Kespi and Kenko, each carrying a pack supported by brow-bands, while gathered in a circle, standing or squatting, were the inhabitants of the village all waiting to bid the white boys farewell. One by one they approached, lifted Bob's and Pancho's hands to their own foreheads, and solemnly repeated the words: "Ayhualya huauki nyukspak Inti huaksychar (Farewell, my brother, may God guard and guide you)."
It was very impressive, and lumps came into the boys' throats, for they had become very fond of the friendly, gentle people, and—as Bob expressed it— the leave-taking made them feel as if they might be going to their deaths.
When the last good-bye had been said, and with Tonak leading, the little party descended the ravine and clambered up the farther side, the entire population of the village stood upon the summit of the bank. Suddenly from the assembled throng came the farewell chant of the Incan people:
Inti guard thy weary journey
Over deserts, over mountains—
All our prayers and thoughts are of thee.
Ayhualya! Ayhualya! Inti guard thee on thy journey.
All we live for, all we wait for—
is for thee to come again—
In a plaintive wail the cadence ended, and though the boys understood only a few words of the ancient song, they were far more deeply touched than they would have liked to admit.
Presently they reached the summit of the hill, and glancing back for a last view of the village, saw the people still gathered at the brink of the ravine, waving a last farewell with hands and ponchos.
"Gosh!" muttered Pancho, "it makes me feel homesick."
Along an almost indistinguishable trail they plodded on, Tonak always in the lead, followed by Bob and Pancho, with the two Indian boys in the rear. Turning and twisting, doubling back and forth, ascending hills, slipping and sliding into ravines, traversing cañons, at times even following the beds of the streams through ankle-deep water, they continued on their weary way. Four hours after leaving the village, Tonak came to a halt in a deep cañon which, for the past hour that they had been following it, had become narrower and narrower, until now it ended in a blank rock wall. From the base of this apparent cul-de-sac rose a conical hill, towering for fully two hundred feet above the banks.
"Behold, my sons!" exclaimed Tonak. "Did I not promise to lead you to the place of riches? You alone of all save the people of Chaca Lyacta may look upon the treasure house of the Incas!"
The boys gasped. They could scarcely believe their own ears. Treasure house of the Incas! Was the chief joking or was he speaking in riddles or had they misunderstood what he had said? They had heard of the fabulous, if not mythical, hoard of gold and gems which, according to tradition, had been gathered for the ransom of captive Atahualpa—but which had been buried in the Peruvian mountains when the treasure carriers learned of their Inca's death by Pizarro's orders.
Neither of the boys had ever given the tale more than a passing thought. It was just a good story, to them, and yet here was Tonak—who claimed to be a direct descendant of the Incas—telling them that they were looking on the Incas' treasure house. But they could see nothing that appeared in the least like a building, a ruin, or even a cavern.
Wondering, they gazed about, while Tonak and the two Indians grinned.
"I don't see—" began Bob.
Pancho gripped his arm. "Look!" he exclaimed excitedly. "Look at that hill, Bob! It's not a real hill, it's built of stones! It's a pyramid! That must be the treasure house!"
Bob whistled. "Gosh, Pancho, you're right!" he cried. "It is artificial. But there isn't a door or window or anything in it. And—"
Tonak again spoke. "Only to him who rules as curaca in Chaca Lyacta, and those of his village, is the treasure known," he announced. "Through four times four hundred suns have we watched over it so that, if need should come, the freedom of our people might be bought. But now that time has passed. Never again will an Inca of royal blood sit upon the golden throne of Cuzco and rule over the kingdom of Tihuantisuyo (the Incas' name for their empire, meaning ‘The Four Corners of the Earth'). We are few and scattered, and apart from us of Chaca Lyacta, all are vassals of the sons of the bearded ones who conquered our land and destroyed our Inca. Some time the Spaniards will come and learn the secret of the treasure and force their rule upon us. But to you, my sons, we give gladly. From what lies within the secret portals take what you may desire as a parting gift from Tonak and his people. Rightfully it belonged to my fathers' fathers, and so rightfully to me, and whatsoever is mine is also yours, my sons."
The boys were speechless. Were they actually about to gaze upon that mythical fabulous treasure? No, that was impossible, too fantastic to be true. And yet—
Tonak had turned and was moving forward towards the rocky wall at the head of the cañon. Wondering, gazing about, feeling strangely impressed, the boys followed in his footsteps.
At the base of the cliff was a great pile of loose stones which apparently had slid down from above. Dropping their burdens, Kespi and Kenko began tossing the stones to one side while the boys watched, fascinated.
Presently a rectangular sculptured stone was revealed where it had been concealed by the heap of debris. Then, as the last of the loose rocks were removed, Tonak placed his staff in the mouth of a sculptured jaguar, and leaned hard against it, while the two Indian youths put their shoulders to the stone.
Bob and Pancho scarcely breathed, their bulging eyes fixed on the block of stone and the three Indians. Slowly it moved. It swung silently aside and disclosed a dark opening!
From their packs Kespi and Kenko produced torches. With flint and steel they were lit, and, taking one, Tonak bent and entered the portal, beckoning the boys to follow.
For perhaps fifty feet they passed along a narrow stone corridor, barely three feet in width and five feet in height. Then they descended a short flight of stone steps, entered a large circular room, crossed this, past an immense stone statue of a jaguar-headed god, entered another low, narrow passage, and, traversing this for another fifty feet, came to a smaller square chamber in the centre of which was a stone image of the sun-god.
Bowing low before this, Tonak and the two Indians ascended the low pyramidal dais on which the statue stood, and tugged with all their strength at a projecting stone ornament.
Slowly the monolith moved to one side, disclosing a dark tunnel-like opening. Excited, with fast-beating hearts, the two boys followed their guides into the aperture.
Descending a flight of stone steps, they entered a narrow corridor, passed along it, turned right and left into other passage-ways, ascended more stairs, and entered a large, lofty room.
As the Indians halted and held high their flaring torches, the boys gasped, staring speechlessly, incredulously at what they saw.
Chapter 14 Tonak keeps his Promise
PILED in the corners and about the walls of the stone chamber were great heaps of glittering gold! Bars and ingots, hammered breastplates and great wheel-like suns; stacks of thin gold sheets; ceremonial maces and axes; spears and sceptres; massive chains and ornaments of every form; vases, lamps, dishes, and utensils of solid gold were everywhere. In one spot, piled almost to the ceiling, were cloth bags and rawhide sacks, some of which had burst, and from the rents, streams of yellow gold dust and nuggets had trickled to the floor. There were tons of the precious metal, and the boys scarcely noticed the great stacks of silver bars, the silver vases, utensils, and weapons that lay on every side.
"Do—do you suppose all that really is gold?" whispered Bob in awed tones.
"It must be," replied Pancho. "But, gosh! I never thought there could be so much gold in all the world."
Tonak's voice interrupted their thoughts. "It is all yours, my sons," he announced. "Take what you desire. Did I not say that my white sons would be great chiefs amid their own people?"
"Great millionaires!" exclaimed Pancho. "Whew! There must be more gold here than in the Treasury at Washington. It—"
"And he says we can take all we want!" cried Bob, gazing about at the vast store of riches. "But that's just a joke. How can we carry off all we want?"
"We can't—unless the Indians come and help us," said Pancho. "Even then we'd need llamas or mules or motor-trucks. And we haven't even a donkey!"
Apparently the chief read their thoughts. "Two times ten hundred yanaconas (cargo-carriers) and two score trains of llamas groaned beneath the burden of the treasure you see before you," he told them. "If my sons could bring hither the devil-carts of the white men they would still be welcome to take all away, for what is gold in exchange for the life of a king? We are but five, and we have far to go and a hard trail to follow. We can take only as little as five ants might carry at one time from an anthill. Gold is heavy, and my sons have not seen all. Behold! This treasure you may take more easily."
As he spoke, Tonak stepped to a carved chest hasped and bound with massive silver and lifted the lid. The boys leaned forward with sharp exclamations of amazement, almost blinded by the brilliancy of the sight that met their eyes. Within the chest, gleaming, flashing in the glare of the torches, were jewels of every hue!
Like living fire they scintillated and sparkled—blue, green, lavender, pink, crimson, and dazzling white. Never, the boys thought, had white men looked upon such a vast fortune. Here, as Tonak had said, was wealth which they could carry—riches in compact, condensed form—and although the boys were ignorant of the value of precious stones, they realized that a pocketful of the gems would be worth hundreds of pounds of yellow gold.
They plunged their hands into the chest, lifted the rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, topazes, amethysts, and countless semi-precious stones and let them trickle in showers of multi-coloured flame between their fingers.
Could it be possible the glorious things were real? They could not believe them genuine, could not convince themselves that they were seeing, touching gems such as neither they nor anyone else had believed existed— limpid emeralds as large as pigeons' eggs, blood-red rubies the size of marbles, ropes of iridescent pearls from Lake Titicaca, topazes carved to represent the sun, fire-flashing diamonds set in beautifully wrought ornaments of gold, golden and silver flowers with petals of gems, insects of gold with jewel eyes and wings, golden ears of maize with kernels of pearls and husks of silver, the finest examples of Incan and pre-Incan art, the work of the incredibly skilful goldsmiths and lapidaries of the vast ancient Incan empire!
The three Indians stood silent, motionless, watching the boys and waiting for them to help themselves to the incalculable treasure before them.
"Great gosh!" sighed Bob. "I can't believe I'm not dreaming. There must be millions and millions of dollars worth of jewels here."
"Fortunes!" agreed Pancho. "When are we going to wake up?"
"Better fill our pockets before we do,” said Bob. "But how are we to know which to take? We don't even know what kind of stones they are."
"I'm going to take those set in gold," declared Pancho, "and one of those gold ears of corn."
Shucks, I don't believe these are anything but glass," exclaimed Bob, as he began selecting some of the largest stones, "Look here—they've got holes through them. None of this junk for me, they're just beads like those you can buy in a ten-cent store!"
"I don't know but you're right," agreed Pancho, as he, too, examined the stones more closely. "If they are real they've been ruined by these holes. But Tonak said they were treasure, so they must be genuine."
Bob laughed. "That doesn't prove anything," he reminded the other. "Don't Indians think common beads and bells and all sorts of doo-dads are treasure? I never heard Dad speak of diamonds and rubies and such things being found in Peru, and he's a mining engineer and should know. Even if the Indians did have gems, how could they have cut them and bored holes in them? Why, diamonds and rubies and sapphires are the hardest things in the world."
"Well, where could they have got beads or glass?" countered Pancho.
"Traded them from the Spaniards, of course," replied Bob. "Anyhow, I'm only going to take a few as samples. If they are real we can come back and get the rest—Tonak said we could take everything here, didn't he? But I know gold when I see it, and I'm going to take all the gold they can carry."
"Maybe it is safest," agreed Pancho, "but I'm going to keep these other things and these ears of corn. I hadn't thought about coming back some time. Of course we can. Gosh, Bob! If we do come back we'll be real millionaires."
Feeling quite convinced that the apparent gems were really worthless, and equally confident of returning to secure all the treasure before them, the boys contented themselves with a few of the largest stones, a string of pearls each, a number of the gem-encrusted ornaments, and small objects of gold. Then, having selected these, they asked Tonak how much of the raw gold the three Indians could carry. For a few moments the Indians carried on a low-toned conversation, and then Kespi and his brother commenced gathering gold ingots and disks and placing them in two piles.
"Don't you think we'd better take the gold dust?" asked Bob. "Seems to me we'd be sure that's the purest and it's genuine. Besides, it's more compact than these things."
"Let's take a little of everything," suggested Pancho. "As long as we're coming back for the rest, what's the sense in loading these fellows down?
"If we take some samples of the dust and nuggets, and one or two of these gold plates and goblets, and a few bars, we'll be able to prove what's here and"— he laughed—"I'll bet we'll have to do some proving, or nobody'll believe us."
It was a disappointingly small pile of metal that the Indians declared was all they safely could carry. But even so, it was more gold than either boy ever before had seen at one time, and far more than they ever had dreamed of possessing. But as the Indians wrapped the precious burdens in their ponchos and slung the heavy loads over their sturdy shoulders, and Tonak led the way toward the exit of the treasure-chamber, Bob looked back and sighed regretfully.
"Gee, all they've taken wouldn't even be missed," he declared.
"What of it? It's safe enough here," Pancho reminded him. "And it's all ours—Tonak said we were welcome to come and cart it off with motor-trucks, or ‘devil-wagons,' which are the same thing, I suppose."
"I know," admitted Bob, as they followed the flickering torch of the chief. "Still, some one might find the place and get ahead of us."
Pancho laughed. "Not a chance," he declared. "It's been here for hundreds of years and no one has found it, so 'tisn't likely they'll find it in the next few days. Anyhow "—with a chuckle—" you're getting to act like a real millionaire already—never satisfied. We must be rich right now—if any of these stones are genuine. First thing you know you'll be giving away new dimes!"
"It's not that," Bob insisted. "But just think of all that treasure being here all these years and not doing anyone any good. And just think what we could do if we had it!"
"Well, just think of all the gold there is in the rocks of these Andes, and that's been lying around for millions of years, and not doing anyone any good. And just think of all the things a fellow could do if he had all that."
"That's different," argued Bob. "But if we expect to come back to get this, we'd better remember the different turns we take in these passages. And we must watch Tonak and see how he works that movable idol."
"Why should we?" Pancho asked. "When we come back we'll have him come with us, of course."
"He might die before then," Bob reminded him. "And—say, do you suppose we could find our way to the village?"
Pancho whistled. "No, I'll bet we could not," he admitted. "I never thought of noticing the direction we took nor the landmarks. But it doesn't make any real difference—we can find it by aeroplane."
"Yes, I suppose we could," assented Bob. "But we couldn't find our way back here along these passages by plane, so we'd better keep our eyes open."
Concentrating their minds on the various turns to right or left and counting the number of steps they ascended or descended, the boys followed silently in Tonak's footsteps. Carefully they watched while the Indians swung the sun-god into place. At last they emerged from the tunnel-like opening and stood once more in the sunlit cañon.
The heavy stone door was replaced, the loose rocks were heaped over it, covering all traces of the secret entrance, and the Indians shouldered their packs. Then, with scarcely a backward glance, and bending beneath their burdens of gold, they retraced their way down the ravine.
Chapter 15 Deserted
DAY after day they plodded steadily on, sometimes following narrow paths, at other times proceeding where no trail was visible; turning now east, now north, now west, now south, until the boys were hopelessly confused and had not even a remote idea of the general direction in which they had travelled.
"It's lucky Tonak knows the way," panted Bob as they climbed a long steep slope. "Sometimes I wonder if he does or if he isn't going around and around, as much lost as we were on the other side of the mountains. If he does know where he's headed for, how on earth does he find his way? I haven't seen anything that looks like a trail for days."
"I guess it's by instinct," replied Pancho. "Same way that carrier pigeons and toads and other creatures find their way home. He knows where he's going, don't you fear. You couldn't lose these Indians anywhere in the whole of Peru."
"Well, I'm mighty glad we didn't try to find our own way out," said Bob. "We'd have been lost in no time."
Pancho laughed! “We're lost now—as far as finding our way back is concerned," he said. "We never could find that treasure place again. That is, on foot; but of course in a plane, it will be easy."
Though the journey was long, and the boys were desperately weary and footsore, they did not suffer for want of food or water. The Indians carried a supply of parched corn, barley meal, dried beans, and jerked meat; the country, though often barren, was cut by many streams; and while game was scarce, hardly a day passed that Pancho did not shoot something edible. Each night the boys threw themselves down, utterly tired out; but the Indians made nothing of it, even burdened as they were with loads weighing over one hundred pounds each.
Kespi and his brother seemed tireless, and old Tonak, who so recently had recovered from injuries that would have left a white man a semi-invalid, kept up his swinging pace for hours on end with never a sign of weariness.
But they all chewed the coca leaves, and under the effects of this mild stimulant Andean Indians feel neither fatigue nor hunger. They realized, however, that the white boys could not maintain such a steady grind, and whenever Tonak noticed that they lagged or appeared over-tired, he would order a halt and would let them rest, often for several hours.
Frequently Bob or Pancho asked the chief how much farther they must go, or how many days it would be before they reached La Raya, and he invariably replied in some unintelligible metaphor or declared he could not say, as it depended on how rapidly they travelled.
By the end of a week the trip seemed like an endless nightmare to the boys. It did not seem possible that they could have tramped steadily for seven days without seeing a single human being, a house, or a village. To be sure, they had passed within sight of several ruins of ancient buildings; but the whole country seemed deserted, devoid of human life, a wilderness of hills and valleys, deep cañons, broad, stony punas, grassy upland plains, tumbling mountain streams, gleaming lakes, and distant phantom-like, snow-clad peaks.
They camped wherever the end of the day found them —sometimes in the shelter of a pile of rocks, sometimes in a cavern in the hills, sometimes in hastily constructed huts beside a stream or pond. One morning they came to a large lake that barred their progress, and the boys groaned as they thought of being compelled to tramp the long way around its shores. Then to their surprise, the Indians threw down their loads, and wading knee-deep into the water, commenced gathering great armfuls of the tall, inch-thick reeds that grew everywhere in the shallows. The boys were puzzled. It was not yet noon, and the Indians apparently were preparing to make camp. Then their interest and curiosity were aroused, and they forgot their tired bodies and weary limbs, for the Indians were placing bundles of reeds on the ground and were lashing them together with withes and roots.
"What do you suppose they're doing now?" exclaimed Bob. "Do you suppose they intend to carry those bundles of reeds with them?"
Pancho shook his head. "I give it up," he replied. "If we watch we'll find out. But I guess we'll learn more quickly by asking."
Kespi grinned when the boys questioned him, and told them he and the others were making something he called a balsa.
"We know just as much—or as little—as before," complained Bob. "What's a balsa?"
Pancho didn't know, and the Indians didn't appear able to explain very clearly; but to the boys' amazement Kespi declared that the balsa would enable them to cross the lake.
"That's a good one," scoffed Pancho. "Next thing, they'll be trying to make us believe they're building an aeroplane."
"Perhaps it's some sort of a raft," Bob suggested.
"Raft nothing!" snorted Pancho. “Can you imagine a raft made out of rushes?"
"No, but neither could I imagine that treasure we saw," replied Bob, "nor that we'd be here, when we started out in that car from Lima. Gosh, how many months ago was that? Seems like years to me!"
"About a month," Pancho told him. "But— gosh, Bob! It looks as if they were making some sort of a boat."
It was soon evident that a boat was precisely what the Indians were making, for they worked rapidly, tying bundles of reeds together, lashing these bundles into place, and forming a canoe-shaped affair some twenty feet in length by six feet in width. Within three hours from the time they had begun work the strange craft was completed, and as the astonished boys looked on, two of the Indians lifted the little vessel to their shoulders, carried it to the lake, and placed it on the water.
"I never saw anything to equal that!" cried Bob. "Talk about a raft of rushes! That's a regular boat made of them, and it looks like a mighty good boat at that. Come on, let's see if it'll hold us!"
The balsa not only supported the two boys, but seemed scarcely affected by their weight, and was so buoyant, dry, and steady that they shouted with delight.
"Now I know how we'll manage every time we come to a lake or a river at home!" cried Bob. "We'll just cut some cat-tails and make a balsa. Gosh, don't I wish we'd known about these boats that time we were caught by the tide on the marshes at Southend! Won't we have something to show the boys when we get back home once again!"
The Indians were vastly amused at all this enthusiasm. To them the balsa was nothing unusual, for the reed boats had been used by the Peruvian Indians for thousands of years. They were practical fellows and busied themselves loading the balsa with their supplies and the ponchos filled with gold. Then, arming themselves with poles cut from a thicket of poplars, they clambered aboard and pushed off.
"This is something like!" declared Pancho, as the buoyant craft moved toward the centre of the lake. "Wish we could travel this way all the time."
"You bet!" agreed Bob heartily. "But look there. Did you ever see so many ducks and geese and— Say, what are those two big white birds with black necks? Try a shot, they ought to be fine eating."
As Pancho threw a cartridge into the chamber of his rifle the Indians grasped his intention and slowly swung the balsa towards the unsuspecting waterfowl. Not until he was within easy range did Pancho risk a shot, and brought down one of the big, black-necked ducks. As the flock rose with terrified cries and a roar of beating wings, he fired twice more, and three ducks fell splashing into the water.
"Great!" shouted Bob. "That was swell shooting —to get three ducks with two shots; and on the wing, too!"
Pancho grinned. "Swell nothing," he declared. "I couldn't help hitting them, they were so close together. But— Well, what do you think of that?"
Kespi, not to be outdone by the white boy, had jerked a woven, woollen sling from his girdle, had hastily fitted a round stone from a wallet at his side, and whirling the sling about his head sent the missile whizzing after the birds. As Pancho spoke, one of the flock plunged headlong to the water.
"Guess you aren't such a crack shot after all," laughed Bob, as he saw Pancho staring in open-mouthed surprise. "If an Indian can knock over one of those birds with a stone from a sling, you ought to get three of them with two rifle-bullets."
"Now I'll believe that story of David and Goliath," Pancho declared. "Why, that duck must have been fifty yards away."
Gathering their game, the party continued on their way, following the winding sheet of water for mile after mile between the hills. Not until they had reached the head of the lake did the Indians pole the balsa into shoal water and draw it on the shore.
It had been the easiest day's trip in all the boys' wanderings, and they had enjoyed every minute of it. They dined royally that night on roast duck and had enough left over to supply full meals for another day. While the Indians had been making camp and preparing the food, the two boys had gone for a swim, and, rested and refreshed by their frolics in the cold water, they slept like logs.
It was broad daylight when Pancho awoke. Rubbing his eyes he sat up, glanced about to see if the Indians were cooking breakfast, and, suddenly wide awake, leaped to his feet shouting excitedly to Bob.
"Wha—what's the matter?" queried Bob sleepily, yawning as he sat up. "Why all the shouting?"
"The Indians!" cried Pancho. "Tonak, Kespi, Kenko— They're not here!"
"What?" exclaimed Bob, springing to his feet and staring about, blinking in the strong light. "Not here? Well, what of it? Most likely they've gone for a swim."
"Gosh, I hadn't thought of that," Pancho confessed. As he spoke he hurried towards the spot where they had left the balsa. Neither Indians nor boat were anywhere to be seen!
Not knowing what to think of the strange, inexplicable disappearance of Tonak and his fellows, dazed and not a little frightened, Pancho dashed back to find Bob examining the packs that the missing Indians had left in the camp.
"They're not at the lake!" cried Pancho. "The boat's gone, too!"
"Well, they've left everything behind them—if they really have gone," Bob informed him. "The gold and jewels they were carrying are all here. I guess they must be somewhere near. Why should they run off, anyway? You don't think they'd desert us, do you?"
"I can't believe they would," declared Pancho. "Just the same, it's mighty queer—the way they've gone off without saying anything. And besides, they took the boat. I admit I'm scared. We never can find our way to La Raya or anywhere else by ourselves."
Bob laughed. "Of course, if they've taken the boat, that explains it," he announced. "They've gone fishing."
"I'll soon find out," said Pancho. "I can see the whole lake from the top of the hill." Without waiting for Bob, he rushed off towards the crest of the rise above the camp. As he reached the summit and glanced about he stood staring, open-mouthed, incredulous. Within a quarter of a mile of where he stood a stream flowed around the base of the hill, its banks fringed with aspens. And there, in plain sight beneath the trees, were tents, tethered horses and mules, men!
For a brief moment Pancho gazed at the seeming apparition, too amazed to utter a sound. Then he let out a yell like a Comanche. "Whoop-eee! White men, Bob! Come on!"
Bob gave one astonished glance at the camp among the trees, and with a yell that outdid Pancho's, dashed after his comrade, who was already racing towards the tents.
At the sound of the wild shouts, the men camped beside the stream turned with one accord and reached for their weapons, as they gazed at the oncoming figures, as much astonished to see the boys as the boys had been to see them.
They had thought there were no human beings except themselves, and possibly a few Indians, within a hundred miles. Who could these two be? What were they doing in this remote spot? And why were they dashing so madly towards the camp? They were white, they appeared to be mere boys, and whoever they might be, whatever the explanation of their presence, they apparently were fleeing from something. Sunburned, bearded men jumped for rifles, ready for any emergency; but no enemy appeared as the two boys dashed breathless into their midst.
"Hey, who in time be you?" demanded a tall, raw-boned fellow, seizing Pancho by the collar. "What's chasin' you?"
Before either boy could gasp a reply, a man emerged from the door of a tent nearby. "What's up, Haskins?" he asked.
Bob wheeled at the sound of the voice. His eyes grew round, his jaw gaped. Then—"Dad!" he yelled, and fairly threw himself upon the astounded figure before the tent.
Chapter 16 Mutual Surprises
MR STILLWELL was too astonished to utter a word. He had known nothing of the boys' disappearance, he had thought them safe at La Raya, and here they were, dropping out of a clear sky, appearing as if by magic, in this uninhabited waste. His amazement at seeing them was greater if possible than that of the boys at so unexpectedly meeting him.
"Good heavens, what are you doing here, Bob?" he gasped when he found his voice. "Why aren't you at La Raya?"
"Gosh, Dad, but it's good to see you!" cried Bob. "But what are you doing here? Searching for us?"
"No, son, why should I be searching for you? I'm on my way back to La Raya. Been examining prospects for a month or more. But you haven't answered my question. What are you two scallywags doing here? How did you get here? How did you know where to find me? What's the reason you're up here, a hundred miles from anywhere?"
"Whew, but it's a long story, Dad," Bob told him. "And we haven't had our breakfasts yet. Our Indians went off and deserted us. We'll tell you all about it while we eat. Didn't you know we were lost?"
Mr Stillwell shook his head. It was hopeless to try to make any headway until he could get a connected account of the mystery of the boys' presence.
"All right," he agreed. "You arrived just in time for breakfast—never knew you to miss a meal yet. So come and eat, and let's see what sort of a fairy tale you can invent to explain why you and Pancho are here."
Bob grinned. "You'd be surprised!" he said. "Wait till you hear it, Dad! We couldn't possibly make up a story half as strange as the real thing."
"I'll bet you won't believe it when you hear it," declared Pancho.
"I'm ready to believe almost anything, after finding you here," Mr Stillwell told them. "Now begin at the beginning, from the time you left Lima."
"Well, first thing that happened," mumbled Bob as he helped himself to an immense flapjack and smothered it in molasses, "the car skidded and was wrecked and the chauffeur was killed. Then Pancho and I decided to walk to Palitos, and—"
"Lost your way, of course," his father interrupted. “Well, go on."
As they ate, the boys described their adventures while Mr Stillwell and Haskins listened attentively. When they reached the point where they told of saving Tonak's life, and of living in his village, Bob's father again interrupted the narrative.
"Never mind the details," he said. "I can guess that part. I suppose the Indians eventually guided you out towards La Raya, and if I'm not mistaken you said they deserted you. When was that?"
"Last night," the boys replied in unison.
"That is, we think it was last night," Pancho added. "I woke up this morning and found them gone. The balsa was gone, too. Then I thought they might be fishing on the lake, and I came to the top of the hill to look around, and saw the camp. And—"
"Gosh, wasn't that a coincidence!" cried Bob. "There we were, camped almost within sight of each other, and never dreaming of it. And then the Indians happening to go off at that particular time!"
"Coincidence nothin’!" growled Haskins. "Them Injuns knew we was camped here. It was all cut and dried. They just figgered it out to leave you flat soon's ever they brung you within sight of us. But I'd like to know why they done it. Injuns don't never do nothin' without a reason back of it. I—”
"And they left their packs, too," Bob told him.
"And—galloping catfish! I'd forgotten all about it!" He jumped up, his mouth full of food. "Say!" he cried. "We'd better go back before some one finds all that gold and stuff over at our camp!"
"Gold!" ejaculated his father. "What are you talking about?"
"Why, the gold they gave us, of course," Bob replied. "Gee whiz, I'd forgotten we hadn't told you about that yet. You see—"
The two men scarcely heard his words. They were gazing, with staring, incredulous eyes, at the gleaming objects Pancho had nonchalantly placed on the table before them. "We got these, too," he announced, "but I don't suppose they're really valuable."
"Jumping Jupiter! Am I seein' things?" gasped Haskins. "Valuable! Oh, my everlastin' sainted aunt! Out of the mouths of babes and sucklin's, as the Scriptures says! Valuable! Say, Stillwell, just kick me good and plenty to see if I'm awake!"
"Where in the world did you get these?" demanded Bob's father in awed tones as he picked up the flashing gems. "This— Why, don't you know, don't you realize this is an emerald? I'm no gem expert, but I know it's almost priceless!"
"Darned near," commented Haskins, leaning forward and peering at the stone with burning eyes. "If it didn't have that hole through it I'd say 'twas worth every cent of ten thousand. Even as 'tis, it's—"
"Ten thousand dollars!" cried the boys together. "You mean it's real? Why, we thought these things were just glass."
Haskins collapsed in his chair, threw up his hands, and groaned. "While we're skinnin' these darned hills an' walkin' our dumb feet off lookin' for some measly outcrop of pay-dirt, these human horseshoes are pickin' up jools like they were daisies!"
"Gee, I wish we'd brought all we could carry," lamented Bob. "There was a whole chest full of—"
"Hold on, son," interrupted his father. "Let's have this straight. Where did you find these? What do you mean about a chest? You didn't mention it when you were telling of your adventures."
"Well, you wouldn't let me," Bob reminded him. "You said 'Never mind the details' after I told about getting to the village. But there's a lot more to tell. We found a temple—"
"With Incas' mummies and an old fellow in armour, and a gold sun—" put in Pancho.
"And we—or rather Pancho—killed a giant bear. We brought his skin, and it's back at our camp," continued Bob. "And Tonak told us he'd make us 'great chiefs' in our own country, and gave us these and the gold. He showed us a treasure he said they'd been guarding for hundreds of years, too. We—"
"It was in a big pyramid," Pancho explained, "a regular treasure house with tons and tons of gold and silver and a chest full of these stones. And—"
"Tonak told us to take all we wanted," Bob interrupted. "But we couldn't carry very much. Just what gold the Indians could carry, and what we could put in our pockets. But it's all ours—what's in that treasure place, I mean—and Tonak said we were welcome to get it any time, and that we could carry it away in 'devil-carts,' as he called them, meaning motor-trucks, of course."
"If these stones were not here before my eyes I wouldn't believe one word of what you've said," Mr Stillwell declared. "Even now"—he turned to Haskins—"I think you'd better kick me to see if I'm awake," he said. "But, seriously, what do you make of it?"
Haskins sat up with a jerk. "Make of it!" he cried. "Why, these two boys have seen what folks have been huntin' for close on four hundred years—Atahualpa's treasure! I never took no stock in the yarn—thought 'twas just an old legend—but plenty of men with good senses did. An' now these kids get plumb lost and just by luck pull through—you know the sayin' about fools rushin' in, et cetera—an' stumble on the cacique when he's bein' chawed by a cussed jaguar, an'— Oh, what's the use? Here they be with their pockets crammed full of jools an' nobody knows how much gold lyin' loose over to their camp. An'— Oh, my aunt!''
Mr Stillwell shook his head and drew a long breath. "Truth is stranger than fiction," he muttered. "That's a hoary old saying, but I can't think of anything more appropriate just now."
The boys had started to disgorge the contents of their pockets, but Mr Stillwell stopped them.
“Don't!" he exclaimed. "Not here. I think my men are honest, but there's a limit to temptation to any native or rough-neck. Come to my tent—you, too, Haskins, and we'll see what loot you've got and put it under lock and key."
When at last the boys had emptied their pockets, the two men sat gazing at each other, speechless with amazement.
"I haven't the remotest idea what these are worth," said Bob's father. "What do you think, Haskins?"
The other shook his head. "If them stones wasn't so badly cut an' wasn't bored, I'd make a rough guess they'd be worth close to a quarter million," he replied, "but as 'tis—"
"As it is," declared Mr Stillwell, interrupting him, "in my opinion they may be worth as much or even more as archaeological specimens. I don't know if there is an institution in the world that has enough funds to purchase the lot; but I haven't the least doubt that the greater portion could be sold for almost any price demanded. These ears of corn, for example; they're simply marvellous pieces of artisanship."
The two boys scarcely could believe their ears. A quarter of a million! A fortune! And they had taken but a fraction of the contents of the chest!
"Whew!" cried Pancho, his eyes round. "There must be billions in that place!"
Mr Stillwell smiled. "Scarcely that," he said, "it takes almost two tons of solid gold to be worth a million dollars—and a billion is one thousand millions, or over two thousand tons of gold, my boy."
"It looked to me as if there were thousands of tons there," declared Bob. "What was it Tonak said about all the llamas and men it took to bring it there?"
"He said it required two thousand yanaconas and forty llama trains to carry it," Pancho replied. "What are yanaconas anyway? I suppose they're some tribe of Indians."
"They be," Haskins told him. "That's Quichua for porters—packers, professional cargo-carriers. They tote loads of about seventy-five to a hundred pounds. Are you dead sure the old chief said two thousand?"
"Well, he didn't say just that," Pancho admitted. "You see, Tonak didn't speak much Spanish, and whenever he came to a word he didn't know he'd use a word in his own language. But we learned a lot of that and could understand most everything the Indians said. He—"
"Hold your hosses!" Haskins interrupted him. "I savvy Quichua all right. Can you repeat exactly what he did say?"
"Tanacona-kuna ishcaica mitikuna huranga," Pancho repeated without hesitation.
"By hooky! That's right," declared Haskins. "That means twice ten hundred yanaconas. And how-many llama trains did he say?"
"Chusgo chunga," Pancho told him.
"Forty, all right," affirmed the miner. Then, after a moment's mental calculation: "Tie me down, Stillwell!" he exclaimed. "This thing's gettin' too cussed big! I'll be goin' plumb crazy just thinkin' of it. Do you know what all that means, providin' the Injun told the truth? Figger it out for yourself an' see if I'm right. More'n seventy-five tons of gold were brung by them yanaconas, even if they lugged only seventy-five pounds apiece. And close on twenty ton more must 'a' been on them llamas—forty trains is four hundred critters, more or less. That's more'n a hundred ton of gold! An' that not countin' them stones. My holy aunt! More'n fifty millions lyin' in that place waitin’ for us to walk in an' take it!"
Mr Stillwell smiled. "I won't say I think you are over-optimistic, Haskins," he said. "In fact, my experience has been that you are usually the reverse— super-pessimistic, I might say. Even if there are one hundred tons of gold in that ancient treasure vault, and even if, as the boys say, the Indians told them they were welcome to it, there are a great many matters to be taken into consideration, and not a few obstacles to be overcome, before we could ' walk in and take it.' "
“Anyhow, what's the sense in talking about it now?" demanded Bob. "Let's go and get that gold over at our camp. First thing we know, we'll find it's been stolen."
"Great Scott, I'd forgotten about that!" cried his father, jumping up. "Yes, indeed, by all means. Stay here, Haskins, and keep your eye on this tent. Don't forget we've a small fortune in here now. I'll take a couple of the men and go for the boys' gold."
The miner shook his head dubiously. "Not me, I wouldn't," he declared. "I'd take the boys and a pack-mule, and not let any of those Cholos get wise to what's in them packs. Sling 'em on the mule an' bring 'em over here, an’ 'less some of the gang's been nosin' about they'll think it's just the boys' dunnage."
"You're right," agreed Mr Stillwell. "No sense letting these men know about the gold."
Half an hour later, the gold had been safely concealed among Mr Stillwell's mineral samples without, apparently, arousing any suspicion among the muleteers and other natives. There was nothing to keep the party longer, and orders were given to break camp. Before noon the cavalcade was again in motion, wending its way slowly towards distant La Raya.
Chapter 17 Castles in the Air
AS the boys rode along they told many incidents and details which they had not previously mentioned; but their thoughts quite naturally centred on the treasure they had seen and the sizeable fortune they now possessed. They described the Incas' treasure house, its passages, the moving idols, and the contents of the vault, to all of which Bob's father and Haskins listened attentively. Of course the boys had been greatly disappointed when they found that Mr Stillwell could not go back with them in search of the treasure; but he had pointed out that the party was on business for the La Raya Company and not on a treasure hunt, that the food-supplies were too low to risk such an attempt, and that, for the present at least, it would be impossible to make the journey, even if the boys were certain of the route. "It would take weeks, perhaps months, to locate the spot," he told them. "And even then I doubt if we'd ever find it. As a matter of fact, I don't believe either of you boys has the remotest idea as to where it is."
They were forced to admit that they did not.
"Then it may be in any direction from here," he said. "It would be worse than searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack to attempt to go over every square mile—or rather every quarter of a square mile—within a radius of perhaps one hundred miles. I'm inclined to think those Indians deliberately took you on a roundabout route; and the only chance of finding the place is by aeroplane. Time enough to talk about that after we reach La Raya."
"I been wonderin’ why them Injuns left you boys when they did," observed Haskins, "but I reckon I know. The way I dope it out is that they knew pretty much where we was all the time—most likely had scouts watchin' us for weeks. That cacique, bein' guardian of that treasure, most likely figgered we might be snoopin' about searchin' for it, an' kept tabs on us like I say. Then, to save a lot of travellin' an' footwear, 'stead of takin’ you to La Raya, he brung you down here where he savvied we'd be, an' set you down so you couldn't miss findin' us, an' then vamoosed. He's a wise old bird, I reckon, an' wasn't takin' no risks of bein' trailed back to that treasure house."
"But why should he mind?" Bob asked. "He said we could have all the treasure we wanted."
"Lord love you!" exclaimed Haskins with a guffaw. "You weren't takin' what he said for what he really meant, were you? Injuns is like Spaniards that way. If they take a shine to you, or owe you a good turn, like he did you kids, they'll say a lot more'n they mean just to be polite. A Spaniard'll tell you his house an' all in it are yourn; but just try to take it! It's the same with that chief of yours. An' he was safe enough at that—he blamed well knew you couldn't lug off but a mighty little of the stuff."
"But he said we could bring trucks and take it away," Pancho reminded him.
The miner slapped his thigh and roared with laughter. "Sure he done so!" he exclaimed. "So could I tell you to bring a ship up here and take a cruise acrost that lake. The old guy ain't nobody's fool—he didn't offer to put his people to work buildin' a road so's you could run them trucks up there, did he?"
"I don't believe he was insincere," maintained Pancho. "He was a fine old chap, and he owed us his life. I'll bet he meant every word he said. Why, he needn't have told us about the treasure. If he wanted to give us a present he could have taken it from the place and brought it to us. And if he was grateful, and the gold and things are no use to him, why shouldn't he be willing we should have it?"
"Then, my boy, why did he leave you as he did?"
Mr Stillwell asked him. "Why didn't he remain and offer to guide us back to the place? No, I think Haskins is right. I haven't the least doubt that Tonak— that's his name, isn't it?—was duly grateful to you boys. Neither do I doubt that he is a fine type of Indian. But he knew he wasn't taking any risk by letting you see the treasure vault and its contents. He was aware that he could easily mislead and confuse you on the trail here. He knew you were—well, tenderfeet, as I might say, and that you had already been lost in the mountains. You didn't even know where you were while in his village, and I'm convinced by your description of the route that he led you in circles. I shouldn't be at all surprised if the treasure were quite near—probably not more than one or two days' travel from the spot where he deserted you."
"Maybe you're right, Dad," sighed Bob. "Anyway, we shouldn't complain even if we never find the place again. We're both pretty rich."
His father smiled. "I'm afraid, son, you'll find that you two boys are not so wealthy as you imagine," he said.
"But, Dad, we've got all that gold, and the jewels, and they're worth—"
"A very respectable fortune, it is true," his father completed the sentence. "But," continued Mr Stillwell, "most of those gems and a good deal of the gold are antiquities, and cannot legally be exported from Peru. Even if the gold were melted down and the gems recut, and thus had their scientific value destroyed, you still would be liable to have one-half of all your treasure confiscated by the Government. It is treasure-trove, and, according to law, fifty per cent, of all treasure-trove belongs to Peru."
"Then—but, Dad, that isn't fair!" cried Bob. "Tonak gave us the things. We didn't find them."
"You'd have a hard job trying to induce the officials to believe that," laughed his father. "And if you succeeded, then they would claim everything came under the antiquities classification. Of course," he added, as he saw the crestfallen expressions on the boys' faces, "the gold dust, the ingots, and the sheets of gold are merely bullion and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be classed as antiquities. The same is true of some of the stones—they are merely rough or partly-cut gems."
"But we'll have to give half what they're worth to the Government," Pancho lamented. "That's what I call rotten!"
"I admit that it is," agreed Bob's father. "Now, perhaps, you understand what I meant when I told Haskins we could not' walk in and help ourselves.' If word of the treasure should leak out there would be a stampede of treasure-seekers, and even if they didn't succeed in locating the place, they would find Tonak's village, would loot his temple, and might commit atrocities in order to force him to reveal his secret. Moreover, the chances are that the Government would take possession of the spot, declaring it an archaeological site—as it unquestionably is—thus preventing you or anyone else from touching the treasure. I feel, therefore, that we should keep the whole matter a profound secret, at least for the present. We can arrange to carry on a search by plane without revealing our purpose, and if we should be successful I may be able to come to some agreement with the Government which will enable us to retain at least half the actual bullion and gems in return for financing the scientific investigations. Something in the nature of a concession to explore and seek treasure."
"But, Dad, how can we keep it a secret if we sell these stones and the gold?" Bob objected. "Some-body'll be sure to hear about them."
"Quite so, if we dispose of them here," his father agreed; "but even so, no one need know or guess that you secured the valuables from the Incas' treasure house. You might have found them anywhere during your wanderings—in an ancient tomb, a ruined temple, or elsewhere. I advise you boys to be very careful of what you say—don't mention treasure or Tonak's gift or, for that matter, anything about the village, its people, or the temple. The less said the better."
"You're dead right, chief," exclaimed Haskins. "What folks don't know won't bother 'em. An' there's no danger of their knowin' 'less the boys spill the beans. Just the same I got a hunch 'tain't goin' to be no picnic locatin' that treasure place, not even from a 'plane. It's an everlastin' big country, an' lookin' down on things ain't the same as seein' 'em from the ground looking up. If that village has been there all these years an' no one's spotted it, there's a danged small chance of findin' that other place."
But the boys were not to be discouraged nor cast down by the miner's pessimistic point of view. They insisted they would be able to recognize the place even from a flying aeroplane. So they amused themselves building glorious castles in the air and planning what they would do with their millions when they got them.
Chapter 18 Preparing for Trouble
COMPARED with trudging on foot over the punas and across the mountains, camping wherever night found them, and depending on chance game and coarse food of the Indians, the boys found their present journey almost luxurious.
They had horses or mules to ride, they slept on comfortable cots in tents, and they had an abundance of the best food. Although Mr Stillwell and his foreman, Haskins, were both accustomed to hardships, and to roughing it, yet, like all veterans of exploration work, they saw no reason for being uncomfortable when it could be avoided. Neither would have hesitated to set out alone, with only a rifle and a pack, on a prospecting trip of months had necessity demanded it. But there had been no such necessity on this trip. It was a company expedition, and neither money nor equipment had been spared to render it as successful and as comfortable as possible.
Because considerable sampling had to be done on the various properties to be examined, a gang of labourers had been taken along, in charge of Haskins.
In addition to these ten fellows—all Slavs or Russians, or "Hunkeys," as the foreman called them—there were two "powder men," Chilean "rotos" of Spanish blood; a Peruvian surveyor, Señor Larañaga; Mr Stillwell's Chinese cook; a coal-black Jamaican, Tom, who cooked for the men; four Quichua Indian arrieros, or muleteers, and half a dozen Cholo servants and roustabouts; while finally there was a red-headed, bow-legged Texan named Masden, but universally known as "Red," who was in charge of all live stock and packing. Twenty-eight men in all, in addition to the two boys, with a dozen or more mules, six saddle-horses, eight burros, and four llamas—a really good-sized outfit.
Although Mr Stillwell had declared he believed his men to be honest, anyone looking over the ill-assorted collection of human beings composing the party would have felt that his precautions regarding the gold and gems were fully warranted. The men were a far from prepossessing-looking lot, especially the labourers, who, as Pancho remarked to Haskins, looked more like pirates than miners.
The foreman, however, rated them differently. He snorted contemptuously. "Them!" he exclaimed. "They haven't got the nerve to do nothin'—'cept when they're drunk. An' there ain't no liquor in this outfit. They're as ugly as all get-out, but stupid as lumps of dirt—just big husky brutes who know how to handle pick an' shovel an' nothin' else. Probably most of 'em's Reds or Anarchists, but long's they get their grub, and pay comin' to 'em when they get back to La Raya, they don't bother with nothin' else. Ain't got brains enough to think, I reckon. Now it's different with them two rotos. They're plumb poison, no matter where they be. Too danged handy with their knives an' short-tempered as a rattler. An' they don't know there's such a word as ‘honest' in the dictionary. Just the same, they ain't huntin' trouble. Maybe if there was a bunch of 'em I'd lose some of my beauty sleep, but with only two rotos, an' them Hunkeys, an' a sprinklin' of Cholos an' Injuns, an' a Chink cook, an' a Jamaica nigger, why the two of 'em ain't got a chance of hatchin' out no deviltry, not even if they knew about this gold of yourn, which they don't an' ain't likely to. What's that? The Cholos? Lord love you, son, them an' the Injuns is just about as dangerous as them llamas. You could load 'em down with gold an' tell 'em to lug it to La Raya alone an' they'd do it. But what are you kids worryin' over? Ain't there three of us white men—me an' the boss an' Red? An' say, you ought to see Red when he gets het up!
Bob laughed. "Does he ever really get mad?" he asked. "Seems to me he's always grinning and good-natured—even when he's swearing at the men or the mules."
"I don't see how he ever makes the men understand," said Pancho. "I've never heard him speak a word of Spanish or Quichua—and hardly any English. All he does is to swear."
Haskins chuckled. "Red sawys some Spanish," he told them, "but cussin' comes more natural to him, I reckon. Injuns an' Cholos an' niggers an' Chinks is like mules—they all savvy cuss words better'n anythin' else, seems like. Howsomever, Red don't mean nothin' by it—it's just his way of expressin' himself. Ain't none of the bunch doesn't like him. But he can get riled all right. Used to be a Ranger down to
"You said there were three white men. Seems to me there are four," said Bob. "You didn't count Señor Larañaga."
"Shucks, he's a Peruvian," replied Haskins. " 'Course he is white, but we wouldn't never count on a native if it came to trouble—not that there's a mite of chance of it. An' 'sides, he's only a youngster—not much more'n a kid, like you boys."
Pancho laughed. "Do you know," he said teasingly, "I really think you are afraid there may be trouble. I'll bet you've been worrying ever since that—those things, came along."
"Not me, I ain't," declared the miner in positive tones. "What I got to worry myself over? Don't no one know nothin' 'bout it 'ceptin' me and you an' the boss? Even Red don't savvy what you boys brung in. If the whole bunch knew of it I'd sleep with one eye open. But as 'tis— No, by Jury, I ain't thinkin' no more 'bout trouble than if I was down to La Raya."
"I wonder," mused Pancho a little later when Haskins had ridden off with Bob's father to examine a crimson patch on a hillside that indicated a mineral vein—“I wonder if Haskins really isn't worrying over having all our stuff along with us."
"Nonsense!" declared Bob. "Why should he? No one knows about it. What put that idea in your head?"
"Well, nothing very much," replied Pancho thoughtfully, "only I noticed that he's been wearing a revolver for the past two days. And last night I woke up and heard some one moving about, and I peeped out of the tent and saw him."
Bob laughed. "Red carries a revolver, too," he reminded the other. "And why shouldn't Mr Haskins move about at night? He's in charge of the outfit. It's his business to see that everything is all right."
"Maybe," admitted Pancho, "but he just said that even Red didn't know anything about—well, about our things, and yet I saw him whispering with Red last night. Then there's all that talk about the men and which ones might give trouble. I didn't ask him about them."
"What a scare-head you are!" exclaimed Bob. "Don't you suppose he'd tell Dad first thing, if he had any reason to be troubled? Why shouldn't he whisper with Red? They naturally wouldn't talk loudly and wake everybody up—especially as Red can't speak without shouting his head off. And you did start Mr Haskins talking about the men by saying they looked like pirates. If you're getting nervous we'll ask Dad what he thinks."
Mr Stillwell laughed at the boys' questions. "That's what comes of having so much—well, responsibility," he told them. "Such ideas would never enter your young heads if it wasn't for that. Of course Haskins isn't worried—but he's responsible for nearly everything, and it's no light matter to keep things going smoothly with an expedition of this size. Besides, he's been in some very serious troubles in the past, and as it all came from being unprepared, he never takes chances now. But as far as worrying or expecting trouble is concerned —nonsense, boys! Why, we'll be at La Raya in three days."
"He told us that Red didn't know about what we had," said Pancho. "Don't you really think Red knows, or has guessed?"
Mr Stillwell looked at Pancho with a peculiar expression in his half-closed eyes. For a moment he was silent, rubbing his chin meditatively. Then he slowly filled and lit his pipe. Not until he had it well going did he speak. Then: "How should I know what Red thinks—or has guessed? I haven't told him anything."
Had the boys known what Red had told Haskins in that whispered conference Pancho had witnessed, and which Haskins in turn had reported to Mr Stillwell, they would have understood several matters that puzzled them. They would have known why the miner and Red carried revolvers, why Haskins made the round of the camp at midnight, and why—although they were not aware of the fact—Red slept on a most uncomfortable bed of blankets spread over the loads of the pack-mules, instead of sleeping on his comfortable camp-cot. Also, Bob would have known why his father had evaded Pancho's question and had looked so queerly at him, for Mr Stillwell’s expression and manner had not escaped his son's eyes. Haskins and Red were not, however, expecting trouble, nor were they really worried, as Pancho suspected. They were merely taking unusual precautions, and felt that to take the boys into their confidence would make them nervous.
There was nothing definite to worry about. Red had strolled over to the boys' camp while they had been talking with Bob's father and Haskins on the morning of their unexpected appearance, and had surprised two of the Cholos poking about the packs left by Tonak and his companions. Whether or not they had discovered that the lashed ponchos contained gold, Red did not know; but after he had ordered them back to their own camp he had investigated and had learned what the bundles held.
"Even if those Cholos saw the gold, I don't think there is reason to worry," Mr Stillwell had declared when Red told him what had occurred. "You know what those fellows are—petty thieves when in town, but not vicious or scoundrels at heart. Besides, these two have worked for me for several years, and I've found them absolutely honest. They are so accustomed to seeing and handling bullion at La Raya that I don't think it would even occur to them that they could steal this gold, or that it was unusual for the boys' packs to contain the metal. These Cholos never reason or use their brains, you know."
"Sure, if they don't talk, there's nothin' to it," agreed Haskins. "Trouble is, a Cholo can't never keep his mouth shut. Now if they was Injuns it'd be different —Injuns don't never tell nothin' 'less they're asked; but these mixed bloods is regular sieves. If they seen only the bars an' dust they'd likely figger the boys had been prospectin', same as us. But if they seen those other doo-dads, the first thing that'd come into their minds would be treasure. Then they'd get talkin' an' spill the whole thing to the others. Fact is, chief, the men have been talkin' quite a bit 'bout them boys bobbin' up the way they done. Like as not they'll get arguin' where they come from, an' then them Cholos'll up an’ tell what they know, an' say the boys have been on a treasure hunt, an’ that 'twas all cooked up for us to meet 'em.
"There's another tiling. Two hundred pounds of gold's a fair sizable lot to be packin' about. Down to the mines these fellows wouldn't think nothin' of seein' a carload of bullion. But that's where it's made an' to be expected, as you might say. But up here it's a different proposition. Now I ain't sayin' there's a mite of danger from those Cholos. Them two rotos is the only ones has got backbone enough to start any funny business. An' if every mother's son in the outfit knew of that gold, I don't believe they'd think of tryin' to get their hands on it—not with me an' Red, an' you an' mebbe Larañaga on the job, they wouldn't. Just the same, it'd be dead easy for anyone to lift a few bars or bags or plates, an' hide 'em in the sand or among the rocks, an' come back an' get 'em when they was good an' ready. So I reckon the best thing is to have Red keep them packs alongside him at night, an' for all of us to be kinder watchin' out. I'm goin' heeled from now on, an' if any of the bunch is lookin' for trouble it'll be a danged unlucky day for him."
"Yes, I think it wise to be prepared and on the safe side," agreed Mr Stillwell. "But don't tell the boys. They're imaginative youngsters and chock-full of romantic ideas and stories of hold-ups and such things. I'm thankful none of the men know of the stones. Fifty thousand dollars' worth of gold would be quite a haul, but nothing compared to the gems."
Haskins grinned. "It's danged lucky we're in Peru an' not in Chile or Bolivia or some place where there's honest-to-goodness bandits," he said. "Peruvians are about the most peaceable an' honest lot in South America. Howsomever, I'm a-goin' to keep my eyes on them rotos—they're just natural-born pizen, even if they can shoot a vein to beat all get-out!"
Chapter 19 Prisoners
THAT night the expedition camped in a deep barranca, or ravine, forming a natural pass through the high plateau lying between the slope they had ascended and the descent through the mountains to La Raya.
Ages ago a river had cut a great gash across the land, eating deeply into the layers of softer rock, following the lines of least resistance, and leaving columns, pillars, pinnacles, and jutting shelves of the harder strata, like the Grand Cañon in miniature.
At the bottom of the defile was the wide bed of the ancient stream, now a dry area of water-worn stones, with a small brook flowing through the centre. Between this playa and the cañon walls the detritus that had fallen from above had decomposed to form rich soil that supported a dense growth of aspens and poplars, gnarled willows, a tangle of convolvulus, and little park-like areas of grass and clover starred with orange-red lilies.
The boys were delighted with the place, and as it promised game, they went on a hunt and returned before dark with a deer and several partridges.
"We'll have some fine sport here," Pancho declared, as they ate their evening meal. "I found twenty-three cartridges among the ammunition supplies, and we might as well use them up before we reach La Raya."
"I can take your gun, can't I, Dad?" cried Bob. "Then we'll be up early and go on ahead. We can't get lost here in this cañon," he added with a grin.
"Not unless you climb those cliffs," his father said with a smile. "Our route lies straight through the cañon for twenty miles. You can't get out of it until you reach the other end. Yes, I guess you two boys will be safe in here. When you tire of hunting just sit down and wait until we come along."
It was still quite dark in the cañon when the boys crept out of their tent the next morning, although the eastern sky was lightening above the summits of the towering rock walls. Tiptoeing through the silent camp, they met Haskins, who wished them "good luck" in a hoarse whisper, passed the tethered livestock, and after eating the sandwiches which old Chin Foo had provided, they hurried up the defile.
"Whew, but it's chilly!" muttered Bob with a shiver.
"It'll be warm enough as soon as the sun's up," Pancho told him.
"Kind of spooky place—in the dark," Bob observed presently. “Those queer-shaped rocks look like some sort of weird prehistoric monsters. I could almost swear I saw one of them move."
Pancho laughed softly. "Well, don't get too imaginative and shoot at them," he warned the other. "Just as soon as we're a little farther on let's separate. You go on one side of the stream, and I'll go on the other. Then we'll have more chances of finding game. No use yet, though—it's not light enough to shoot."
By the time the sun rose, and the grey light of dawn filtered to the depths of the cañon so that the boys could distinguish objects clearly, they had travelled a mile or more from camp. Then, as Pancho had suggested, they separated, Bob taking the right-hand side of the cañon and Pancho the left. Keeping to the soft earth bordering the rock-strewn river-bed, they moved slowly onward, carefully examining every thicket and clump of trees as they rounded each sharp bend and curve of the twisting defile.
Usually they were in sight of each other, and in many spots, where the great rift narrowed, they were separated by only a few rods. But there were places where the ravine widened and the boys were separated by hundreds of yards with masses of fallen rock, great water-worn columns, clumps of trees, and patches of jungle between them.
In one such spot, as Pancho was cautiously following a narrow opening through a thick wood, and wondering why no game had been seen, the sound of a gunshot came from the opposite side of the cañon. "Well, Bob's found something," he muttered to himself. "I wonder what he got."
At that instant a deer sprang into view, and Pancho threw his rifle to his shoulder and fired. "Missed!" he exclaimed, as he saw the creature vanishing like a fleeting shadow. "Guess I'll go over and see what luck Bob had. That shot of mine will have scared everything around here."
Leaving the shelter of the timber, he crossed the playa and the stream, and shouted for Bob. But there was no reply. "Funny!" Pancho muttered. "He ought to hear me—every sound echoes like the dickens in here. He must be around the next bend."
Just ahead, the cañon narrowed abruptly, with the two walls barely one hundred yards apart, and as he reached this point Pancho again shouted Bob's name.
For an instant he stood and listened for an answering cry. But all was silent. Pancho felt suddenly panic-stricken. What had become of Bob? Why didn't he answer? Was he hurt—perhaps killed? A thousand horrible possibilities raced through the boy's mind. Jaguars, bears; the accidental discharge of the other's gun; a false step on some slippery rock or loose stone; a boulder rolling down from above—any of these might—he glanced about, filled with vague forebodings, nervous, gazing uncertainly from left to right, wondering where he should begin to search, what to do next. Perhaps, he thought, if he were to retrace his steps he might pick up Bob's trail and so find him. But first, he decided, he would shout once more.
Taking a long breath, he opened his mouth to call again. But no sound issued from his lips. A slight noise caused him to turn, and he stood transfixed. He was gazing into the muzzle of a gun, along the barrel of which squinted a dark, savage, villainous face!
Pancho felt that his last moment had come. The thought raced through his mind that Bob had already been killed, that the report he had heard was the fatal shot fired by this murderous-looking fellow. Why the man should wish to kill Bob and himself, or who the fellow might be, did not occupy the boy's thoughts for a moment. He took it for granted that the villain was a brigand or bandit—from childhood he had been accustomed to hearing tales of the atrocities of Mexican brigands. Yet even in his paralysing terror, it occurred to Pancho that there was something vaguely familiar about the evil, pock-marked face with the reptilian, bloodshot eyes behind the rifle sights.
It seemed minutes that he stood there. Incapable of moving, unable to utter a sound, he awaited the blinding flash that would end his life. Yet it was only a few seconds from the time he had wheeled to find the weapon levelled at his heart until the man spoke. "Drop your gun!" he hissed in clipped Spanish.
Pancho's fingers relaxed, and his rifle fell clattering to the ground. Instantly a second figure sprang from behind a rock, seized the rifle, cocked it, and, jamming the muzzle against Pancho's back, ordered him to move along. Shaking with terror, faint and sick with dread fear, he obeyed the rough command and stumbled forward. And now he knew who the supposed brigands were. He had recognized the man who had seized his rifle and now urged him onward with its muzzle at his back. He was one of the roto "powder men" belonging to Haskins' gang! And the other was the boss of the Hunkeys, the big, burly Slav who, he laughingly had told Haskins, would make a fortune as a pirate chieftain in the movies.
Even in his terror Pancho realized what had occurred. The rascals had discovered the secret of the boys' gold. They must have known he and Bob were going on this early-morning hunt. The villains had seen an opportunity to secure the two rifles, and with the guns in their possession they would hold up the expedition as it passed through the narrow cañon, and would seize the treasure.
Pancho groaned as he realized how perfectly the scoundrels' plans had worked out, how easily they could ambush the party as it passed between the converging walls of rock. Even Haskins, Red, and the other white men would be helpless with the bandits concealed among the rocks, from the shelter of which they could pick off the white men—and as many of the others as they chose. And Bob! A lump rose in Pancho's throat, and tears forced themselves to his eyes as he thought of what must have been his chum's fate. In order to obtain his gun the men must have waylaid him, killed him with knives or clubs, and his battered, bleeding body must be lying somewhere among the rocks.
The three had now passed through the woods and had reached a bare slope below almost sheer cliffs. The fellow behind Pancho ordered him gruffly to the right, where a narrow shelf of rock led at an angle up the cañon wall. It was a dangerous, treacherous pathway, and the boy shuddered as the scoundrel forced him hurriedly onward. Presently the ledge ended behind a grotesquely shaped pillar of stone, where a dark cavern opened in the cliff. With a final curse and a kick, the roto ordered Pancho into the cave.
As, with an involuntary cry of pain, he stumbled forward on hands and knees, unseen hands grasped him, he was thrown on his face, his wrists were jerked behind his back and tied, and his ankles were lashed together. Roughly he was jerked up, breathless, gasping. In the dim light of the cavern he recognized the fellow who was manhandling him. It was the other Chilean powder-man!
Like a sack of meal the boy was dragged across the floor and flung into a corner. He fell against something soft, yielding, warm.
"Pancho!" came a muffled cry from the blackness.
Pancho's heart leaped with joy. It was Bob! He was still alive!
"Bob!" he gasped. "Where are you?"
"Here!" came the whispered response.
A new voice spoke almost in Pancho's ear. "Over beyond me," it said. "Ouch! You're lying on my wrists. Roll over!"
"Wh—who's that?" whispered Pancho, rolling to one side and onto the bare rock.
"Me—Larañaga!" came the reply. "They got me, also. I saw them leaving and tried to give the alarm. They knocked me senseless. Thank God they didn't knife me. That was because they needed me to guide them. They didn't know the way; but they plan to kill Mr Stillwell and the others. They think because I'm a surveyor—"
"Shut up in there!" ordered the roto from the outer cavern.
Larañaga lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper. "There's only one chance for them," he said. "Haskins is no fool. He'll miss these fellows sooner or later and know something is wrong. And he'll think"— the Peruvian groaned—"that I'm with them on this. The fools! With good wages due them, to kill and rob for the sake of a few horses and mules and the camp outfit!"
Evidently, Pancho realized, Larañaga did not know about the treasure. He did not dream that the big Slav and his roto comrades were playing for far higher stakes than the company's property. Should he tell the Peruvian the truth, the boy wondered. Perhaps, now that it had come to this, it would be better to confide in him. He was about to speak, but Bob forestalled him. “Gosh, that's not what they're after!" he exclaimed.
"They must know about the treasure!"
"What?" demanded the Peruvian, carelessly raising his voice, with the result that a lump was hurled at the captives by their jailer.
"The gold," explained Pancho in a whisper and speaking in English. "It was a secret—only Bob's father and Haskins, and maybe Red, knew about it. We had two packs full—thousands of dollars' worth of gold—when we met the party near the lake. And—" He was about to mention the stones but was interrupted by the sounds of footsteps and voices from the entrance to the cave.
"The others are there!" breathed Larañaga. "It's time our party came in sight. Dios! To think of lying here helpless while they are shot down! And with all that gold! Madre de Dios, they'll kill without mercy for that! I—"
"Why—why didn't they kill us?" Bob asked in a shaking whisper.
"I think because—because they are waiting to—to force us to tell them where we got the gold," Pancho replied, his teeth chattering at thought of the methods which the scoundrels might use to compel them to reveal what they did not know.
"Si, that is it," agreed Larañaga. "But how did they capture you two? Why didn't you shoot them? You had guns, and they had only knives."
"I shot a partridge, and as I was picking it up they jumped on me," Bob explained.
"The one who had Bob's gun pointed it at me when I saw him," Pancho said.
"There's only one consolation," whispered the Peruvian. "They won't live long. Some of the Cholos or Indians will escape and report the matter, and these scoundrels will be hunted down without mercy. Peru won't stand for any banditry or lawlessness. Unless—"
"Listen!" Bob hissed. "They forgot to search my pockets! I've a knife. If we can get it open we can cut one another free!"
"Caramba, it is true!" agreed the Peruvian. "Roll over. Perhaps I can reach the knife with my hands behind me."
It was slow and excruciatingly painful work trying to secure the knife with his hands lashed behind his back; but Larañaga managed it at last. "You'll have to open the blade," he told Pancho. "My fingers are too sore and numb."
But even to open a knife with one's hands behind one's back is no easy feat, as Pancho discovered. But he accomplished it after a time. Then, working in the darkness, he strove to cut through the Peruvian's bonds. By Larañaga's stifled groans Pancho knew he was hacking the other's flesh as often as the cords, but he gritted his teeth and kept at it until the other was free.
The rest was simple, and with sighs of relief the three rubbed their numbed, swollen hands and wrists.
"It's more comfortable," said Bob," but I don't see as we are any better off really."
"We'll be a lot worse off if they come in and find us this way," Pancho remarked.
"No fear, for the present," declared Larañaga. "They're expecting our party to appear at any moment, and they won't give us a thought until the fight is over."
Sudden hope flamed in Bob's mind. "Let's cut our feet free. Then, while they're busy down in the cañon, perhaps we can escape!" he said.
"Caramba, that is a possibility!" exclaimed the Peruvian. "There will be confusion. They will fight among themselves over the spoils. They will have to secure the live stock, and that will be our chance."
"What's the use?" moaned Pancho. "We can't get out of here. Bob's father said so last night—not without going to the very end of the cañon. They can ambush us there. And we haven't guns and would starve to death if we stayed in here."
"In your language you have a saying that while there is life there always is hope, no?" said Larañaga, as he cut the thongs about the ankles of the boys and himself. "And," he added, "is not the motto of your nation 'In God we trust'? Si, it is so, I have seen it upon your coins. So, amigos, let us not despair but trust in God and continue to hope while we yet have life. The—"
The sharp report of a rifle suddenly rang through the cañon.
Chapter 20 Ambushed
HALF an hour after Haskins had seen the boys start on their hunt, he burst into Mr Stillwell's tent.
"Them two roto powder-men has skipped!" he announced excitedly.
"Skipped?" repeated Mr Stillwell. "You mean—"
"Gone, cleared out, sneaked off in the night! An' that ain't the whole of it, neither. That big Hunkey boss, Peter, has vamoosed too! An' Larañaga's missin'! Now what do you make of that?"
"Larañaga—I can't believe he would associate with those Chileans or with that Slav," cried Mr Stillwell. "He's a man of excellent family—well educated, a competent engineer. No, no, Haskins, if he's gone he never went with the absconding rotos or with the Slav— that is, not of his own free will. But what does it mean? Is the gold missing?"
“Not a chance!" declared the miner. "Red sleeps atop of them packs. An' I ain't sayin' Larañaga joined them rascally rotos an' that Hunkey swine. Maybe they're aimin' at makin' us ransom him. Sure he went 'cause he had to—that's what makes it so danged rotten. Red ain't been a Ranger for nothin', an' I ain't no slouch at readin' trail sign myself. We found where they got him—knocked him cold—may have finished him for all I know — an' lugged him off with 'em. That's what makes it look so blasted bad to me. 'Tain't as if them three bums went off by themselves. Looks to me an' Red as if Larañaga knew too much an’ they aimed to keep him from tellin' us. There's some devil's business afoot, chief. I'll bet my last dollar on that."
“I'm afraid you're right," agreed Mr Stillwell. "It's quite possible they learned of the boys' gold, and plan to stage a hold-up in the cañon. Though how they expect to carry out such a mad scheme is beyond comprehension. There are but three and they are unarmed, I suppose."
"I dunno as 'tis such a everlastin'ly wild idee at that," declared Haskins. "There's a heap of places up this cañon where one man could make it all-fired unpleasant just rollin' down rocks on to anyone passin' by. Yes, by glory, if I was a bandit I wouldn't think 'twas such a fool scheme—not with two men to help me, I wouldn't. 'Course them rotos has knives— catch one of the breed without 'em; but rotos ain't partial to shootin'. Seems to me, too, if they'd known about that gold they'd have been more likely to have slit Red's throat an' helped 'emsclves, or knifed me an' him, too, an' gone off with it. No, I don't calculate they skipped out 'cause of the gold. It's an all-fired mystery any way you figger it, an' Larañaga missin' makes it more mysterious still."
Mr Stillwell leaped suddenly to his feet. "I believe you're right about Larañaga being held for ransom!" he exclaimed. "And how about the boys? Isn't it possible those villains followed them—hoping to kidnap them and demand the gold as ransom? Such scoundrels would stop at nothing if they knew of the treasure. Good Lord! They may have killed the boys to get possession of their guns! Call Red and the few men you can trust! Hurry, Haskins—we must get to those boys if it's not already too late!"
"Easy, chief, easy!" cautioned the miner. "We got to look at this business every which way. I don't calculate they'd kill them kids out of hand, more 'specially if they're aimin' to hold 'em for ransom. Maybe they'd knock 'em down an' grab the guns, but they wouldn't gain nothin' by killin' 'em. 'Stead of gainin' they'd lose, 'cause if they do know 'bout the gold they'll figger on makin' the boys come across an' tell 'em where they found it an' how to get the rest of it. An' with two guns them pizen thieves could pick us off afore we ever seen 'em. If we go moseyin' up this cañon right off the reel we'll never get no farther than we be right this blessed minute, chief. No, sir, we got to make a better plan than that."
"There's no plan we can make," declared Mr Stillwell with finality. "They will gain nothing by attacking us. They could not hope to kill us all, and open hostility would destroy their chances of dickering for the gold or for a ransom. In all probability the fellows' demands will be made before we have gone far. They won't wait until we are nearing La Raya. And they know we will be forced to submit to their terms. What are a few thousands of dollars compared to the lives of the boys?"
"Mebbe you're right, chief," agreed Haskins. "The kids won't lose nothin' neither, if you do hand over their gold for ransomin' Larañaga along with Bob an' Pancho. His folks is rich enough to make it up to 'em. Still an' all, it's danged lucky the reptiles don't know nothin' about them stones. And I do hate like pizen to be held up by a couple of dirty rotos and a Hunkey bum."
"It can't be helped," snapped the other. "Make the men break camp at once, and get started immediately. Better tell Red of our conclusions."
Within half an hour the party was wending its way up the cañon towards the spot where the three desperadoes crouched behind the rocks, with rifles cocked and ready to shoot down the oncoming white men.
They could not have selected a place more perfectly designed for an ambuscade. In front of the cavern, where they had thrown their captives, was a ledge of rock which had been eroded to form a deep gutter or groove, with its outer edge nearly two feet above its floor. Viewed from the bottom of the cañon it appeared merely an outjutting shelf of rock in the shadow of a stone pinnacle high up on the face of the cliff. Lying here, with their bodies in the hollow, with rifles resting in crevices of the rock, the men could be seen only from above, by some one looking down from the top of the cañon walls or by the condors, sailing in wide circles in the sky.
Convinced by Mr Stillwell’s arguments that the missing men would halt the party and make their demands under threat of shooting from some hiding-place, and never dreaming of the cold-blooded plans in the villains' minds, the three Americans rode at the head of the cavalcade, keeping a sharp watch for signs of the two boys, whom they still hoped had not been captured, and discussing the various phases of the affair.
Suddenly the sharp report of a rifle rang out. Red's sombrero flew from his head. With a single motion he threw himself behind his horse, whipped out his revolver, and fired at the tiny puff of smoke that had spurted from the face of the opposite cliff.
The detonations of his forty-five drowned the sound of a second rifle-shot; but a Cholo, frantically striving to control a terrified mule, spun like a top and sank limply to the ground.
"Back!" roared Haskins, wheeling his mount and digging spurs into the animal's flanks. "Back to them rocks!"
Instantly all was confusion. The Slav labourers, their dull brains spurred into action, realized that swift death threatened, and, panic-stricken, took to their heels like stampeded cattle, seeking cover wherever they could find it. The arrieros, shouting, cursing, cracking their long whips, strove to check and turn the mules and burros. The frightened animals snorted, reared, and kicked, jostling and crowding one another. Only the Indians and llamas remained calm. Placidly, unhurriedly, the Indians spoke to their charges in Quichua, and the llamas—aloof and disdainful as ever—halted and gazed about, unmoved by all the excitement. Then, obeying the commands of their masters, they turned slowly, deliberately towards the shelter of the fallen rocks and quietly knelt beside their drivers and proceeded to chew their cuds, as undisturbed by what was taking place as were the squatting Indians calmly masticating the inevitable coca leaves.
Unmindful of their danger, the three Americans herded men and beasts back to the partial protection of the boulders and trees, bellowing orders, dashing back and forth, heedless of the whining bullets raining about them from the bandits’ rifles.
A mule uttered a piercing scream and, plunging to its knees, rolled over, kicking spasmodically. Burros squealed with fear or fell dead and wounded. A lumbering Slav uttered a bellow of mingled pain and rage as a bullet clipped his shoulder. Then, forgetting fear and danger in his wrath, he halted in his flight and, seizing a fragment of rock, hurled it towards the hidden enemy.
One Cholo lay dead beside the trail, and a second crawled, dragging a shattered leg, into a crevice of the rocks. Haskins' face was covered with blood from a furrow cut by a bullet across his forehead. Red's mount had been killed under him, and Mr Stillwell's saddle-horn had been shattered by a rifle-ball. But by far the greater number of shots went wild and spattered harmlessly against the rocks or thudded into the earth and trees.
Not until the last man and all the live stock were comparatively safe in the shelter of the natural barriers did the Americans turn their attention to their hidden foes across the cañon.
"Those scoundrels have the boys' guns!" cried Mr Stillwell, as the trio crouched behind boulders and, with ready weapons, peered at the spot whence the attack had come. "Good Lord ! They must have killed the boys!"
Haskins' heavy revolver roared as he fired at a momentary glimpse of a moving body on the cliff-side."Not likely," he growled, commenting on Mr Stillwell's words. "More likely the brutes have 'em safe along with Larañaga so they can dicker with us if this ambush don't pan out the way they figgered 'twould. How many shells did them boys have, chief?"
“I'm not positive," replied Mr Stillwell." I think Bob took at least fifty from my supply, and Pancho had about half that number."
Red and Haskins fired together.
"Mebbe the rotos loaded up with more afore they vamoosed," remarked Red. "I reckon they had this deal all cut an' dried soon's ever they heard the boys was a-goin' huntin’.”
"The fools!" muttered Haskins. " 'Less they kill us three they can't never get away with it. Hello! By Judas' ghost! Who's them folks up there on top of the cliff?"
On the summit of the cañon wall, above the spot where the bandits lay concealed, three figures had suddenly appeared. Stooping, bending over, they were gazing down over the edge of the cliff.
"More of their gang!" groaned Mr Stillwell. "They can get us from up there."
"Them's Injuns!" cried Red. "Reckon they heard the shootin' an' come along for to see what's up."
"Injuns they be," agreed Haskins. "But what be they up to? Looks like— By thunder, they're throwin' somethin' down, sure's I'm settin' here. An' them rotos up there have quit shootin'! Now what the—"
Mr Stillwell had leaped to his feet. "The boys! Thank Heaven!" he shouted, springing over the rocks and dashing across the cañon.
At the spot from which the bandits' rifles had blazed, Larañaga and the two boys had appeared, waving their arms and shouting!
Chapter 21 Ayhualla!
AS the first shot fired by their captors echoed through the cave, Larañaga, Bob, and Pancho bent forward, tense, breathless, listening for answering shots. Filled with anxiety and dread, they strained their ears, wondering what was taking place in the cañon, if any of their friends had been killed. Now the rotos outside the cave were firing rapidly, and between the sharp reports so close at hand, the three captives could hear faint, distant sounds—shouts, cries, and the occasional staccato barking of pistols.
Slowly, almost unconsciously, Larañaga and the two boys drew nearer and nearer to the entrance of the cavern, closer and closer to the men crouching a few yards distant, nearer to the open air and the sounds of battle.
At last they crouched just within the shelter of the cave, yet they could see nothing of what was happening in the cañon. Before them was only the empty air, the upflung pinnacle that concealed the opening of the cave from those below; and to either side the walls of the narrow cleft in which they crouched.
From their right came the crashing reports of rifles. Wisps of pungent smoke drifted to their nostrils, and bullets spattered against the rocks.
Abruptly the shouting and the distant cries and commands ceased. Only the intermittent rifle-fire and the answering reports of revolvers broke the dead silence.
"Caramba!" whispered the Peruvian. "The fiends have not killed our comrades. They are still shooting. How many pistols can you distinguish?"
"Two fired then—almost together," replied Pancho.
"There goes another!" exclaimed Bob. "Hurrah! Dad and Haskins and Red must be all right! They're the only ones who have revolvers."
"If they have plenty of cartridges, they'll win," declared Larañaga. "How many have these brigands?"
"I had twenty-three and used two—that leaves twenty-one," Pancho told him.
"I had fifty, though," said Bob—"a full belt. And—"
A sharp agonized cry from the direction of the bandits interrupted his words.
"Gracias a Dios!" exclaimed Larañaga. "One of the scoundrels has been hit!"
"Give it to 'em!" shouted Pancho, in his excitement forgetting he was supposed to be a bound and helpless prisoner within the cave. But the rotos and their companion were too busily occupied to notice, even if they heard his exultant shout.
"Gosh, I've simply got to see what's going on," cried Bob, stealthily creeping to the entrance of the cave and peering around the angle of the rock.
"Whew!" he ejaculated, drawing hastily back, "they're right around the corner. But they can't see us. Come on, let's watch!"
"That big fellow's badly hurt," whispered Pancho as the three, emboldened by the position of the men and their own excitement, darted from the cave and dropped behind a sheltering rock whence they had a clear view of the entire scene.
"Dead!" said Larañaga. "If it weren't for fear of being shot by mistake by our friends we could now escape. These fellows could not see us until we reached the bottom of the cañon."
"Let's wave a white handkerchief so they'll know us," Bob suggested.
"Never!" the Peruvian warned him. "They would think it meant these rascals had surrendered. They do not know we are here. Then they would show themselves, only to be shot down."
"Golly, they've killed some of our men!" exclaimed Pancho. "See them? One, two—no, one man and a burro—lying there by the trail!"
"And a mule, too!" added Larañaga. "But—"
Bob seized his arm. "Look!" he cried. “Gosh! Where did that come from?"
At his words the others turned towards the rotos at whom Bob was gazing with an expression of puzzled amazement on his face. From between the shoulders of the nearest man, a slender shaft projected like a miniature flagstaff.
Before either of the astonished three could speak, before they realized what it meant, other shafts flashed downward, to stand quivering, one in the sprawled body of the dead Slav, another within an inch of the surviving roto who, apparently oblivious of his comrade's fate, was still firing at the men across the cañon. But at the impact of the strange missile he turned, uttered a startled, terrified cry, and twisting over on his back fired straight upward.
"Arrows! Indians!" gasped Larañaga. "From above! They—"
The words died on his lips as he stared at the roto. Gazing upward towards the cañon rim, with rolling, fear-filled eyes, mouthing and cursing, he worked the rifle-bolt frantically, pulled the trigger in a wild frenzy. But only metallic clicks followed. The magazine was empty! With a wild cry he cast the useless weapon aside, half rose. Then, remembering his enemies across the cañon, he dropped back, and like a gigantic reptile clawed and writhed his way towards the cavern's mouth.
He had scarcely moved forward his own length when a large stone whanged on the ledge before him. With a jerk and a cry of abject terror he flung himself back. Too late! With a sickening thud a rock struck his back. Screaming horribly, he doubled up like a jack-knife, writhing and twisting like a half-crushed worm. It was ghastly, sickening, and the boys gazed white-faced but unable to withdraw their eyes from the fellow in his agony. But this suffering endured for only a moment. Another rock hurtled down, and before the horrified eyes of Larañaga and the boys, the roto's head vanished like a crushed egg.
"Quick!" cried the Peruvian, leaping to his feet. "It is over. We are saved!"
"Hold on! Wait!" yelled Pancho, grasping Larañaga's coat and jerking him back. "They'll think you're a roto and shoot you. We'll show ourselves first. They'll recognize us. Come on, Bob! Jump up and yell like blazes!"
For a brief instant the boys felt cold with fear as they jumped up, shouting, waving their arms. But no shot greeted their appearance, and Larañaga joined them. Across the cañon not a living being was visible.
"Gosh!" exclaimed Bob. "I—"
A shout of joy rose from the throats of the three, as Bob's father sprang from behind a rock and came rushing across the cañon, followed by Haskins and Red.
Madly the boys and Larañaga raced down the narrow ledge that skirted the face of the cliff to the bottom of the cañon.
"Where's them blasted rotos?” demanded Haskins, as the two groups converged. "What's happened to 'em? Did we get 'em, or was it them Injuns atop the cliff?"
"Madres de Dios! Did you not know, then?" panted the Peruvian. "I thought you sent those Indians to attack from above."
"Gosh! It was awful!" exclaimed Bob. "It—"
"They killed one with an arrow and the other with rocks!" interrupted Pancho.
"Caramba, yes, and that big Peter, he was already shot," put in the Peruvian.
"Who in time was those Injuns?" demanded Red. "I seen 'em up there. Seemed like they was throwin' somethin' down. They was Injuns all right—three of 'em. Let's have a look at them rotos. We'll want the rifles anyhow."
As the boys, shuddering a bit, approached the dead men, Pancho uttered a sharp cry of surprise, and darting forward seized the arrow-like shaft that had struck the rocks. His eyes widened, his mouth gaped in incredulous wonder. "It—it's— Golly, it can't be!" he cried. "But—yes, it is—it's one of Kespi's throwing spears!"
"What?" exclaimed Bob, examining the missile. "Gosh, it is! But—"
"You mean," demanded his father in puzzled tones—"you mean to say it's a weapon belonging to those Indian friends of yours? Impossible! You must be mistaken!"
"I don't care if it is impossible," declared Pancho. "I've seen Kespi's spears too many times to be mistaken. He explained all these markings on them. They're put there so the spears can be recognized. I—"
"How about this here pig-sticker?" Red asked, extending the spear he had drawn from the body of the roto.
“Whew, that's old Tonak's!" cried Bob, his eyes round with excitement. "Pancho's right. We learned to throw spears ourselves—by using throwing-sticks. You can see the notch on these where they caught on the stick's hook. And Tonak's spears always had this funny mushroom-shaped mark and this silver band. I know it's his spear, Dad. But how—how on earth could he and Kespi be here?"
"It sure does beat me," commented Red, who was examining the third spear. "All the same, I reckon the boys is right. These here spears ain't like any I ever seen afore. And," he added, "all I've got to remark is, if them Injuns done this here they made a mighty good job of it. Cleaned out the whole nest. That there Peter wasn't shot by no bullet. There's a hole into his head; but not a bullet hole, or I'm a Cholo."
"Gosh, that's a sling stone!" cried Bob, "just like those the Indians used for killing game!"
"By Jove!" exclaimed Mr Stillwell, who had taken the little ball from the miner. "Did you notice its weight, Haskins? Don't you realize what it is? It's tin—cassiterite, stream tin; as heavy as lead. No wonder it could kill a man. If David used stones of this sort, I'm not surprised he killed Goliath!"
Haskins filled his pipe, tamped the tobacco in place with a calloused finger, glanced up the cliff-side with squinted eyes, and gazed contemplatively across the cañon. " 'Pears to me," he observed, as he struck a match, "that them three Injuns must have been campin' on our trail ever since we met up with the boys here. Now, if I'd have known it, I'd sure have thought they was up to some deviltry or other—maybe tryin' to get back that gold an’ them stones. But lookin' at it now, criss-cross an' cornerwise as you might say, I'm beginnin' for to see light. I reckon that ol’ cacique is just 'bout as foxy a guy as ever was, an' no mistake. 'Cause why? 'Cause he knowed like as not some of these here bums "— he touched the body of a roto with his boot—" might be hatchin' out trouble for us, what with all that treasure along. So he just nat'rally trailed along after us, out of sight an' hearin', so to say, an' all ready to jump in an' knock the stuffin' out of these birds by a attack in the rear. Which he done fine an' dandy an' to the king's taste at the right an' proper time. All I got to say is, he's sure one fine Injun, an' I wouldn't mind shakin' hands with him an' tellin' him so to his face. An', by gosh, them boys of his'n must be everlastin' stuck on you two kids to have trailed along after us all these miles just for to see that you got back safe an' sound an' without losin' your loot."
"Then you actually believe those Indians we saw on the cliff were the three who guided the boys to our camp?" exclaimed Bob's father.
"I sure do," Haskins assured him. "I wasn't payin' such a everlastin' lot of attention to 'em when I seen 'em up there. But just the same it did strike me that they wasn't per-zactly like no other Injuns I'd seen hereabouts. 'Course they was pretty far off for me to take stock of their duds; but somehow they didn't look to be the common run of Injun clothes. An—"
"Gee crickety! I'd like to see them again!" cried Bob.
"Me, too!" chimed in Pancho. "Can't we find and thank them for helping us?"
Red chuckled. "I reckon not, son," he said. "If they'd wanted to be met up with they'd have been here by now. Looks to me like they done their job, an' most likely by now they're hittin' the high spots on their way back to their village."
Red, however, was mistaken. As the party crossed to where the rest of the expedition awaited them, the boys halted and glanced back.
"Look. Oh, look!" cried Bob, excitedly seizing his father's arm. "There they are!"
Standing upon the verge of the cañon wall, motionless as statues, clearly outlined against the sky were three figures that the boys would have known anywhere.
Wildly Bob and Pancho shouted and waved their hats.
"Tonak! Kespi! Kenko!" they yelled at the tops of their lungs.
For a moment the Indians upon the cliff-top remained silent, as immobile as if carved from stone. Then slowly they raised their arms, their right hands lifted towards the sky, their left hands resting over their hearts in the Incan gesture of farewell.
"Ayhualla! Ayhualla!" Faint and thin as the whisper of a breeze the words drifted across the cañon. The next instant the three figures vanished.
In silence the boys turned to the waiting horses. Silently they mounted and rode forward, as with cracking whips, the shouts of Cholos and Indians, a clatter of hoofs and the heavy tramp of the Slavs' hobnailed boots, the cavalcade resumed its interrupted journey.
"Day after to-morrow we'll be in La Raya," muttered Bob with a note of regret in his voice. "But —well, I suppose it will be awfully tame after all the adventures and exciting times we've had. Somehow I'd rather be going back to Tonak's village."
“So would I!" declared Pancho. "I'd give a lot to be with those Indians again. They're mighty fine fellows."
Mr Stillwell smiled. "Remember the old saying, boys," he said. "Distance lends enchantment, you know."
“I don't know about that neither,” exclaimed Haskins. "Seems to me the nearer I be to my pay-cheque the better it looks. Danged if it don't!"