by A. Hyatt Verrill published in 1918
THE TRAIL OF THE CLOVEN FOOT
Off For Porto Bello
DON'T worry about Rob," said Mr. Wilson. "We'll look after him. I'll take him down to the Isthmus with Fred, when school closes, and the new scenes and life will do him good—make him feel less lonely and keep his mind busy. Fred'll be better off too and in case anything happens to you, which God forbid—Rob will find a father in me, Mac."
"I can't thank you enough, old man, really I can't," replied Colonel MacGregor, "Rob's future has been troubling me more than anything else, ever since war was declared and I knew I would be called to the colors. I didn't know what I could do, until you arrived. It's asking a lot of you Dave, but I know the lad will be in good hands and he'd feel terribly lonesome and downhearted among strangers. It won't be for long I hope, and if I—if I shouldn't come back, you'll find all my affairs in good shape and I'm sure Rob will be a credit to you."
David Wilson and Colonel Bruce MacGregor had been boyhood friends, and though their paths in life had carried them far apart, yet never had they lost track of each other, and whenever duty, business or pleasure, brought them within reach they met and revived their life-long friendship.
When Fred Wilson was old enough to be sent to a preparatory school, his father had selected the institution which Rob MacGregor attended, and now that duty called him to the front, the Colonel sought his old friend's aid with the request that he should become Rob's guardian.
Thus it came about that Fred and Rob stood upon the deck of the Allianca and watched the skyline of Manhattan fade from sight in the haze of a June afternoon, while, before them, the tumbling blue sea stretched southward to far off Christobal.
To Fred there was nothing novel in the thought of going to the Isthmus of Panama, for he had been born and reared there. Mr. Wilson had gone to Colon, in the interests of the Panama Railway, when fresh from college, and had made his home and fortune on the Isthmus and to Fred's ears and tongue Spanish was as familiar as English, and he felt far more at home in the tropics than in the north.
But to Rob the trip was a wonderful event and he almost forgot the grief he felt at his father's departure in the delightful anticipation of his visit to the new and strange land of which he had heard so much from his schoolmate and chum.
"You'll have to learn Spanish, Bob," said Fred, as the two boys talked over the fine times they would have. "Of course, all the Americans and lots of the natives speak English now; but nearly every one speaks Spanish too, and heaps of the boys I know can't speak anything else. I'll teach you all I can on the trip and by the time we land you'll be able to get along pretty well and the rest will come easy."
"Well, I don't know how well a Scotch tongue's fitted for twisting about Spanish words," laughed Bob, "but I'll do my best, Fred."
"Just pronounce them the way you talk when you're a bit excited or confused and you'll be all right," said Fred, and both boys laughed heartily, for Rob's habit of relapsing into the broad Scotch of his childhood days was a standing joke and his boy friends never tired of teasing him until he unwittingly fell back upon the dialect of his own country.
Under Fred's tutelage Rob did famously and by the time the cloud-like mountains of the Isthmus rose above the sea to the west, he had acquired a good start in the Spanish tongue.
Everything was new and wonderful to Rob and the days passed rapidly in Christobal. The stupendous work of the canal was a revelation to him; the motley population interested him, the luxuriant vegetation and jungles, and the drowned forest of Gatun Lake, all fascinated him. But when the two boys made the journey across the Isthmus and Rob gazed for the first time upon the Pacific, his enthusiasm knew no bounds.
"And to think of the old Dons tramping through the forest loaded with armor and discovering yon ocean!" he exclaimed. "Why, Fred, 'twas a feat worthy of a Scot!"
Fred laughed. "It was a great deed," he admitted, "but an Englishman did it too—though I expect you'll say he was Scotch—Sir Francis Drake, I mean; but I think Morgan's raid was the most wonderful. Just imagine a handful of pirates going up the Chagres River and fighting Indians all the way, and then marching on Panama and licking the Spaniards and sacking the city. It kind of brings back those old days to be right here where they happened, doesn't it? Now we're so near, let's go over to the ruins of Old Panama."
A drive of an hour over a dusty road brought the boys to the ruins of the famous city rising gaunt and forsaken amid the jungle. Just before reaching the first ruins, the boys stopped to gaze at an ancient arched stone bridge beside the roadway.
"That's where the pirates entered the city," said Fred, "the old gold road led from the town over this bridge."
"Man, but 'tis historic ground!" exclaimed Rob, "To think of yon bridge bein' the identical stones trod by Morgan and the old Dons."
"And just think of all the millions and millions of dollars worth of treasure that's been carted over that old bridge, Rob. I say, wouldn't it be fun to hunt for treasure here? They say a lot of it was buried hereabouts when Morgan burned the city."
So talking, their imaginations carrying them back to the bloody old days of the buccaneers, the two boys came to the weed grown ruins of that once "stately and goodly city." For several hours, they poked about among the crumbled masonry and fallen stones, not really expecting to discover anything, but yet thrilling with the hope that they might, and just as much elated when they stumbled upon a rusty Old cannon lying hidden in the brush as though they had come upon a chest of doubloons.
"I tell you what," exclaimed Rob, as they rested in the shade of the tower of the ruined cathedral and gazed across the calm waters of the bay towards the newer city. "Let's get a lot of the boys together and come over here and go treasure hunting. Of course, we won't find anything; but we can follow the old gold road and hunt over all the forts and ruins and have lots of sport."
"That's not a bad idea," agreed Fred; "but why not get up a boy scout troop? Then we could go camping and scouting and take hikes and hunt for old ruins and treasure and learn a lot too. I believe father'll think it a fine scheme and I'm sure plenty of boys will join. They've been talking about boy scouts for a long time and trying to get up nature clubs and all sorts of things, but nobody's got around to doing anything. It will be lots more fun than just going about by ourselves."
All the way back to Christobal the two boys talked of nothing else but their new scheme and discussed ways and means for carrying it out.
Mr. Wilson readily gave his consent and support to the idea; most of the American boys and several of their Panamanian friends were enthusiastic, and in a very short time, the "Boys Scouts of Panama" had been organized. To be sure, uniforms and equipment were lacking, but they had been ordered, and while awaiting their arrival by the returning steamer, the scouts put in their time to good advantage by drilling, training, tramping, learning woodcraft and studying nature. Once the organization was under way, every one became interested and the movement received the hearty co-operation and support of the grown-ups. The "Star and Herald" published a paragraph of Scout Notes, which soon developed into half a column of boy scout news and doings from far and near. Captain Stelling, of the Zone Police, devoted his spare time to drilling the boys; Prof. Abbott, the botanist, undertook to teach them something of natural history and botany and took them on many a long tramp into the forest where a veritable wonderland was revealed to them; Dr. Johnson, of the Hospital Staff, gave them lessons in first aid and emergency treatment, and even Major Wilkinson, of the Engineers, found time to forget his chronic grouch against the world and took the enthusiastic "Scouts" under his wing and showed them how to build rough but serviceable bridges, how to measure distances and altitudes, how to make maps and how to accomplish a thousand and one useful things with only their hands and machetes for tools and with materials supplied by a bountiful tropic nature.
"I tell you, boys," said Fred on one occasion. "There may be bigger troops of scouts, but I'll bet none of 'em have the advantages we've got. Real army officers to help us—men who have really scouted in the Philippines and out West to show us everything, and a real wild jungle to scout in. Wouldn't those scouts up North be wild to go on hikes where there are parrots and monkeys in the trees and crocodiles in the rivers and jaguars in the jungle."
"And where real pirates have looted towns and where there's hidden treasure," added Rob.
"And old Cap'n Jack to tell us yarns," added Tom Stelling. “Hurrah for Cap'n Jack," shouted the boys in chorus, for to their minds, old Cap'n Jack, the wooden-legged old sailor who kept the ship-chandlery store, was the most interesting of all their friends.
The boys were never tired of listening to his yarns; but he insisted they must be busy. "A good skipper allers keeps his crew to work," he told them with a chuckle. "Idle han's is li'ble to mut'ny an' I don't want no mut'ny on my hands at my time o' life, so if you lads is a goin' to board my craft and make me entertain ye, why ye've gotter earn yer yarns."
So saying, he would give each boy a bit of rope, and while they struggled with the intricacies of knots and splices, the old salt would tell wonderful tales of the sea.
The little shop beneath the palms was a fascinating spot to the boys, with its coils of rope, its bales of oakum, its tackle blocks—like gigantic bunches of grapes—and its delightful "shippy" smell of tarred marline and cordage. Always there would be swarthy-skinned seamen lounging about, or barefooted black sailors passing in and out—hardworking, unromantic fellows—but, in the boys' imaginations, daredevil smugglers or swashbuckling pirates, while the dingy turtling and trading schooners, at anchor off the docks, became transformed into "rakish pirate craft" or treasure-laden galleons as the "Scouts" listened to the Cap'n's stories of adventure on the seven seas.
For half a century and more he'd knocked about the world. He had traded up and down the Ivory Coast; he had been a whaler amid Arctic ice-bergs and in desolate Antarctic seas; he had fished for pearls among the coral islands of the Pacific and had run many a filibustering cargo into Cuban and South American ports. His ships had been crushed by ice-floes and his boats stove by whales; he had languished in Spanish prisons and had been on the verge of torture and death by cannibals, and while he drew on his imagination at times, yet his actual experiences, hair-breadth escapes and adventures were innumerable.
And much of value the boys learned from the leathery-faced old skipper, for not only did he teach them how to knot and splice in sailorly fashion; but he also taught them simple navigation and how to find their way by the stars, moon and sun, for, as he expressed it, "A chap never knows when he'll run afoul o' trouble an' find hisself offen his course, an' dead reckonin' aint no use without a land-fall or a startin' p'int."
"O' course," he continued, "you lads ain't fig-gerin' on goin' to sea or turnin' sailors—I ain't never heerd o' boy scout sailors yit; but ye're a flyin' o' signals as read 'be prepared' an', 'cordin' to my figgerin', navigatin' the bush ain't so diff'rent from a navigatin' the sea, leastwise, if ye don't know yer latitude an' longitude an' can't speak a friendly sail for to give ye yer position. I tell ye, lads, many a chap lost in the bush would a made port safe and under full sail if he'd a know'd the North star from the Southern Cross or Orion from old Leo. O' course ye can't tow a sextant round with ye an' twouldn't be much use if ye did, when ye couldn't get yer horizon; but ye take my advice an' ye'll learn the stars an' how to steer a course by compass an' a bit about the moon's phases an' the declination o' the sun an' such like things an' some day they'll come in as handy as a tackle clapped onto the main brace."
So the boys learned how to box the compass forwards and backwards; how to "shoot the sun;” how to recognize the stars and the constellations; how to wigwag signals with caps and handkerchiefs, and thought it all a delightful game, a fascinating part of the boy scout training, and little dreamed how soon the knowledge obtained would prove of the utmost value to some of them.
At last the long expected uniforms and equipment arrived and Rob suggested that the scouts should celebrate their first appearance in uniform by spending a week tramping and camping.
But at this the parents of many of the boys rebelled. They argued that there were wild animals and snakes in the bush; that the boys would get fever and be bitten by insects; that they might be injured and would certainly be drenched with rain and would catch cold, and they insisted that while playing scout was all very well in the vicinity of the settlements it would never do to let the boys go off into the jungle by themselves.
"It's too bad," declared Fred. "What's the good of learning all these things if we can't put them to use? It's no fun camping within sight of the canal or hiking along the roads."
"Let's go and ask Cap'n Jack what he thinks," suggested Ned Johnson.
This seemed a good idea and the disgruntled scouts made their way to the tarry little shop beside the sea.
The old sailor listened to their plaint and resting his chin in one horny palm, scratched his gray head reflectively.
" 'Tis kind o' hard luck to be tied up in mid-channel a waitin' clearance papers when yer all ready fer sea," he remarked, "but yer folks natcherlly don't want ye to come to harm. It's jest like a owner lettin' a fine new ship go out on a long v'yage with a new skipper what ain't proved his seamanship. Many a ship's sailed with some ol' sailorman as mate with a hint from the owners to keep an eye on the skipper, an' I 'spect if ye lads could ship some chap with a master's certificate to go along on this cruise an' keep ye offen rocks an' lee shores, yer folks wouldn't refuse ye clearance."
"Hurrah! that's a fine idea," shouted Fred, "but who can we get? All the men are too busy to go and there aren't any boys who know more than we do and the native guides don't know anything about sickness or looking out for us—they can't even look after themselves and are scared to death at a harmless snake."
The old sailor chuckled and his eyes twinkled, "I reckon as I could find a chap as might go along as mate," he announced. "It's been quite a spell since I went cruisin' in the bush an' this timber leg o' mine aint spechul built for clipper speed; but time was, when I've stumped clean across the Isthmus an' I don't reckon I've fergot much o' what I Iarned o' navigatin' the bush an' keepin' a well crew a-tradin' on the Gold Coast. If yer folks'll trust old Cap'n Jack at the helm I'll go along with ye this cruise. Lor' bless ye; 'twill be a reg'lar lark!"
"Three cheers for Cap'n Jack," cried Rob, and scarcely had their shouts died out, ere they were rushing pell mell to their various homes to lay their new plans before their parents.
A few were still doubtful, but Fred and Rob won Mr. Wilson's consent; Doctor Johnson and Prof. Abbott both agreed that there would be no real danger if the old sailor accompanied the boys; Captain Stelling pooh-poohed all objections and declared he had the greatest faith in the Cap'n, and Major Wilkinson grew so apoplectic with indignation at the idea that "his boys" would not be able to look after themselves—even without the old salt—that all fears for the scouts' safety were allayed and plans were made for the boys' first real experience in the bush.
Then arose the question of where they were to go.
"It won't be any fun unless we have some object in view," declared Tom Stelling. "I vote we go over to Old Panama. It will be fine and 'spooky' among the old ruins."
"That's too unhealthy," objected Ned Johnson. "Father was reading a story about the spot the other night and said the place was full of fever. It's low land you know and we ought to get on high ground away from swamps. Couldn't we go up to Cascadas, or somewhere like that?"
"Oh, that's too civilized," declared Fred. "It's no fun to go camping where there are machine shops and forges and the forests have all been burned and cleared off to stop mosquitos. We couldn't find any old ruins, or Spanish trails, or buried treasure there. I vote we go to the old Gold Road, then we could follow it way into the bush—you know Prof. Abbott said no one knew just where it led. We could camp out beside it and tell stories about all the treasure that used to go over it and all the men who were killed along it. Major Wilkinson said 'twas paved with dead men's bones, and we might run across some treasure some of the men dropped."
"Why not start at the beginning of the road, then?" said Ned. "We could go down to Porto Bello—all the old pirate stories tell about Porto Bello—and then we could hike up the road from there. There are lots of old ruins at Porto Bello, father says, and Drake was buried right off the port. It's an awfully historic place."
"That's bully," declared the others, "but we'll have to tell the folks our plans and see if they think Porto Bello's all right."
"Let's ask Cap'n Jack first," suggested Rob. "He knows all about these places and then, if he thinks it's all right, we'll tell our folks. If Porto Bello won't do, perhaps the Cap'n can suggest something."
"Yes, there's plenty o' ol' ruins at Porto Bello," declared the old salt after the boys had told him of their plans. "An' I reck'n it's healthy enough nowadays. Course, in the ol' times, all them ports was pestholes, but there's high land about Porto Bello an it's a mighty purty spot. I used to have a shipmate what had a bit o' a plantation there an' he never had sickness nor fever. Yes, I reck'n Porto Bello'll do fust rate."
"Well, how can we get there?" asked Ned. "It's too far to walk and there aren't any regular boats."
"I 'xpect we'll have ter sail," replied the Cap'n. "There's the Bonita off there, she's boun' down the coast—goin' over to Cartagena—an' I reck'n Antonio'll be willin' fer to run in clost to shore an' drop us off at Porto Bello. I'll take that whaleboat o' mine in tow an' we kin come back in her an' she may be mighty handy for fishin' an' goin' up the cricks."
"Oh, that will be fine," declared Tom, "We can play we're pirates going to attack the town—Antonio looks just like a real pirate, and we'll steal in under the guns of the fort with muffled oars and ‘scale the battlements' just as they did in the old days."
The old sailor burst into a bellow of laughter. "Lor' love ye!" he exclaimed. "There ain't no guns and ye could make all the hullabaloo ye've a mind to an' nobody'd mind ye, but aint it kind of queer goin's-on fer boy scouts to be a goin' a piratin'? I thought you chaps was fer 'doin' of a good deed daily.' Don't 'pear to me as cuttin' o' them poor Spaniards' throats an' a robbin' 'em o' their treasure was spechully 'good deeds.'" The old fellow chuckled at his own humor.
"Oh, you're just trying to jolly us," declared Ned. "I'll bet you'll have just as much fun as we do and will play pirate captain and will yell 'for St. George and Merry England' just as loud as any of us, when we 'charge the ramp with leveled pikes.' "
"Like as not, like as not," agreed the Cap'n. "Sailors is allers a passel o' fools when on shore leave, an' skylarkin's their middle name. Now trim sail an' steer a course fer yer folks, lads, an' if they says as how Porto Bello's to be the port I'll tell Antonio."
There was no objection made to the boys' plans, and two days later, all the scouts and their belongings were safely stowed in Cap'n Jack's whaleboat, and amid the cheers and farewells of friends and families, the boys were rowed out to the Bonita and tumbled over her rails like a crowd of veritable pirates. Sails were soon spread, anchor was hoisted, the Bonita caught the breeze, and swiftly gathering headway, slipped through the turquoise water towards historic old Porto Bello.
THE sail down the coast was uneventful, and, to the boys, seemed all too short, for they took possession of the Bonita at once and swarmed here, there and everywhere.
Antonio—fiercely mustached and glittering eyed—was a good natured, obliging chap, despite his piratical appearance, and he showed his strong white teeth in a merry grin at the boys' antics; seemingly enjoying their fun as much as the scouts themselves.
Moreover, he allowed the boys to steer, and, with the Cap'n's help, explained the uses of the various ropes and rigging of his trim little schooner, for Captain Jack insisted the boys must make the most of their time.
"No 1'arnin' never comes amiss," he declared philosophically. "Many a landsman might o' been saved from shipwreck if he'd a knowed how ter handle sail an' steer a course."
So, under the tutelage of the two sailormen, the boys rapidly acquired a knowledge of the rudiments of sailing, and when the jib was dropped and the Bonita was hove-to off Porto Bello, the scouts handled sheets and downhauls, and glowed with pride at the praise of their handiness bestowed upon them by the captain and Antonio.
"I'd have ye as smart an' handy a crew as men-o'-warsmen in a week," chuckled the old sailor. "But I 'spect it's jest as well ye ain't a cruisin' no further; reckon mebbe ye'd git so everlastin' fond o' the sea ye'd make me walk the plank and go off a piratin' with Tony fer yer cap'n."
But the boys had no desire to remain longer at sea, for, close at hand, was the entrance to Porto Bello's harbor and on the bluff they could distinguish the outlines of crumbling old forts amid the greenery.
Bidding boisterous goodbyes to Antonio and his crew, the scouts tumbled into the waiting whale boat, and casting off the painter, shoved the craft from the Bonita's side. Seizing the long oars, the boys went bravely at the task of rowing ashore, while the grizzled old captain, standing in the stern with hands grasping the steering oar, his wooden leg braced firmly against a thwart, a short black pipe in his teeth and an ancient tarpaulin hat jammed on his head, might well have passed as one of Drake's or Morgan's old sea-dogs who had stepped out of the centuries past.
"Give way lads," he shouted, swinging the boat's head towards the land, "Yonder's Porto Bello an' I lie Dons ain't sighted us. Lively now, my hearties! We'll take 'em by surprise an' drive 'em from yon heights." The old salt fairly shook with merriment at his nonsense.
"Hurrah!" shouted the boys, as they pulled lustily at their oars. "Hurrah for Cap'n Jack and his pirate crew!" and all laughed joyously as the boat slipped through the blue water towards the shore.
But it was much farther than had appeared and very soon the hot sun and unusual exertion had their effects upon the boys. Sweat poured from their faces, the laughter and shouts gave way to silence, save for their panting breaths, and the oars lagged and missed their strokes.
"Whew!" exclaimed Fred at last. "Isn't it hot, though."
"And I'll bet this oar weighs a ton," declared another.
"It must be miles and miles yet," panted Fred. "I wonder if we'll ever get there."
The captain chuckled, "Kind o' hard pullin' eh?" he asked. "Well lads, take yer time. No use a gettin' all tuckered out. Ye won't have no wind left to lick the Dons yonder, if ye ain't keerful."
"Oh, bother that nonsense," exclaimed one of the scouts petulantly. "If I can only get ashore and lie in the shade I'll not stir, even if there is treasure there."
They had now reached the entrance to the narrow, creek-like harbor and the boys were disgusted to see a good-sized village on the shore, while opposite, were the quarries and shops used when the canal was being built.
"Confound it," cried Ned, "we've had all this long row for nothing, this place is just full of people. Why didn't you tell us, Captain?"
"Yell find plenty o' country up the harbor a bit," replied the old salt. "Thought ye knowed ye'd find a settlement hereabouts, but bless ye, these folks ain't goin' ter trouble ye nor bother 'bout yer nonsense none. Look yonder, there's a mighty good bit o' ol' ruin up top o' the bluff beyond the village. Reckon we'll pull up an' land on the beach under the palms there."
A short pull and the Captain swung the boat shoreward, and, with a little grating sound, the bow ran upon the sandy beach of a small cove out of sight of the squalid little town.
"Up an' at 'em lads," cried the old sailor, but the scouts didn't even deign to reply, and wearily dragging themselves up the beach, threw themselves down in the shade of the palms, dead tired out. Meanwhile, the captain bustled about, unloading the various packages and belongings of his young friends from the boat, and stumping about on his wooden leg apparently oblivious of the midday sun.
"I say," suddenly exclaimed Fred, "it's a shame to let Cap'n jack do all that hard work while we lie here and rest. We're a great lot of scouts to get done up by that little pull."
Jumping to his feet, he hurried down to the boat followed by his comrades.
With the aid of so many hands the boat was soon unloaded and the baggage carried up the beach and then, the boat having been drawn half its length onto the sand and securely fastened, the Captain suggested they should have lunch.
"There's a bit o' a crick a flowin' inter the harbor yonder," he remarked. "Reckon it's where the old Dons useter fill the casks o' their ships. One o' you lads run over an' fill the bucket an' I'll start a fire an' we'll have grub ready in a jiffy."
The meal was a great success and the boys ate heartily with appetites sharpened by their long row, and all vowed that Cap'n Jack was a famous cook. As they squatted about on the sand, once more I bubbling over with exuberant spirits, and laughing and chattering, Fred suddenly uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"Hello!" he cried, "there are people watching us. Just look there." Everyone turned, to see two half-naked negro boys standing at the edge of the brush a few yards distant.
The larger of the two grinned as he saw his presence was discovered and took a step forward.
"Yo' wahn' guide fo' see de ruin', Sahs?" he asked.
"Why, he speaks English," exclaimed Ned in surprise.
The captain chuckled. "Course he does," he replied. "They're Jamaica boys. Quite a passel o' Jamaica folks squatted over hereabouts after the big ditch was finished."
Then, addressing the ragged urchins, he continued. "No, sonny, we don't want nary guides, but if you young monkeys wants to earn a few coppers I reckon we kin give ye a job. I ain't minded to play pack mule in this sun, a h'istin' this 'ere cargo atop o' the bluff, an' I don't guess the boys here are a hankerin' arter the job, neither. You chaps tote the dunnage to the top o' the hill an' ye'll earn a few bits."
"Arl right, Chief," grinned the darkies, and seizing some of the bundles, and placing them on their woolly heads, the two disappeared up the narrow path that led towards the summit of the bluff.
Presently they returned, accompanied by half a dozen of their fellows, and by the time lunch was over the last of the baggage had been carried up the hill, and the scouts, led by Cap'n Jack, started for the trail empty-handed. It was a steep, stiff climb, with the vertical sun beating down upon them, and the boys were heartily thankful that the baggage had been transported on other heads than theirs. But when the last turn of the path was gained and the boys found themselves on the hill top, they forgot their tired knees and perspiring bodies, for close at hand, and crowning the summit of the bluff, was a massive, age-gray Spanish fort, still intact and impressive despite the ravages of nearly five centuries.
To the scouts, this ancient citadel was a fascinating spot and a constant joy and they insisted that camp must be made upon the cracked stone flagging worn smooth by the tramp of mail-clad cavaliers. Here the boys remained for two days, roaming the ruins, and exploring every nook and corner. To them, the crumbling fortress was replete with the mystery and romance of bygone ages; a spot redolent of the brave deeds and the days of the past, and with boyish imagination, they were transported back to the time of Drake and Morgan. It mattered not that the battlements were draped in vines and moss, that the broad deep moat was dry and choked with weeds and brush, that the embrasures were the haunt of scurrying lizards while the one time magazine sheltered a family of ragged negroes and their flocks, or that close at hand was the modern village of Porto Bello with its squalid huts and corrugated iron roofs.
From the parapet, they looked down upon the same blue, sparkling sea which had borne the fleets of Balboa and of Drake. Within the quaint lantern-like sentry boxes they peered forth from the narrow slits through which armed sentinels had spied the flashing sails and black flags of Morgan and his pirate crews. Beneath the frowning walls was the same snug harbor whereon countless galleons and plate ships had swung to anchor, the gay banners of Castile and Leon snapping from their mastheads and their holds filled to overflowing with the blood-stained loot and treasure of New Spain. And when, among the tangled shrubbery and fallen masonry, they found an ancient carronade, their enthusiasm knew no bounds.
Had not this corroded, ornate gun once hurled its messengers of death against the attacking buccaneers? Had not these very walls run red with blood of Spaniard and of Briton? Up these very cactus grown slopes the fierce sea-dogs of Morgan had swarmed, weapons in teeth, fierce visaged, mad with the lust for blood and gold; and down this slope full many had plunged again, screaming in agony or silent in death, as cutlass met rapier and pistols flashed and halberds bit through flesh and bone and sinew. And upon these ramparts, across these very stones, the struggling, swaying, cursing, smoke- grimed hosts had surged, while shouts for Saint Iago and Saint George had mingled in the furious din of battle. Such thoughts filled the boy's minds and every tale they had heard of conquistador, of pirate and of buccaneer became realities within this hoary stronghold of Spain's greatness.
All too quickly the hours of daylight passed, and when the day was done, and the great tropic moon rode in the velvet sky, and weird shadows filled the angles of the walls, the boys gathered about their camp fire and begged Cap'n Jack to tell them stories. With the fitful glare of the fire touching his leathery, weather-beaten face, his fringe of white whisker and his grizzled hair, the old seaman related tale after tale of his adventures and spun many a wondrous yarn of the Spanish Main. And so vividly did he picture the scenes, so realistic did the stories seem, that the boys could half believe the leaves rustling in the breeze were the muffled sounds of buccaneers crawling through the brush, and that the swaying shadows of the palms were mail-clad sentinels pacing the ramparts.
But despite the fascination of the spot, the boys welcomed the announcement that all was in readiness for a start along the famous Gold Road. Everyone was up betimes the next morning, and after an early breakfast, the boys shouldered their packs, strapped on their machetes, and followed by the darkeys carrying the heavy luggage, the little procession set off on the ancient cobbled road over which countless millions of gold had been carried in centuries past.
The scouts were all athrill with excitement as they trudged along through the dense jungle that bordered the way, but a shade of disappointment swept over them when they saw the negroes' huts and small gardens scattered here and there.
"It takes all the mystery and romance away, to have people living all about," complained Fred.
"Yes, we might just as well have stayed about Colon," agreed Rob.
"Wait a bit lads, wait a bit," admonished the Captain. "Ye'll not run afoul o' any folks arter we've made a bit more offing, so to speak. They'll be right handy here; fruit an' garden truck won't come amiss when we're done a-campin', lads."
Presently, the low and tangled brush gave way to the true forest with its enormous trees. No more huts or clearings were seen and the boys moved along the weed-grown old road through the cool, shadowy, semi-twilight of the forest.
"Man, but this is grand!" exclaimed Rob.
"I'll bet there's all sorts of beasts and snakes and things in these woods," declared Fred. "Wouldn't it be fine if we could see a jaguar, or a big boa constrictor, or a tapir?"
"Ye'll not be a runnin' afoul o' such critters hereabouts," declared the Captain. "They stows 'emselves away, snug an' safe, in the bush; but ye might sight a troop o' monkeys if ye keep your eyes and ears open."
"Isn't this a good place to camp?" asked Ned, "We're right in the woods and we could explore all about."
"No, sirree," replied the Captain. " 'Tain't no place for campin'. There's nary a bit o' runnin' water an' its too all-fired damp. Yc'd be e't alive by mosquitos arter nightfall. We'll keep our course under full sail for a bit 'till we make port at some spot where there's a bit o' sunshine an' fresh water."
"That shows how green I am," admitted Ned with a laugh. "Of course, we must have water and I remember father warned us not to camp where there was no sunlight."
Chatting and laughing, the boys tramped on, their interest kept ever alive by the strange birds which sang and called from the trees, the great flashing, blue morpho butterflies that flitted across the roadway, and the wonderful forms of vegetation which hemmed them in.
Flocks of noisy parroquets flashed from tree-top to tree-top and filled the forest with their shrill cries. Several times, great green parrots screeched at the passing scouts from the shelter of the foliage, and, once or twice, the harsh screams of macaws broke the silence and the boys stopped and sought eagerly among the greenery for a glimpse of the huge scarlet and blue birds; and when they spied a flock of grotesque, enormous-billed toucans, feeding on some wild fruit above the roadway, the boys grew greatly excited.
But all such things were forgotten when Fred's sharp eyes discovered a monkey peering at the strangers from his safe perch far up in an immense tree.
"There's another," cried Tom, as the boys gathered about and gazed fascinated at the droll little creature.
"Oh, I see two more," exclaimed Ned.
"There's a whole crowd of them," shouted Fred.
Sure enough, as the scouts searched the tree-tops with eager eyes, one monkey after another was discovered and then, as if for the boys' especial benefit, the troop of long-tailed, funny beasts commenced to chatter and leap about, chasing one another among the branches, jumping from limb to limb, hanging by their tails and cutting all sorts of capers, until the boys roared with laughter at their antics.
"Aren't they human-looking things though," remarked Fred. "I don't see how any one can bear to kill them."
"Purty human, purty human," agreed the Captain, who had seated himself upon a fallen tree while the boys watched the monkeys. "There's a heap o' chaps hereabout that ain't much humaner. Minds me o' a chanty I useter hear the darkey stevedores a singin' of down in Demerary. Went sutthin like this, near as I can recollec':
"A nigger an' a monkey a settin' on a rail,
Ring up the rumor 'til morn,
Only diff'rence was the monkey had a tail,
Ring up the rumor 'til morn."
As the old skipper bellowed out the words of the quaint chanty the monkeys screeched with alarm at the unwonted sound, and with leaps and bounds, crashed off through the wilderness, while the boys laughed heartily at the song and the monkeys' fright.
A short distance farther on, the road commenced to ascend a hill and, just beyond the summit, crossed a tumbling little stream on an ancient stone bridge.
"Hurrah, here's water!" exclaimed Ned. "Now we can camp."
"And there's a real, old Spanish bridge," cried Fred, "just like the ones you read about in pirate stories. Look at the little sentry boxes on each side. I'll bet old Morgan's walked over that himself."
"Like as not, like as not," muttered the Captain as he looked about with a critical eye. "Aye," he continued after a moment's silence, "I reckon we can find a good berth hereabouts. I'm a bit tuckered out, a-stumpin' along with this jury-rig leg o' mine, so I'll jest drop anchor by the bridge here an' let you lads cruise about a bit. Some o' ye can go up stream and t'others down, an' when ye heave in sight o’ a bit o' dry high ground, free o' trees, jest sing out."
The boys, who had been clambering about the old bridge and exploring the crumbling sentry boxes, needed no second bidding, but dashed into the brush bordering the roadside.
The Captain chuckled as he heard their exclamations when they found their way barred by the thorny palms, twisted vines and sharp-edged saw-grass concealed beneath the soft mantle of greenery.
"How can we ever get through here?" cried Tom, as he struggled with the dense and tangled vegetation. "I'm all scratched and I can't move forward or back."
"Haste makes waste," called the Captain, "Ye'll have to go a bit easy lads an' cut a path with your machetes. That's what ye're a carryin' on 'em fer. Thought ye'd find a-rompin' through a tropic jungle wasn't all beer an' skittles, so to speak."
"Well, we are dubs," admitted the boys. "The Major showed us how to use machetes and then we forgot all about them the very first time we needed them."
Drawing their long, keen-bladed, knife-like machetes, the boys hacked and cut at the tough stems and vines, and found little difficulty in penetrating the jungle. But it was slow, hot work, and they were all glad when Rob called out that he had found a fine spot for a camp.
Cap'n Jack and the boys soon joined him and the sailor, after glancing about, agreed that it was an ideal camping site.
The place Rob had found was a level, open space on a low knoll beside the brook, with the forest surrounding it on three sides, and forming a sort of island of sward and weeds in the edge of the jungle.
Telling the boys to busy themselves cutting away the weeds and low bushes while he prepared lunch, the Captain sent the colored boys scurrying after fuel and water and busied himself getting out the provisions and cooking utensils.
The scouts set bravely to work, cutting and slashing at the low growth and clumps of bushes, and keeping a sharp lookout for snakes or biting ants, as cautioned by the Captain.
Presently, in chopping through a tangle of creeping vines, Rob's machete struck some hidden object with a metallic sound. Curious to see what it was, the boy peered into the tangle, and the next instant, gave a shout that brought his comrades to him on the run.
"What's the matter?" cried one.
"Is it a snake?" asked another.
"Did you get bitten? Where is it?" inquired a third.
"Mon, mon, 'tis treasure trove!" yelled the excited Scotch youth. "Look yonder, there amang the briar, an' ye'll see."
Crowding about, the boys gazed—half doubtingly, but rilled with excitement, at the spot Rob indicated.
"I see it," cried Ned. "Hurrah for Rob."
"I'll bet it's doubloons," shouted Fred.
"Perhaps it's jewels and plate," suggested Tom.
"Let's have a squint at it, lads," said the Captain, who had dropped pots and pans at Rob's shout and had hurried to the spot.
"There 'tis, Cap'n," cried Ned. "Look there, just back of that stout vine. Can't you see it? It's a big wooden chest with bands around it and a ring on top. Let's hurry up and get it out and see how much treasure's inside."
The Captain stuck his head among the vines, looked carefully at the object Rob had found and rose slowly to his feet.
"Blow me, but it do look uncommon like a chest," he declared. "I'd never a believed ye'd find nary a bit o' loot lads, I thought your treasure seekin' jest a bit o' fun an' nonsense. But yonder's a chest an' a mighty old one, or I'm no sailor. Clear away the bush, lads, an' well have it out in a jiffy."
Filled with intense excitement at the find, the boys worked rapidly and soon had the vines cut away, exposing a massive square of time-blackened wood half-buried in the earth. About it, were bands of metal, green and corroded with age, and, bound to its surface by the roots of plants and the tendrils of creepers, was a heavy metal ring.
Grasping this with both hands, the Captain heaved with all his strength, but the object refused to budge an inch from its bed.
"Whew!" exclaimed the old salt as he straightened up and wiped his forehead with his huge red 'kerchief. "Dunno what's stowed in there, lads; but whatever 'tis, it's mortal heavy. Just run a bit o' stick through that ring an' bear a hand an' we'll all heave together."
A stout stick was soon brought by one of the darkies, who had become almost as excited as the scouts over the strange discovery, and thrusting the pole through the ring, everyone took a firm hold.
"Now then, lads," directed the Captain, "when I give the word all heave to once an' up she comes. Ready? One, two, three; all together, heave ho!"
With all their strength, everyone strained at the bar, there was a little cracking sound and the next instant all tumbled head over heels as the pole came free.
"Well, I'll be scuttled!" exclaimed the Captain, as recovering himself, he gazed in perplexity at the strange object.
Rapidly the boys scrambled to their feet and each in turn uttered an exclamation of surprise, for a glance showed them that the ring had pulled from the wood, drawing with it a long, rusty bolt and leaving a mass of broken, crumbling, rotten wood where it had been.
"Why it's not a chest at all," exclaimed Fred.
"Nary a bit on it," agreed the Captain. "Reckon that's a good joke on all of us. Yonder's jest a bit o' old timber with a eye-bolt a stickin' in it. Dunno what 'twas, but reckon some chap had a mill or suthin' hereabouts an' that's all that's left of it."
"Well, we had the fun of it any way," remarked Fred, philosophically.
"An' I reckon ye've 'arned yer grub, so come along an' eat," chuckled Cap'n Jack.
"Now let's put up the camp," suggested Fred, when the meal was over. "Then we'll have all the rest of the time free."
"If ye'll take a bit o' advice from me ye'll tend to sutthin' else fust," remarked the Captain. "There's no use a startin' out on a cruise on land or sea without officers," he continued. "An' 'ceptin' a sort o' supercargo—the same bein' a one-legged ol' sailor man—no one's any more say than t'other in this crew. Ye'll have to 'lect officers an' each lad'll have to do his trick at this, that, an' t'other. Lessen each lad knows what his duties is, things'll never go smooth an' ship-shape."
''Of course, we'll have to have officers," agreed Fred. “Captain Stelling said the only way to have a successful camping trip was to have every boy have certain duties; but we hadn't thought about it before, with so many other things to interest us."
"Fred's the captain of the troop," declared Rob. "Why not let him name the other officers. How many do we want, anyway?"
"I reckon a cap'n an’ mate an' a cook an' a steward's about all ye'll want—aside from the supercargo," replied the Captain with a laugh. "An' if ye'll take my advice, ye'll 'lect 'em for a week at a time. Then them as wasn't officers can have their whack at s'arvin', an' all'll have a fair show."
"That's a bully scheme," cried Ned. "I vote for Fred as captain."
Everyone agreed on this, and in a few minutes, Tom had been chosen as steward, Ned as lieutenant or "mate" and only the cook remained to be elected.
"No use a tryin' to app'int a cook," declared Cap'n Jack. "I reckon the supercargo 'll attend to that. I've no mind to be a rummagin' about an' I'll jest hang 'round camp and enj'y myself an' might jes' as well be a putterin' round cookin' as not. 'Sides," he added with a chuckle, "I'm a get-lin' a bit pertic'ler 'bout my grub, now I'm a gettin' old, an' I dunno as any o' you lads could cook to suit me. Anyhow, I ain't agreeable to let any o' ye lose a good time by hangin' about camp an' a cookin' grub."
"That's fine of you, Cap'n," cried the boys in chorus.
"And no one can really cook except you, anyway," added Tom.
This matter having thus been settled, the boys proceeded to make camp, and having already practiced the work under Captain Stelling's and Major Wilkinson's directions, they found little difficulty in the undertaking.
The site chosen for the camp was at one edge of the knoll, where several good sized trees rose free from underbrush, for while the boys had been cautioned to select a spot where there was open air and sunlight, they had also been warned against placing their camp where there was no shade during the day.
Cutting a long, stout pole and two shorter, forked poles, the boys placed the former on the ground with each of its ends beside a tree. Over this pole was spread a large, waterproof tarpaulin, with its center along the pole. Next, one end of the pole was lifted and set in the fork on the end of one of the shorter poles and then, by pushing upward on the latter, the ridge pole with the tarpaulin was slid up along the tree for six or eight feet. The end of the forked pole was then set upon the ground, thus holding the ridge pole in place, and the operation was repeated with the other end of the ridge pole. Then, several boys grasped each forked pole, and shoving upward together, lifted the pole and tarpaulin to a height of ten feet where it was secured by the simple means of setting the forked sticks on the ground.
The next step was to spread the tarpaulin, which was done by passing tough vines or "bush ropes" through the eyelets in the edges of the canvas and securing these to light poles driven firmly into the earth at an angle. Thus, a large roofed shelter was provided, open at ends and sides, for in the tropics a free circulation of air is essential and rain is the only thing to be guarded against. Just within the edge of the tarpaulin, two strong, forked uprights were erected at each side of the camp; shorter forked sticks were wedged against these for braces, a stout pole was laid across the forks parallel to the edge of the roof, and as soon as the ground was smoothed and a canvas ground-cloth spread, the camp was complete. Then the boys placed their baggage within the shelter, unpacked their bags, and slung their hammocks between the poles extending along the edges of the camp.
All this took but a very short time to accomplish, for the boys had practised it many times, and each knew just what to do and all worked together without confusion.
"Mighty well an' smartly done, I says," declared the old Captain when everything was at last completed. "An' a mighty comfy camp too, I reckon. Land! It's been a everlastin' time sence I snored out in the bush, a lyin' in a hammock."
"Now everything's ready for the night," said Fred, "what do you fellows say to taking a long hike along the road?"
"I think we've hiked enough for one day," declared Ned. "Besides, we'll have to walk down the road anyway when we move camp. I vote we find out what that old piece of wood of Rob's is."
"I was thinkin' of that myself," said Rob. "I don't believe it's part of a mill. Perhaps it's a bit of an old camp or a house, or something else. Maybe there's treasure buried underneath it. I vote we dig it up and find out."
"That's a good scheme I think," agreed Tom. "Even if there's nothing underneath, we can find out what the thing was which fooled us all."
"It suits me all right," declared Fred, and, as all the others were of the same mind, it was decided to act on Ned's suggestion.
Armed with a light intrenching spade, their machetes and a hoe, the boys proceeded to dig away the earth about the piece of timber which had been mistaken for a treasure chest.
Captain Jack, rather amused at the boys' undertaking, sat near by, watching the work and occasionally offering some word of advice or direction. The ground, near the surface, was filled with roots and digging was slow, hard work; but presently, loose earth was reached and the boys worked rapidly. Suddenly the spade came into contact with some metal object, and instantly, the boys became greatly excited and dug furiously to expose it.
"It looks like a piece of big pipe," exclaimed Fred, as a portion of the metal was uncovered.
The Captain had drawn close and was squatting down watching the boys intently. "Well, I'll be blowed!" he cried. "Who'd a thought it. That's a gun you're a diggin' out lads—a cannon ye know —an' that bit o' timber what bamboozled us is the end o' the carriage a-stickin' up. Reckon as how there must a been a fort or a bat'ry hereabouts, mos' likely to guard the bridge yonder."
The breech of the gun was now plainly seen and the boys, elated at having discovered something that savored of bloody days of the past, dug away with redoubled vigor.
But the sun was hot and by the time the gun was fully uncovered they were glad to cease their labors and rest in their hammocks in the cool shade of the ramp.
"I guess it's no use digging any more," remarked Tom. "I'm all tired out and now we can see the cannon what's the use of working any more. We can't get it out of the hole anyway."
"The others agreed that there was no real object in delving further, even though the Captain slyly hinted that a chest of treasure might be hidden under the old gun.
"Mos' likely a lively little set-to was pulled off just hereabouts," he remarked. "Mebbe, that old gun was a standin' off a passel o' pirates what was a aimin' to pass the bridge yonder. I reckon them old stones an' sentry boxes could tell a mighty intr'estin' yarn if they could palaver a bit. Don't ye think you're a losin' o' a mighty good chance o' findin' treasure by not diggin' up the whole o' this ere knoll? I reckon it's bare o' trees 'count o' bein' used for a fort or bat'ry once. Folks hereabouts say as how trees won't grow where human folks' blood's been spilt. Why lads! for all ye know, ye may be a settin' right atop o' a million or more."
"Well, you're welcome to it then," laughed Fred. "We've had enough digging for one day."
"Do you really think that old gun was used to keep pirates from passing the bridge?" asked Rob.
"I dunno," replied the Captain wagging his head. "But honest Injun, I don't reckon as 'twas. Timber don't last sech an everlastin' time hereabouts, an' seein' as that gun carriage aint all rotted away to nothin' I don't b'lieve it's been knockin' about here since piratin' days. No, sir, more likely that gun was set up durin' one o' these folks revolutionary shindies. Mebbe 'twas the rebels' an' mebbe the gov'ment's."
"But, Captain, how could it be buried so deep if it hasn't been here very long?" asked Fred, who had been thinking over the matter.
The Captain scratched his head, rubbed his chin and was silent for a moment. "Arsk me suthin' easier lad," he replied at last. "If ye'd run across the gun buried like that an' no wood a stickin' to it I'd a said it had a been here a mortal long time. Mebbe it tumbled into a hole—mos' likely 'twas set down back o' a earthwork or in a pit—an' the earth tumbled in atop of it since. Kind o' funny too. There ain't nary a sign o' old buildin's or walls, nor nothin' else here—looks like as if some chap just toted that old gun out o' the road an' set it up here for a lark."
FOR several days the boys tramped and explored about their camp. They fished in the stream, spent hours listening to the Captain's yarns of the sea and grew brown and strong and acquired a knowledge of the life and flora of the forest. They even had a glorious game, in which half the boys took the part of pirates and the others pretended to be Spaniards, and the latter strove to prevent the "pirates" from crossing the old bridge and capturing the camp. Cap'n Jack acted as referee and when the "pirates" forced their way over the barricade, erected in the center of the bridge, and struggling with the defenders, gained the road beyond, the old seaman cheered them lustily.
On the day following this sham battle, the boys decided on a long hike along the road and set out early in the morning. The air was cool and pleasant in the shadow of the forest, there was plenty to interest the scouts at every turn and the boys wandered on for mile after mile.
Sometimes the road was almost lost among the jungle which had encroached upon it, there were many places where it had been quite obliterated, and the boys found it great fun and good practise tracing the old trail. Sometimes they were compelled to ford narrow streams or to cross on fallen trees, but in other places there were quaint and picturesque stone bridges and the scouts had the pleasant feeling and the thrill of exploring a forgotten land whose inhabitants had long since disappeared.
"Oh, look there!" exclaimed Frank, as soon after noon they rounded a bend in the trail and topped a low rise. "There's a ruin ahead."
"Perhaps it's a fort," suggested Tom. "Let's hurry and see."
"Maybe there's treasure in it," cried romantic Jack. "It'll be lots of fun to rummage through the ruins anyway."
The boys were now close to the tumble-down wall which had caught Frank's eye and they looked upon the scene with interest.
It was a massive structure of masonry, once well built, and as strong as though intended to withstand a siege, and it surrounded what had formerly been a spacious, paved courtyard in the center of which stood a good-sized, low building. But the wall had suffered through the lapse of time; many of the great stones had fallen from the top; creepers and climbing ferns draped it with greenery and the keystone to the arched gateway had dropped out and the entrance was choked with broken stone, mortar and rank weeds.
The courtyard was a miniature jungle of brush, and several large trees, growing up through the litter of masonry, had forced the flagging aside and testified to the length of time which had passed since the spot had been inhabited.
Picking their way gingerly among the blocks of stone, and cutting away the clinging vines and thorny scrub, the boys entered the courtyard. Somehow the silent, deserted aspect of the place awed and silenced them and hardly a word was spoken until they stood within the yard and before the ruined building in its center.
"Whew! But this is awful spooky," whispered Fred. "I wonder who lived here."
"Old ruins are always spooky," declared Tom. "But who's afraid of spooks. If we're going to explore such places and hunt for treasure we can't be ninnies. I vote we go inside and look about."
So, laughing away their unreasonable nervousness, the boys approached the ruined doorway of the low building and peered into its dim interior.
"It's all tumbled down and full of rubbish," announced Fred. "We'll have to go carefully, boys. There might be trap-doors or holes, or something in there."
Stepping carefully, and keeping a sharp lookout for holes and pitfalls, the boys entered the building and stared about the big room in which they found themselves. It was very still and as dark and mouldy as a tomb, and when a lizard darted along the wall and dislodged some tiny bits of mortar, the boys jumped and felt their spines tingle at the unwonted sound. But the next instant their sudden fright was forgotten as Rob uttered a shout.
"Hurrah!" he exclaimed. "There's a treasure chest," and, regardless of hidden dangers, he dashed across the room to where a square box-like object could be seen resting against the wall.
The others hurried with him and filled with excitement, for there could be no doubt that the object was a huge chest, metal-bound and massive.
With fast beating heart Rob seized the cover of 1 lie chest and tugged at it. For a moment it resisted his efforts and then, with a creaking of rusty metal, it moved slightly, complainingly, as if resentful of being disturbed in this rude fashion. Impatient to sec what was within, the other boys grasped the lid and all pulled together. Suddenly, there was a crackling sound, and, without warning, the whole chest collapsed in a cloud of choking dust and a jangle of metal as the bands and hinges fell clattering among the rotten wood.
"My, but that was punky!" exclaimed Rob, as their first surprise over, the boys burst out laughing. "Well," he added, "there may be treasure in it just the same," and with his machete, he began searching amid the debris of the chest.
But the closest search failed to reveal anything save a mass of mouldy, ill-smelling material which the chest had contained and which proved a puzzle to the boys.
"Nothing there," announced Tom at last. "We might have known they wouldn't leave treasure lying around that way. Most likely 'twas a clothes chest or a cupboard. If the treasure's here it will be in a vault, or in a secret chamber in the walls."
"I say!" interrupted Fred, "Let's make our camp over here. Then we'll have plenty of time to hunt all over the ruins. It will be lots more fun than where we are. We haven't time to search the place today and its a long tramp from here to the bridge."
"That's a fine idea," chorused the others. "Let's go on back and tell Cap'n Jack and move over here tomorrow."
All through the afternoon, as the boys tramped back to their camp, they talked of the ruins and laid plans for the good times they would have exploring them.
"Hello!" cried the Captain as the boys approached. "Began to think ye lads had missed yer course an' got outer the channel. Reckoned I'd have to get under way on a wreckin' cruise to fetch ye. Where ye been an' what ye been up to all day?"
Rapidly the boys told the Captain of their tramp and the discovery of the ruins and of their decision to camp there.
"Well, I dunno," muttered the Captain reflectively when they had finished. "OI' ruins ain't too healthy an' I ain't pertie'lar partial to campin' out where other folks has lived an' died, o' Lord-knows-what, in years gone. But I reckon as we might find a likely spot clost to, so's you lads could explore the ruins to yer hearts' content, an' there's nothin' like shiftin' o' moorin's an' gettin' a change o' scene. We'll h'ist anchor in the mornin' and get under way for a new berth yonder. But get busy an' eat yer grub now, it's pretty nigh four bells an' you'd oughta be as hungry as sharks."
The boys fell to with a will, and as they ate, they told the Captain about the chest, at which he laughed heartily.
"I dunno whether ye lads are just a skylarkin' an' pretendin' you're expectin' to run afoul o' treasure, or whether you've got a idee ye really might heave in sight o’ loot," he said. "Sometimes I think it's one an' sometimes 'tother; but s'long's ye get any fun outen it, it don't make a mite o' diff'rence I reckon."
The boys roared with laughter. "Oh, you know we don't expect really to find anything,” exclaimed Fred. "It's just an excuse for poking about in the ruins. But don't you think, Cap'n Jack, that we might find something—an old sword or blunderbuss, or some armor or something of that sort to take home as souvenirs?"
"Course ye might, course ye might," replied the old sailor. "Like as not ye'll run acrost suthin' over yonder in the ruins ye found today. I reckon 'twas an inn or a stoppin' place fer the gold trains, mos' likely, an' 'twouldn't be a mite strange if them ol' Dons knowed ye was comin' an' jest left their weapons an' tin clothes lyin' handy fer ye to pick up." The old man chuckled at his own humor.
The boys were well tired out with their long walk and soon climbed into their hammocks and fell asleep to dream of ruins, pirates and adventures.
Camp was broken early the next morning, and before dark that night, the tarpaulin' had been spread in a new spot a few rods beyond the ruined buildings and where the ancient road forked.
The next day the Captain stumped over to the ruins with the boys, and after a brief inspection, declared it was once a fortified "fonda" or wayside inn. He pointed out the narrow slots in the wall through which the defenders could shoot; he rummaged about until he found some rusty, corroded old cannons which he said were "culverins," and he took as much interest in exploring the old inn as the boys themselves. He was greatly interested in the remains of the old chest and pawed over the mass of soggy, rotten stuff it had contained as though searching for something.
Presently he rose, walked over to the doorway, and standing in the light, examined something in his hand.
"What have you found, Captain?" cried Fred.
"Uum," remarked the sailor. "Look here, lads." Then, as the boys crowded about, he exhibited a pair of corroded silver buckles and half a dozen round metal buttons.
"There's some sooveeners for ye," he exclaimed. "Some ol' Don stowed his clothes in the chest yonder an' forgot all about 'em, or p'raps he went out an' some chap stuck a knife in his ribs, or he got in some sort o' a mixup an' never came back to claim 'em. I reckon that ol' chest must a been his trunk, an' he a stoppin' here. 'Tany rate his Sunday-go-to-Meetin'-best's all rotted away now an' jest the buttons an' buckles left. Ye won't go home empty handed, lads. Them buckle's silver an' the buttons is gold. Course they ain't wuth much, jest thin shells like, but they'll make mighty interestin' scarf-pins an' there's jest one a piece for ye."
The boys were highly elated at the curious little souvenirs, although rather chagrined to think they had overlooked them on the previous day. Vowing they would search every nook and corner of the old inn, and with interest increased a hundred fold by the Captain's find, they scattered about the building, tapping walls and floors, peeking into cracks and holes and raking every pile of dust or fallen plaster with minute care.
For some time nothing was discovered and then a shout from Rob brought all the boys to him on the run.
Rob was standing on a bit of fallen masonry and peering into a dark cavity in the wall.
"Here's a closet," he cried, as the boys hurried to him. "Strike a match, someone, so we can see inside. It's dark as a pocket and I don't fancy putting my hand in; there might be scorpions, or snakes, or something."
One of the boys lit a match, and by its light, Rob could see a small earthen pot or jar and some dark object lying amid the dust that had accumulated through the centuries. Ere the match flickered out, he had secured these, and, with his companions pressing close about, he examined them carefully. Then, as the boys realized what he had found, a glad shout made the old room echo, for in his hand, Rob held a short, heavy dagger or knife-encrusted with rust to be sure, but with its carved horn hilt and elaborately wrought cross-guard of silver still in good condition. Filled with excitement, the boys passed it from hand to hand, examining the ancient weapon with the most intense interest.
"You're the lucky one," exclaimed Tom. "Golly, but isn't that a find, though!"
"Hello, there's something in this jar," cried Rob, whose attention had been so occupied with the digger that he had neglected to examine his other find.
"Dump it out and see what 'tis," suggested Fred, and, as the others squatted in a circle about him, Rob shook the contents of the jar onto the floor. A quantity of dust, a few shreds of some dry hard material, that proved to be leather, and small metal clasp dropped out, and as they struck the stones of the floor, there was a little tinkle as of metal. Sifting the pile of dust through his fingers, Rob uttered an exclamation and held up a small silver coin.
"Well, well, ye've struck treasure at last," exclaimed the Captain, who now arrived on the scene, attracted by the boys' shouts. "Real money, eh."
"Yes, and see this fine dagger Rob found," cried Jack "Isn't it bully Cap'n?"
The old man examined the dagger carefully. "Sure enough, sure enough," he muttered. "This ere bit o' horn an' rust's a dagger all right, an' Spanish by the looks of it. Course I can't say how old 'tis; this ol’ inn may 'a' been used long arter the days o' the Gold Road. But there ain't no 'arthly reason why it shouldn't 'a' been here since ol' Morgan and Drake made the Dons dance hereabouts. Let's see the bit o' money lad, p'raps that'll give us a hint o' it's age."
"It's a Real," he announced, "an' dated sixteen hundred an' suthin', yes, I reckon ye can be pretty certain this ere stuff's been a lyin' here a pretty smart spell o' time. 'Course this bit of silver may 'a' been some chap's pocket-piece, or it might'a'been a hundred years old or more when 'twas left here. That stuff in the jar's all that's left of a purse, I reckon, an' ye're mighty lucky to 'a' found the stuff. Ye oughter be satisfied now, lad."
"If the rest of us don't find anything I'll give these to the Scouts," declared Rob. "There's no reason why I should have more than any one else."
"That's fine of you," cried the others. "Let's have a Scouts' museum—then we can put all the things that any of us find in there and every one can see them," suggested Tom.
This met with the unanimous approval of every one, and as the boys, fired with enthusiasm at Rob's discovery, hunted high and low for more relics, they made plans for their museum and what it should contain.
But the most careful search failed to reveal any further relics.
"I reckon if we could get the bearin's o' where the ol' chaps throwed their rubbish we might run afoul o' somethin'," remarked the Captain as the boys seated themselves in the shade to eat their lunch.
"Let's hunt for it then," said Tom. "Of course, there must have been a rubbish pile somewhere about."
Everything was so overgrown with brush and jungle that it was no easy matter to find the rubbish pile of the old inn and it was not until late in the afternoon that Fred, while cutting away some weeds, knocked a bit of broken earthenware from a low mound in a corner of the courtyard. It was but a few moments work to scrape away enough of the vegetation and fallen leaves to reveal numerous fragments of pottery, bits of half-burned sticks, patches of rust that had once been metal and an abundance of pasty ashes.
"Reckon this is the spot," declared the Captain, "but 'taint a mite o' use try in' to s'arch tonight. We'll get back to camp an' tackle this in the mornin'."
As soon as breakfast was over the boys seized spade and machetes and hurried to the rubbish pile in the inn yard and fell manfully at work.
It was some time before anything was discovered; but at last, one of the boys dug up an ancient clay pipe and although the stem was broken it was carefully saved, for it bore a highly ornate representation of a piratical-looking seaman on the bowl, and the Captain vowed it was no doubt used by some old-time buccaneer. Soon afterwards, some tarnished brass buttons were discovered and each boy became feverish with excitement and thrilled with the hope of turning up some relic of the past at any moment. As Fred put it, "It was like digging for gold," for no one knew when a find might be struck.
The boys labored as though their lives depended upon it, and their efforts were not without reward, for by the time they ceased work, not an inch of the pile had been left unturned and quite a collection of relics had been accumulated. Half a dozen pipes, more or less broken; a number of buttons of brass, silver and other metals; the brass handles or hilts of two swords; a score and more of gun flints; several pewter mugs and pewter plates, badly dented and battered; numerous pieces of broken crockery; a brass pot, perfect, save for a crack; four hawks' bells; several dozen glass beads; two battered candlesticks; a small bronze lamp; a gold earring; two copper, and three silver coins, and a pewter spoon comprised the lot of articles recovered from the long forgotten sweepings of the inn.
"Petty nigh enough to start a junk shop," was the Captain's comment as the boys assorted their treasures.
"I reckon," he continued, "that ol' pile must a-held the sweepin's o' the inn for quite some spell o' time. I tell ye, lads, if them ol' odds an' ends could speak they'd tell ye some yarn. Why, lookee here!" he exclaimed, reaching forward and picking up one of the battered tankards, "Can't ye just Imagine some swashbucklin' ol' buccaneer a slammin' o' this mug down on the table an' a yellin' fer more grog. Then, when it's chock-a-block with liquor, he bawls out a toast to Harry Morgan an' some poppinjay o' a Don whips out a sword. Then there's a right smart mixup—knives flashin', swords slashin', tables a-tippin' over an' p'raps a pistol shot or two. Bimeby, when the scrap's over an' the greasy ol' innkeep crawls out his hole, he claps his eyes on as purty a wrack as ye could wish. Candlesticks knocked about and trod under foot, mugs an' dishes stove in, jugs an' pipes strewin' the floor under the capsized tables an', like as not, a couple o' chaps a lyin' in the wrackage with their skulls cracked or their throats slit. An' so Mr. Landlord pipes all hands for to swab down decks an', with the busted pipes an' dishes an' spilt ale an' rum an' grub, there's nat'rally buttons what's been ripped offen clothes durin' the fightin', a few coins spilt from the tables where they been a gamblin', an' all gets tossed out here in the rubbish heap together."
"I shouldn't wonder if that's just the way all these things did come here," said Fred, as the Captain finished speaking.
"When you come to think of it that way it makes the things a thousand times more interesting," declared Tom.
"I never dreamed there could be such excitement in digging up someone's ash pile," laughed Jack.
"An' I never kenned a lad could get so fair famished wi' sich work," added Rob, dropping into his Scotch manner unconsciously. "Mon!" he continued, "but are ye clean forgettin' 'tis time for a bite o' food?"
Every one laughed at Rob's speech, but it reminded them that they too were hungry, and carefully gathering up their treasures, they made their way to camp and soon sat down to a hearty meal.
Tired out with the unaccustomed labor of the day, the boys turned in shortly after they had finished eating and soon all were sleeping soundly in their hammocks.
It was long past midnight when Fred awoke with a strange sensation of impending danger, a feeling that someone or something was moving about in the darkness close at hand. For a moment he thought he had been dreaming, for only the deep breathing of his comrades and the rumbling snores of Cap'n Jack broke the silence of the tropic night.
Then, his ears caught another sound; the sound of stealthy footsteps, and peering into the blackness, he was sure he could distinguish a darker shadow moving cautiously away from the camp, Thinking one of his companions had arisen and was moving about, and inwardly smiling at his foolish fright, he spoke. At the sound of his voice the vague figure vanished and Fred's ears caught the sound of running footsteps.
"What's up?" exclaimed the Captain, aroused by Fred's voice, and, as the other boys also awoke, a chorus of similar questions issued from the various hammocks.
"Some one was sneaking about," replied Fred. "I thought 'twas one of you fellows and called out."
"Reckon ye was havin' a nightmare," chuckled the Captain.
"No, I wasn't," declared Fred. "I heard foot-steps and saw some one running away from camp."
"Well, we'll have a look and see," remarked the captain, and slipping from his hammock, he lighted a lantern and commenced searching about the ground in the direction Fred indicated.
"Nothin' here," announced the old sailor as he reached the roadside and stood peering up and down the old highway, then, with a laugh, he added, "Must 'a been a ghost o' some old Don; like as not he was lookin' fer that ol' suit o' clothes or the dagger ye picked up."
But as the Captain turned to retrace his steps, he uttered an exclamation of surprise, for in the soft surface of the earth were the impressions of naked human feet.
"What have you found now?" cried Fred.
"Nothin'," replied the Captain, " 'ceptin' some footprints out in the road. Expect some chap was just a passin' by an' hove-to to have a squint an' see who we be. Nothin' to be skeered or worried over. Don't forget we're close to a public road an' 'taint a mite remarkable fer folks to be a walkin' over it."
But long after the boys had again fallen asleep, Captain Jack lay awake, listening with straining ears for any unusual sound and puzzling his brain over the meaning of the footsteps, for, in his hasty glance, he had noted the visitor had come up the road to the camp and had retreated in the same direction, and the old sailor well knew the tell-tale footprints had not been made by any chance passer-by, but by someone who had approached the camp for the sole purpose of spying upon it.
There was no use in alarming the boys by mentioning this, but the Captain determined to be ready, in case the midnight prowler returned, and not until daybreak did he relax his vigil and close his eyes.
In the morning the boys had quite forgotten all about the events of the night. Even the Captain decided that he had been unnecessarily nervous and suspicious and dismissed the matter from his mind, for things which seem fraught with danger and mystery in the darkness appear trivial and of no moment by the light of day.
"Let's take a hike and explore the old road," suggested Tom, as the boys ate breakfast. "We've been all over the old inn and we may find something else up the road."
"Fine," agreed the others.
"There are two roads," remarked Ned. "Let's make up two parties and then we can explore both of them at once."
This suggestion met with everyone's approval, and accordingly, lots were drawn to see which boys should form each party. Then lots were again drawn to determine which party should take the right and which the left road and finally, all being arranged, preparations were made for the start of the exploring expedition, as Fred called it.
Bidding a cheery good-by to the Captain, who was to remain in camp, the boys hurried off. Fred and Rob were in the party that took the left-hand road and were soon lost to sight of the others. It was soon evident that the way they were following had been long unused, for vines and brush had grown up between the walls of trees; fallen limbs and trunks barred it in many places and, where it crossed creeks and streams, the bridges had fallen down and were impassible.
"It doesn't look as if any one had been over this since old Morgan's time," remarked Fred, as the boys paused to rest upon the bank of a stream.
"All the more chance of finding something intereting," said Rob.
"Perhaps this is the real Gold Road," suggested Tom. "You know Cap'n Jack said it had been lost.”
"I'll bet, if we find any ruin up here, it'll be exciting," declared Ned. "We might even find treasure if no one's been here for such a long time.”
"Well, let's hurry up or we won't get anywhere,” said Fred, and hurrying across the little creek, the boys again resumed their tramp.
An hour later, Fred, who was in the lead, stopped and turned to his companions. "What'll we do now?" he asked, "here's another fork in that road.”
"I vote the first thing we do is to have grub, laughed Rob. "We can think about the next step while we're eating."
Everyone was hungry, and acting on Rob s suggestion, they were soon squatting about and eating the lunch which the Captain had prepared.
"We'll have to divide our party and two of us take each road," declared Fred. "Tom and Ned can have first choice and Rob and I'll take the other fork.”
“We'll take the right-hand one, then,” decided Tom. "I always believe in going right."
"The left for us then," laughed Fred. "I'll bet we have the best adventures all the same."
"Call out if you find anything," said Rob, as the two parties separated. "Righto," called Tom and, a moment later, Rob and Fred were by themselves.
The road soon dwindled to a mere trail and the two boys found great difficulty in following it, and several times they were obliged to make wide detours into the forest in order to avoid fallen trees.
"I don't believe this ever was a road," declared Rob, after they had been walking for an hour or more. "It looks more like a wood path or a game trail to me."
"Perhaps it is," admitted Fred. "I expect Tom and Ned are on the real road."
"No, it's not," interrupted Rob. "Look here." As he spoke, he stopped and pointed to the ground where rough, moss-grown paving stones were visible among the weeds.
"That's right, it must have been a road once," said Fred. "My! but it must be awfully old."
A few moments later, the boys came to a ruined bridge and found the way barred by a deep, swift-flowing stream.
"I guess we'll have to swim," said Fred dubiously, as they stood hesitating on the brink.
"Hello, there's a fallen tree across it," exclaimed Rob, pointing up the stream. "We can go up through the bush and cross over on that all right."
This seemed a simple matter, and hewing away hanging vines and branches, the boys plunged into the forest and soon reached the natural bridge. Crossing this, they gained the opposite bank and, much to their surprise, found a well-marked path leading into the forest.
"Some one else has been here," remarked Rob. "I wonder who it was.”
“Most likely some Indian hunters or woodcutters," said Fred. "There are lots of such paths in the bush.”
“Well, it makes walking easier than cutting a way?" laughed Rob, and added, "It goes towards the road at any rate.”
He had hardly spoken when there was a rush and whirr and a large bird flushed from the thicket beside him.
“Oh look at all the little chickens" cried Rob, and leaped forward intent upon capturing the fluffy creatures that scurried across the path and into the bush.
"They're young curassows,” cried Fred. “Let’s catch some and take them back. They make fine pets.”
But it was easier said than done for the young curassows were very lively little creatures and their colors were so exactly like the dead leaves that they were all but invisible when they remained motionless.
Unmindful of the thick tangle of brush, the two boys scrambled after the elusive birds until, at last, they gave up the chase in despair. Not until then did they realize that in their eagerness to catch the birds they had taken no note of their surroundings and were in the midst of the forest.
"Where's the path?" asked Rob as the two boys looked about.
"I think it's back there," replied Fred, after a moment's hesitation.
"All right, but I thought 'twas in just the opposite direction," declared Rob. "Say," he added. "You don't suppose we're lost do you?"
"Of course not," scoffed Fred. "Why, we haven't gone fifty feet from the path. Look, there's the opening in the trees ahead, now."
But when they reached the open space they found it was an old brush-grown clearing with no sign of the path they had been following.
"Perhaps I was wrong after all," admitted Fred. "Let's try the direction you thought it was."
But ten minutes' tramping convinced the boys that the path was not in this direction either, for the bush became more and more dense as they proceeded.
"We can't get lost at any rate," declared Fred, confidently. "We'd be healthy scouts if we couldn't find our way out of here."
Rob shook his head dubiously. "I ha' me doubts, man," he said,
"Nonsense," ejaculated Fred. "We'll look about and use our brains and we'll soon be all right. What's the use of learning woodcraft if we don't make use of it now?"
"You see," he continued, after a moment's survey of their surroundings, "we were going west along that road because I remember the sun was behind us and it wasn't noon. Then we turned to the left or south, when we went up the creek, and then we turned northwest along the path. When the curassow flew up we went into the woods on the left, or southwest, so the path must be northeast of where we are."
"Very well, very well," commented Rob. "But how are we to ken which is northeast? Tell me that, man."
"Why, with our compasses of course," replied Fred, and taking out his compass he steadied it until the needle remained stationary. "It's right over there," he announced at last.
Rob looked fixedly in the direction his companion indicated. "Aye," he remarked presently. "No doubt 'tis northeast yonder, Fred, but I mind 'twas in that direction we found yon clearing."
For a moment Fred stood motionless and silent, glancing first at his compass and then looking at the woods and trees about.
"I guess you're right," he said in a disappointed tone. "We must have got all turned about, chasing those curassows; confound the things any way."
"Sure, man, we're clean lost, there's no use denying it," chuckled Rob as if enjoying their predicament." "A fine pair o' loonies we be," he added. "Maybe the ither lads'Il hear us, an' we shout a bit."
But the lustiest shouting brought no response.
"The Major told us people always walk in a circle when they're lost," remarked Fred, when the two boys became convinced that their cries could not be heard by their friends. Then, he continued, “I remember he told us the safest thing to do was to follow a straight line by compass. There's no use in standing here doing nothing; we might just as well be walking."
"Aye, I mind what the Major said," assented Rob. But I'm not over particular about tramping through this bush to the Pacific Ocean."
"Don't be foolish," said Fred. "We know that old road must be north of here somewhere. All we've to do is to walk north and we're sure to find it. Come along, Rob; it's getting late and I don't fancy staying out in the bush all night "
There appeared to be no better plan, and passing across the old clearing, they continued in as nearly straight line towards the north as they could follow.
''Hurrah!" cried Fred half an hour later. “Here’s the old path."
"Well I'm glad of that," declared Rob, as the two boys stepped from the forest into a narrow but plain trail "But where's the road?" he added.
“It must be close by," replied Fred. "It was just a short distance from the path when we crossed the creek back there."
"Perhaps the path doesn't lead to the road," ventured Rob.
"I never thought of that," admitted the other. "Let's walk across through the bush and strike the road."
FOR fully half an hour the two hacked and pushed their way through the dense jungle towards the north, but no sign of the road rewarded them. At last they halted and stood looking at one another in silence, each realizing that they were actually lost.
Fred was the first to speak. "We'll have to get back to that path and then back to the creek," he said. "Then we can follow down stream to the bridge and the road. It's too late to go any farther on the road any way."
Turning, the boys retraced their steps—an easy matter with the freshly cut branches and vines to guide them—and in a short time reached the path.
“I don’t believe this is the path at all," declared Rob, when an hour's walking showed no sign of the stream.
"Well, it goes somewhere and there's no use of standing still," argued his companion. "Whoever made the path must have come from somewhere and he went somewhere. We're bound to find a road or a camp or something."
A moment later, the boys came to a sudden halt and stood listening, for both had distinctly heard the sound of an ax on wood.
Then, as the unmistakable noise came to them again, they hurried forward, for they knew human beings were close at hand. Louder and louder the sound rang through the silent forest and ten minutes' walking brought them to a small clearing. In the center stood a small thatched house; from a shed beside it a column of smoke was drifting lazily upwards, and beside a log, a man was industriously chopping firewood.
"Hurrah! here's some one can show us the way," cried Fred, and both boys dashed forward towards the house.
At the sound of their voices and hurrying footsteps the man turned, gave them one hurried glance, and dropping his ax, fled into the house.
"That's a funny way to greet visitors," exclaimed Fred as, surprised at the man's actions, the two came to a standstill.
"He seems afraid of us," said Rob. "Let's call out to him."
Suiting his actions to his words Rob called out that they were lost and wanted help to find their way back to camp.
"Perhaps he doesn't understand English," suggested Fred, "I expect he's a native, he didn't look like one of those West Indian colored men. I'll try him in Spanish."
But Fred's call brought no response for some moments and the boys, nonplussed, were undecided whether to approach the building or to call again when, from within the hut, came a muffled, high-pitched voice.
"Lost, lost!" it cackled. "Lost for aye. But 'tis for me to find, aye 'tis mine. Lives be lost, treasure lost, maps lost an' now ye're lost," the voice trailed of in a meaningless, incomprehensible muttering.
"What is he talking about?" exclaimed Fred. "What does he mean with his 'treasure' and 'maps' and 'lives lost?'"
"’Tis my conveection he's a wee bit daffy," whispered Rob. "There's no sense to his speakin'."
As he spoke, the door of the hut was cautiously opened and the man stepped forth and stood peering intently at the two boys. And a strange figure he was. Thin, almost to emaciation, tall and stooping, but tremendously broad shouldered, and clad in mere rags, the man appeared more like some savage than a civilized being. His face, of a dull leather color, was seamed with a thousand creases and wrinkles, his unkempt, gray hair fell over his shoulders, a long, white, matted beard covered his body to the waist, and, from under bushy gray brows, his eyes gleamed like coals.
For a space he stood motionless, regarding the boys intently and with a frown upon his face. Then, his expression suddenly changed, the fierce light died from his eyes, he smiled, and approaching the two half-frightened boys, he held out his hand.
"Ye be honest-looking lads," he exclaimed. "Ye be lost, eh? Gain yell bide wi' me the night I'll set ye on the road, come daybreak."
"Can't you show us the way now?" asked Fred. "The other boys and the Captain will think we're lost, they'll be terribly worried if we stay away all night."
"Captain, captain," muttered the old man. "A curse on the captain; his bones be danglin' in the air, years agone. Aye, 'twas the captain lost it an' the devil stole the map; but I'll have it yet—tho' the blood drips, drips, drips—" his words died away in an incoherent rumble.
"He's clean daffy, man," whispered Rob.
Fred nodded, it was evident the old hermit was not sane, but he apparently had lucid moments and the boys stood silent, waiting for the old man to speak. Then, so unexpectedly that the boys uttered startled exclamations, he burst into a loud, cackling laugh.
"Come in lads, come in," he cried. " 'Tis past three bells and ye be hungry. 'Tis little I can offer ye, but such as 'tis, ye be right welcome."
Turning, he led the way to the hut and the boys followed, for despite their nervousness at the strange actions and mysterious words of the hermit, they were too desperately hungry and tired to give much thought to any possible danger and realized they must eat and rest before undertaking to tramp the many weary miles to camp.
The hut proved far larger than the boys had llumght and the interior was partitioned off into two rooms. It was bare of furnishings, with the exception of a rickety bed of bushrope, a couple of old patched hammocks and some rude benches hewn from logs; but it was clean and tidy. On the walls hung numerous skins; bundles of herbs, dried leaves and flowers were suspended here and there; rusty and broken shovels, machetes and other tools were standing against the walls, and in the corners were old baskets, boxes and leaf-covered bundles, many of them thick with dust and cobwebs.
"Set ye down, set ye down," exclaimed the old man with a grandiloquent sweep of his gaunt arms. Then, as the boys seated themselves on the low stools, the queer old fellow hurried out of doors.
"Isn't he the funny chap," exclaimed Fred when he and Rob were alone.
"What do you suppose he means with all his jabbering about treasure and the devil and blood dripping, and the captain's bones?" asked Rob.
"Search me," laughed Fred. "Perhaps he's a sailor and went crazy and thinks the captain had something to do with the devil."
"Maybe he murdered the captain," suggested Rob.
"And perhaps he'll murder us," exclaimed Fred, nervously. "Gosh! I wonder if we'd better stay here with him."
"Hoot mon! he could have killed us fair easy long ago, and he minded," replied Rob. "And besides," he added, "if we run away we'll be no better off. Twixt being lost in yon bush with no food an' stoppin' wi' a looney, I'll choose the looney."
"Yes, I suppose you're right," admitted Fred, dubiously. "Here he comes now," he added, as shuffling footsteps were heard.
The old man now appeared, carrying two large calabashes, and these he placed on the floor before the boys. Then, rummaging in a box, he produced some battered tin spoons and cups and handed them to his visitors.
" 'Tis poor fare I be able to set before ye, sirs,” he remarked in apologetic tones as the hungry boys helped themselves liberally from the steaming calabashes; but their mouths were already too full to reply.
The stew was excellent, and as they ate, the boys chatted with their host who talked sensibly and appeared to have entirely recovered his reason.
He asked them how they had become lost, where they were camping and who they were.
Fred related their adventures of the afternoon, but the moment he mentioned the Gold Road and the object of their trip the old man became greatly excited.
"The Gold Road," he cried, "the road o' blood an' treasure. Aye, blood ever a-dripping o'er pirate gold. Ha' ye stopped i' the bush ye'd a seed sights as would leave ye stark ravin' lads. Devils' candles a burnin' i' the forest an' men an' beasts a passin' over the road. Aye, beasts an' men o’ no mortal blood. Mules o' the air an' men o' mist. Wi' bells tinklin', they pass, loaded high wi' plate an' gold. An' the men o' mist—Dons a horseback, an' muleteers, an' slaves i' chains, an' fair women weepin' an’ a wailin' wi' the clothes torn from their white skins an' bloody stripes o' lashin's 'crost their shoulders, aye lads, a rare sight, a rare sight; but 'twas Harry Morgan's way lads—a rare old sport was Harry Morgan." The old fellow burst once more into his weird cackling laugh, which sent cold shivers down the boys' backs.
And both glanced apprehensively about, for darkness had now fallen and mysterious shadows filled the little hut. Rising, the old hermit lit a flickering, old-fashioned lamp.
Somewhat relieved by even this faint and uncertain illumination the boys were anxious to hear more of the creepy, weird, ramblings of their host.
"Did you ever see any of those things?" asked Fred.
"Aye, lad," was the reply. "Old Ben's no 'fear'd o' sperrits. Many a night I've seen 'em. Dons i' armour an' silk, an' naked slaves an' leather clad muleteers, an' e'en the weepin' women, an' all that thin ye'd see the forest an' the moonshine through 'em. An' e'en the candles burnin' o'er the corpses o’ them as Harry Morgan kilt, an e'en the blood—aye, the blood a drippin', drippin', drippin', o'er the gold. But Old Ben laughs at 'em all I tell ye." (Here the speaker became wildly excited). "I tell ye 'tis mine, mine, mine. Only the devil do I fear an' I'll kill him yet, an' laugh in his face. The map's what he wants, but he'll never win it. Ol' Ben's no fool lads. The captain died—hung to his own yard arm —naught but me an' the devil's left an' the map's mine an' the treasure. Ha, ha, ha!" the old fellow's high rasping laughter rang through the hut.
"Man, but 'tis uncanny," muttered Rob. "The looney talkin' o' ghosts and corpse candles and blood and the devil. My, but 'tis pleasant conversation to go to bed on."
"I'd give a lot to know what he is talking about," whispered Fred.
But before Rob could speak again the old man recovered his senses, and seemingly forgetting his disconnected mysterious words of a moment before, he spoke to the boys in a quiet courteous tone.
"Ye be weary, lads," he added, "an’ 'tis a long walk lies afore ye on the morrow. There be hammocks for two, lads; turn in an' ye be ready—'tis my watch on deck."
Acting on his suggestion, the boys crawled into their hammocks and bade good-night to their host. But his strange behavior and wild words, and their own adventures, so filled their minds that sleep was impossible, and, through the interstices of the hammocks, they kept their eyes on old Ben, half fearing they knew not what, for they were convinced he was a madman and each realized that he might become a dangerous, murderous, unreasoning being at any instant.
But the old man remained silent and almost motionless, his eyes gazing fixedly at the floor, and apparently deep in thought. Gradually the boys' fears gave way to drowsiness, their eyes closed, and soon they were sound asleep, utterly oblivious to what was taking place about them.
Suddenly Fred awoke with a start—trembling and frightened—for in his ears, still echoed the blood-curdling sound of a human scream. It was inky dark—he could not even distinguish the outlines of Rob's hammock—and tremblingly, he reached forth his hand towards his companion, half fearful he would find the hammock empty. But as his hand touched Rob's body and the latter moved, Fred's relief was inexpressible. At his touch, Rob was awake. "What's the matter?" he exclaimed.
"Hush!" cautioned Fred. "Did you hear it, Rob? Some one screamed."
"Hoot, mon! 'twas a nightmare ye had," muttered Rob, sleepily.
"No, I'm sure I heard a scream," insisted Fred. "I wasn't dreaming."
"Wake up yon looney and ask him," was Rob's only reply as he yawned and turned over in his hammock.
But Fred hesitated to act on this suggestion, for the more he thought about it the more he realized that, after all, he might have been dreaming—the tales of the old man were enough to give any one a nightmare.
"Yes," he thought, "it must have been a dream, as Rob said, if it had been a real sound old Ben would have been aroused and even Rob would have heard it." So, having no wish to appear nervous or silly—like a child afraid of the dark—and as no other unusual sound broke the silence of the night, he closed his eyes and was soon sound asleep once more.
When the boys next awoke it was broad daylight and their first glance about the hut showed the old man absent and the door open.
"I guess he's gone out to get breakfast," suggested Fred, and both boys stepped outside and approached the little shed which served as a kitchen.
But there was no sign of the old man in the kitchen; no fire had been lit, and no preparations made for cooking breakfast.
"I wonder where he's gone," said Fred.
"Perhaps he's gone for water, or wood or something," suggested Rob.
Fred shook his head. "No," he declared. There's plenty of water and wood here. I hope he hasn't run off and left us alone. He's so crazy he might do most anything."
"Well, I'm hungry and it's up to us to get breakfast anyway," said the other. "Come on, Fred, let's get things started. The old chap'll come back before we're done eating, I guess."
So saying, Rob commenced building the fire and gave no heed to his companion, who, puzzled by the old man's absence and inexplicably uneasy, wandered about, seeking for some sign of their missing host. Presently, he noticed a narrow trail leading towards a dense thicket on a low knoll a few rods from the kitchen.
Curious to see where it led, he walked along the pathway, stepped into the thicket and the next instant uttered a shout of mingled terror and surprise, and turning, dashed down to the clearing.
"What's up?" demanded Rob, who at Fred's cry had left the fire to hurry to his friend. "You look as if you'd seen one of the old man's ghosts," he exclaimed, as he noticed the horrified expression on Fred's face.
"He's in there, dead," replied Fred in low tones.
"Dead?" repeated Rob incredulously.
"Yes," declared the other. "He's lying right beside the path. I came on him so suddenly I was frightened. It was awful."
"Dead men can't hurt any one. Perhaps he's only hurt. Come along, Fred, and we'll see," and as he spoke, Rob stepped forward into the thicket. But even the matter-of-fact Scotch lad started back with an involuntary cry of horror as he came in sight of the old man's body sprawled beside the path. No second glance was needed to assure them that no spark of life remained, for a terrible blow had split the skull from brow to crown; the long beard and hair were matted with dark blood, and upon the upturned face and glazed eyes, was an expression of awful fear and inexpressible hatred.
"I knew I wasn't dreaming last night," declared Fred with a shudder, "it was his scream I heard."
"I wonder who did it," whispered Rob. "Let's get out of this, Fred, the murderer might be waiting to kill us too."
"We can't leave him like this," replied Fred, who now had recovered from the first shock of his grewsome discovery. "We must bury him, and besides," he added, "we're just as safe here as anywhere else; if any one wanted to kill us they could have done so in the night."
"That's so," admitted his companion, "but just the same, it makes me mighty nervous to be here where murder's been done. You don't suppose 'twas some savage Indians do you?"
"Of course not," replied Fred, "there aren't any wild Indians on the Isthmus—at least hereabouts—besides, they use arrows or poisoned darts and this was done with a machete or an ax."
"Poor old chap," exclaimed Rob. "I would like to know who he was and what he was crazy about and who could want to kill him."
"And now he can't show us to the road," added Fred.
"We'll have to bring shovels from the house to bury him," said Rob. "Come on, Fred, let's get it over with as soon as we can."
Turning, the boys retraced their steps, secured shovels and a pick from the hut and returned to the knoll.
"We'd better find an open spot for the grave," Mid Fred. "We can't dig among all those trees and roots.
“There's a sort of opening," he added, glancing about "It looks as if some of the trees had been chopped down," he pointed to a place a few yards from the path where the thicket seemed thin and sunlight gleamed through the branches and leaves.
Pushing through the miniature jungle, the two boys came to a small cleared space and both uttered exclamations of surprise, for before them was a freshly-dug hole.
"Somebody's been digging here already,” exclaimed Fred. "I wonder what for."
"They saved us a lot of work at any rate,” replied Rob.
The hole proved to be very shallow and small and both boys set to work with a will, shoveling away the damp earth to form a grave for their dead host. Suddenly, Fred's shovel struck against some solid object at the bottom of the pit. "Hello!" he cried, "what's this?"
"Treasure, perhaps," laughed Rob, "maybe the old man was burying it here when he was killed.”
"Or perhaps he was digging for it," suggested Fred.
But while both boys spoke in a jesting manner and neither had any real faith in treasure, nevertheless, they worked excitedly to uncover the object under the loose soil.
A few moments shoveling, and Fred uttered a shout. "It's a chest." he cried.
"I'll bet it is treasure," declared Rob in excited tones, as the boys dropped their shovels, and kneeling in the hole, scraped the little remaining earth from the top of the wooden chest which their labors had disclosed.
It was very old, the thick oak was black and rotten and the iron bands and hinges were reduced to masses of crumbling rust. The boys were breathing hard and their hearts thumped with the thrill of expectation as the chest was laid bare. Then, grasping the box, the two strained to lift it from its bed. For a moment the heavy chest seemed immovable and then, with a splintering of rotten wood, the lid tore from its rusty fastenings and the boys sprawled backward. One quick glance within the chest, and with startled yells they clambered hastily from the hole, for grinning at them from the chest was a human skeleton.
Once out of the hole, however, the boys glanced at each other rather sheepishly.
"Aren't we the ninnies," exclaimed Fred. "We're great treasure hunters to be frightened at an old skeleton."
"Hoot mon! I'm no skeered," answered Rob. "But 'twas a wee bit startlin' to see yon bones when I expected to see treasure."
"Maybe the treasure's underneath the skeleton," suggested Fred. "You know the old pirates sometimes buried a man with their treasure to guard it."
"Well, let's go down and see, then," said Rob. "Old bones can't hurt any one."
Their first surprise and momentary fright having passed, the boys had no hesitation about descending lo examine the chest and its contents; but they could not restrain a shudder as they approached the crumbling remains of what had once been a fellow man.
Now that they examined the skeleton more closely, they noticed that shreds of clothing still clung to the bones; the feet were encased in rotted, crumbling, jack-boots; about the middle was the remains of a belt, and beside the thigh bones was a mass of rust and decayed leather which had once been a heavy mariner's cutlass, as proved by the brass hilt which was still intact, although green with verdigris.
"I wonder if he was a pirate," whispered Fred in awestruck tones, "perhaps he was one of Morgan's men."
"Weel, he'll do no more piratin'," muttered Rob, "an’ if we want to see if treasure's beneath his bones we'll have to dump him out or lift him."
"We can't dump him out without getting up the chest," objected Fred, "and I don't like to touch him."
"Man, he can't hurt you," exclaimed Rob. "Who's afraid of old bones."
As he spoke, he moved the bones aside and exposed the bare wooden bottom of the chest beneath.
"No treasure in there," he announced, "nothing under the bones but wood; but I'm not going away empty-handed." So saying, he picked up the corroded sword-hilt and shook it free from rust and dirt.
Both boys examined the relic with interest. "It's a good souvenir at all events," declared Fred, as Rob dropped the hilt into his pocket.
"Let's bury old Ben now," said Rob. "There's no use staying here and the sooner we get away the more chance we'll have of reaching camp. Besides," he added, "I'm fair famished and when the burying's done we'll get breakfast."
This seemed good common sense and both boys clambered out of the hole and soon reached the dead hermit.
"Ugh! have we got to lift him?" exclaimed Fred, with a shudder.
"Either lift him or drag him," declared Rob, "and of the two, I'd rather carry him; I don't fancy it myself, Fred my lad; but we're great scouts if we're afraid of a dead man."
"I'm not afraid," expostulated Fred, "but it makes me feel queer and creepy to think of touching him."
However, there was no other way, and overcoming their repugnance with an effort, they stooped to grasp the shoulders and feet of the corpse.
But at that instant, Fred's eyes caught sight of something in the soft earth beside the body and an ejaculation of wonder and surprise escaped his lips.
"What—what's this?" he stammered, pointing to the ground, and as Rob gazed with wondering eyes at the spot, the strange words of old Ben came vividly to both boys, for plainly visible in the earth were the imprints of a cloven foot.
For a moment the boys remained speechless and rooted to the spot, and then, with one accord, they turned and dashed madly towards the hut and the clearing.
Once in the sunlit clearing and at the house, their terror abated, but both were breathing hard and sat panting in the doorway, for they had passed through a very trying time in the past few hours, their nerves were on edge and the strange uncanny footprints were all that was needed to throw them into a panic.
"We are silly fraid-cats just to run away because some cow has been walking along the trail," laughed Fred; but his nervous glance about and his trembling tones, belied his words.
"Cow nothing," snorted Rob. "Mon, 'twas no cow made yon tracks—did ye no see, 'twas a cloven foot an' no hoof? I dinna ken what beastie made it, but cow or de'il, I'll be muckle glad to gang awa' fra' here; 'tis a cursed spot wi' looneys and murders an' skeletons an' all."
"You're superstitious," scoffed Fred. "You know there's no such thing as a devil—at least one that can make footprints—and that some wild animal's been wandering around."
"Hoot! Gang awa' Fred, an' 'twas a wild animal, an' you're no sooperstitious, as ye call it, why did you run? Answer me that, lad."
"I was frightened at first," Fred confessed, "but that was just because I was so nervous about the—the body, and the skeleton and all."
"Well, let's see you go back there then, if there's nothing to fear," challenged Rob.
Fred laughed mirthlessly, "I'm afraid I'll have to admit I am a bit superstitious and afraid," he said.
"Aye, and I'm more than a bit hungry," declared Rob. "De'il or no, we'd best be eating and making tracks for yon road."
Despite their fears, both boys realized this was the only wise course, and soon, a fire was blazing in the kitchen and from old Ben's larder the boys made a hearty meal.
Neither could sum up enough courage to go back and bury the old man, however, and having gathered a supply of food to use in case of emergency, they left the clearing and trudged off on the trail by which they had arrived.
They had not the least idea as to the direction of the road or its distance and decided to explore every trail or path and stream they found. It was a slim chance, and a plan which might require a long time ere the Gold Road was reached, but both were buoyed up with the hope that searching parties were even now looking for them and that they might hear the sound of their halloos. But luck was with the boys and a few hours after leaving the hut they came suddenly upon the old paved road.
"I wonder which way we must go now," exclaimed Fred, as undecided, they stood looking about for some familiar landmark.
Rob shook his head, "I'm all turned about," he admitted. "But we're on the Gold Road, and that's something."
Hardly had he spoken when the sound of a gunshot rang through the forest.
"Hurrah!" shouted Fred, "someone's near," and both boys dashed down the road in the direction of the report.
The Secret of the Sword Hilt
AHOY there!" cried a hearty voice as the boys dashed around a sharp turn in the road and almost bowled over Captain Jack. "Well, I'll be blowed!" he exclaimed. "Here ye be, tear in' along under full sail with all standin' and us nigh worrit to death o' ye. Been a s'archin' here, there, an' t'other place, fer ye all night. Dowse my toplights, but I'm right glad to see ye alive an' well."
Despite his bluff speech and jocular manner the old man's voice quavered and his eyes were moist as he grasped the boys' hands, for he had been terribly worried over their absence and had spent the entire night searching the woods and firing his gun at intervals. The other Scouts had begged to be allowed to scatter and search too; but the Captain would have none of this. "Some o' ye might tack back along the road a piece, but don't ye get offen your course and bring-to in the bush. Stick to the channel an' it's all plain sailin'. The rest o' ye'll just keep to your moorings here in camp an' if ye hear three shots, one after t'other, ye'll know I've found 'em an' ye can all about ship an' make port."
So, in accordance with this understanding, he had scarcely greeted Rob and Fred when he raised his gun and fired three shots in rapid succession.
"Jest to let yer shipmates know ye're found," he explained. "Though I reckon 'twas you found me, 'stead o' t'other ways about," he added with a chuckle.
"Now lads," he continued as they started down the road, "where ye been an' what happened ye?"
Rapidly the boys related their adventures to the Captain who listened attentively, only interrupting with an occasional exclamation of surprise.
But before the tale was half finished, the other boys came trooping up the road and Rob and Fred had to begin all over again. Between the effusive greetings of their comrades and a volley of questions, the boys had little chance to relate their experiences until camp was reached.
Then, while the others listened with almost breathless interest. Fred and Rob told the story from start to finish.
"Whew! but you chaps are lucky," exclaimed Ned, "that was an adventure."
"It didn't seem so much fun at the time," declared Fred.
"What do you suppose made those tracks, and who killed old Ben, and whose skeleton was it, Captain?" queried Rob.
"Wall, I dunno," replied the old skipper. "Sailor folks are superstitious ye know, but jest the same, I reckon 'twa'nt the devil as made them footprints an' kilt the old chap yonder. Mos' likely some wild critter a nosin' about, an' what with the stories o’ ghosts an' sech like, an' a findin' old Ben murdered, an' a diggin' up them bones, your minds were jest readly to think o' suttin' soopernat'ral first jump outen the box. I dunno who old Ben was, but I've heerd of him an' seed him afore now. Never knew jest where he was a-livin' though. Onc't an' a while he'd heave-to over to Colon an' lay in his cargo o' grub an' such. Been to my place more'n one't, an' seein' as he allus paid for everything in ol' Spanish onzas an' doubloons, mos' ev'ryone reckoned he'd run acrost a treasure an' had gone daffy over it. But he'd never give nothin’ away—jest jabbered a lot o' nonsense about pirates an' maps an' sperrits an' such like. Fact is, some folks allowed as he was a pirate hisself, but o' course, there ain't no sense to that. Like as not though, he was some old salt as got hold o' some yarn or map an' actooally had the fool's luck o' findin' loot. P'raps some chap follered him an' kilt him, so's to get the gold he'd hid away, or again, he may ha' had a partner as wasn't satisfied with his share. An' as for that there skeleton chap, he might ha' been a sure enough pirate or just some poor fellow what died an' was buried yonder. For all we know he might ha' been buried along o' the treasure what ol' Ben had dug from the same hole. Mebbe that there sword hilt ye found would give me some idee o' how long he'd been a lyin' there. Let's have a squint at it, lad."
Taking the sword hilt, the old sailor examined it carefully, scraping and rubbing off the verdigris and dirt with his stubby forefinger. "Umm," he muttered, " 'Tain't no new-fangled sword 't any rate. I’ve seed suthin' like it dug up 'round old forts over to Havana. It's Spanish all right an' clost to three hundred years old, I reckon."
At this instant the hilt suddenly separated, the butt slipping to one side, and revealing an opening in the brass.
"Well, I'll be scuttled!" exclaimed the old man in surprise, "what's this, never seen nothin' like it."
"Oh, there's something inside," cried Fred as he caught sight of some object within the recess of the hilt.
Filled with intense excitement, the boys pressed close and watched breathlessly as the Captain drew forth a tiny cylinder of lead.
"There's suthin' stowed in this here too," he announced as he shook the cylinder.
"Hurry up and open it and see what 'tis," cried Rob. "Maybe it's diamonds or something and the old fellow was a smuggler."
With the blade of his knife the Captain quickly cut open the lead case and disclosed a roll of yellow parchment. Carefully he smoothed it out and spread it on his knee and for an instant all gazed at it in silence, striving to decipher the quaint lettering. Suddenly Fred gave a shout, "It's a map," he yelled, "a real pirate's map. Hurrah!"
"I'll be blowed if 'tain't," exclaimed the Captain. "Durned if ye young scamps ain't run afoul o' sutthin' arter all."
There was no doubt that the bit of parchment was a map, yellow with age, but with the writing and outlines still plainly visible. But to the boys' eager eyes it conveyed no meaning, for the words were in ornate old English script and the map itself seemed merely a hodge podge of lines, crosses, figures and crudely-drawn mountains and trees.
"What does it all mean?" asked Fred. "I can't make head or tail of it."
" 'Tis sort of a Chinese puzzle," admitted the Captain, "but I reckon I can make suthin' out of it in time. 'Lor' bless ye, I've run acrost some rum maps an' charts in my day. But look a-here, this 'ere 's only part of a map, tore off right acrost the middle," he pointed to one uneven, ragged edge.
"Now," he continued, "one o' ye fetch pencil an' paper an' write down the words as I spell 'em off. Then we'll make a copy o' the map an' see if we can't make sense outen it."
Rob quickly produced note book and pencil and the Captain, running his stubby finger along the words, slowly spelled out the quaint old English while Rob jotted them down.
"There ye be," he exclaimed at last. "Now read 'em off an' see if it makes sense."
"It seems just nonsense," declared Rob, "but perhaps you can understand it. This is the way it reads:
"Ye Tesengalle lyth beyontt ye cross distante
tewe score and tenne
Ye shalle knowe ye way hither bye ye tewe gratte rockeyes
lyke untto ye bittes of a shyppe and passynge hither ye
to ye weste ye highe picos ryvenne intwaine and bearingge
to ye southe suche tyme as ye sugare Joffe be fayre atwixte
Hence ye savanne offe ye dade wherat lyth much golde
butte yette availyth natighte. No lesse thanne
mennes at arrmes wyl suffyce welle equipyt and goodelye for ye
feerce ande terryfyinge withaile. Usinge venommede dartes
annd monstrosse witchkraffye andde charmmes of ye Duille such
as no mene yette maybe ourkomme.
No manne knoeth alle ye Dons beings destroyye save he who
fearinge deth he givyth ya mappe to byee lyfe butte
availyth hymme nothinge for ye Dons he evyre trikye ande fulle
conninge and to asurre nonne ohtyre mytte profitte bye hys
knowenge of yt a trewe findinge be mayde annd he mette ye—"
"Does sound a mite crazy," remarked the Captain as Rob finished, "but ye see part o' the map's tore off—might o' made sense if ye had t'other part. The chap what wrote it hadn't had much eddication I reckon, judgin' by the way he spelled, but I guess there's some sense to it even as 'tis."
"What do you make of it then?" interrupted Fred "What's Tesengalle and all that about the fierce and terryfing men at arms and witchcraft and the savanna of the dead? It sounds as if old Ben might have written it himself."
"Wall," replied the old sailor, "near as I can make out, it's suthin' like this. Tisingal's a lost mine—richest mine in the world 'cordin to all the old yarns, up Chiriqui way somewhere an' worked by the old Spaniards. But the Injuns got tired o' bein' slaves an' kicked up a shindy an' murdered every bloomin' Don there was an' burned the town an' hid the mine. No one's ever found it since, though there's plenty looked for it, and they say as how onc't a couple o' rubber gatherers run afoul o’ the old bells o' the mission. Couldn't find their way back though. Then another chap, what was caught by the Injuns, fell in love with one o' the squaws an' she run away an' guided him up to the settlements. He brought along a chunk o' gold what he swore he'd whacked off a solid ledge o' gold with his machete, but he couldn't find the way back an' the squaw was found dead with a pizen arrer in her one day, so she couldn't show the road. Mos’ likely, some o' her folks trailed her down an' killed her so she couldn't. Now this 'ere bit o' parchment looks to me like a map o' that there Tisingal mine an' if 'twasn't tore in half ye might find what folks has been a s'archin' for pretty nigh three hundred years. Bein' torn it's not worth much as a chart to set a course by. As for all that writin', the words don't make sense cause half of 'em's gone; but ye can guess pretty nigh what they was. 'Cordin to my mind it gave the directions for follerin' the chart, proper and shipshape. Now for instance, here's the cross, but whether it's two score an' ten miles or yards or feet who's agoin' to know? Then it goes on to tell o' them rocks like ships' bitts, but the course ye set after sightin' 'em 's all missin'. Same with them cross-bearin's of the split peak and the sugar-loaf hill. Nothin' to tell ye which way to steer when ye get them bearin's. Reckon this savanna o' the dead's one o' them ol’ Injun buryin' grounds as are plenty up Chiriqui way, but what that's got to do with the map's more'n I know. Reckon the old chap spoke the truth for once when he says it 'avails nothin',' " the old man chuckled and continued. ''Next he starts in to say how many men'll be needed to get there safe, for o' course in them times there was a heap o' wild Injuns about. Using poisoned darts is no lie, but his witchcraft and deviltry's all nonsense, o' course. Some poor Spaniard must ha' managed to get clear o' the massacre an' mos' likely was picked up by some British pirate—the same old chap who wrote this, an' to save his hide, he handed over this bit o' parchment. Then, so's he wouldn't tell any one else, the Britishers just slit the poor rascal's throat or run him through."
"Then the map's no use after all," exclaimed Fred sorrowfully, "and I thought we'd really found a clue to treasure."
"Reckon 'tan't much use, far as gettin' rich goes," laughed the Captain, "but it's a heap nearer to the real thing than most treasure-hunters get an' a mighty interestin' an' valuable bit o' document for a sooveneer o' your adventures."
"I'd like to know where that other half is," mused Rob. "I don't see what the old skeleton chap kept it for, if it wasn't any use."
"Perhaps he didn't even know he had it," suggested Ned. "He might have got the sword from some one and didn't know the map was inside."
"Mebbe," agreed the Captain, "but 'cordin' to my way o' thinkin' that map was tore apart a-purpose. Mos' likely there was two chaps as knew of it an' so’s one couldn't beat t'other to the mine they divided the map—one part bein' no use without t'other—I've seen that done by sailor-men afore now,"
"But why didn't they go and find the mine?" liked Fred.
"Mos' likely they didn't have a chance," replied the Captain. "Then one of 'em got killed or died and t'other didn't know what became of his bit o' map and couldn't do nothin' without it. No, sirree, this piece o’ parchment's mighty good proof that neither one of 'em ever went after that mine."
"Well, it's too bad we couldn't get the other half," sighed Rob. "But as you say, it's a fine souvenir, I guess you'd best take charge of it Captain; it might get lost or something if we had it."
"Right ye be," agreed the old sailor as he tucked the map carefully in his huge leather wallet. "Reckon it's safe there," he added, as he replaced the wallet in his pocket.
The rest of the day was spent in camp, the boys finding plenty to occupy them in discussing the strange adventures of Rob and Fred and the old map. Even the Captain took a deep interest in the latter for throughout his life in Central America he had heard wondrous tales of the vast wealth of lost Tisingal and now, by merest chance, the only known clue to its whereabouts had been brought to light, only to prove of no value as a guide to the mine. But there were other matters which occupied his mind as well and which caused him grave concern. Who, he wondered, was the person who had struck down old Ben, and what had left those mysterious footprints beside the body? Although he had laughed at the boys' fears and had passed the matter off lightly, yet he was greatly worried, for he could not rid his mind of thoughts of the midnight prowler about the camp and could not but feel that there was a connection between that visitor and the murderer of the old hermit. If a murderer was at large who could say who might be his next victim and, even if there had been little danger before—even if old Ben had been struck down through motives of revenge or robbery—the assassin must realize that the crime had been detected and would be reported and here, in this lonely out-of-the-way corner of the Isthmus, his safest course would be to kill them all.
Moreover, Captain Jack, like most sailors, was very superstitious and while he would not acknowledge any real belief in the supernatural origin of the cloven-foot marks, yet he well knew that no wild animal in the Central American forest could have left tracks of the kind described by the boys. The more he thought on these things the more he became convinced that the party should leave camp without delay and return to civilization, but for a long time he hesitated to broach the subject to the boys.
Then a remark of Rob's paved the way for him. "I reckon we might just as well up anchor and get under way homeward-bound," he remarked. "Ye've had a right smart bit o' adventure, supplies won't last much longer, an' it looks to me as if the rains was a comin' on pretty quick. Besides, I'd be that nervous over some o' ye gettin' lost again that I'd be all done up an' I'm a gettin' too old to be limpin' about on this timber leg a s'archn' for ye. 'Course I don't want to spile yer fun, but ye've had yer whack at campin' an' travelin' the Gold Road and s'archin' ruins an' ye got a pretty good cargo o' relics an' such junk. Then there's the map. Like as not, when ye get to Colon, ye may be able to make suthin' more outen it—what with all the old books an' papers and things ye can read there. Ye'll find it mighty interestin' readin' about Tisingal an' a heap more real, now ye've got a genooine pirate map o' the place."
The boys had started a howl of protest as the Captain commenced to speak, but when he had ended they had quite changed their minds.
"Cap'n Jack's right," declared Fred. "We've had a bully time and we've done all we expected and more too. I'm just wild to get home and tell all the other fellows."
"And read about Tisingal and show every one we've really found things," added Rob. "Man! but won't the others be sorry they didn't join the Scouts and come along."
"We can crow over them, all right," cried Ned. "Remember how they laughed and called us silly to go hunting for old ruins and things. Won't they feel sick when we show them all we found and tell about the skeleton and old Ben and all."
So, every one being satisfied, it was decided to break camp the next morning and head for Porto Bello.
Captain Jack determined to keep watch that night and to sleep with one eye open, but he had been under a great strain during the boys' absence and had lost a full night's rest, and despite his vague fears and nervousness, his efforts to remain awake were in vain and he was soon snoring loudly.
Nothing disturbed the Scout's slumbers and it was bright daylight when they awoke. Rob was the first to scramble out of his hammock and, as he stepped from the camp and walked towards the fire, he stopped short, looking intently at the ground. "Captain, boys!" he shouted. "Come here, quick."
In an instant, he was surrounded by his companions, all gazing as if fascinated at the soft earth, where, plainly visible, unmistakable, were the imprints of a cloven foot!
The Captain was the first to speak. "Easy, easy, lads," he exclaimed. "Don't ye go an' get all het up over nothin'. There aint a mite o' sense in bein' skeert o' cow tracks."
Fred looked steadily at the old sailor for a moment, and under the boy's gaze, the Captain shifted uneasily and chewed viciously at the stem of his short pipe.
"You don't believe a word of what you're saying," declared Fred, "any one can see those are not cow tracks. Cows have four feet and whatever made these tracks had only one hoof. Look here, where no one has walked, it's plain enough."
"Mon, 'twas the De'ii himself!" exclaimed Rob, "There's no ither beastie as has one hoof an' one foot."
The boys drew close together and glanced apprehensively about as they stared at the spot, for the tracks were deep and clear and every one could see that the maker possessed one cloven and one human foot.
And at Rob's words the full significance of the tracks dawned upon them and the boys' faces blanched with terror of the unknown, with the primitive, unreasoning, nameless fear of the supernatural, and, with one accord, they dashed headlong to the shelter of their camp.
Then the Captain found his voice, "Ye be right lad," he exclaimed. "I'd be looney as old Ben to think mortal cow left them tracks. Scuttle me, if I know what made 'em, but it's up anchor an' get out o' here to my thinkin'."
Never had camp been broken more rapidly and willingly, for even the old sailor was terrorized by the satanic footprints and the boys' hands shook as they hastily packed their belongings, folded the tarpaulin, and without waiting to cook breakfast, started down the road as fast as they could travel.
Not until the camp had been left several miles behind did they halt to kindle a fire and prepare a meal and it was then that Rob made another discovery. As they sat about, waiting for their food to cook, he felt in his pocket for the old sword hilt and gave a cry of surprise. "Why, why, the hilt's gone!" he exclaimed, half incredulously, as he fumbled rapidly through his pockets. "It was here last night when I hung up my coat and now it's gone. Some one's taken it."
The Captain gave a low whistle. "Well, I'll be blowed!" he cried. "Mebbe I'm offen my course, but that there bit o' ol’ brass was what brought that—that—thing—a sneaking into camp, an' ye arsk me. Lor' only knows what he wanted it for or how he knowed ye had it, but there's one thing sartin', if I'm right then them tracks was made by flesh an' blood, 'cause sperrits don't go a cartin' ol’ junk about—leastwise I never heerd o' sech goin's on, an' moreover, if that's what he was arter, an' he look it, then he won't be a troublin' of us no more. Reckon there warn't no mite o' danger anyways. If he'd a wanted to hurt any on us he'd a done it afore—had plenty o' chances with us all a snorin' like grampuses. Blow me, if I don't b'lieve some chap jest fixed up his foot to make them there tracks to skeer us an' I'm sech a puddin'-headed ol' swab as to swaller hook, line an' sinker."
Such an explanation of the mystery seemed reasonable and the boys were wonderfully relieved at the suggestion and eagerly grasped at the Captain's theory.
"We are a lot of fools, not to think of that before," agreed Fred. "Just as likely as not some one saw us in that pit and thought we'd found treasure and waited till we went to sleep and then carried off the sword hilt thinking it was gold. And just so we'd be too scared to follow him, he made tracks like Old Nick himself."
"I'll bet he'd been playing that same game on old Ben," declared Rob. "Remember, how he talked about the devil, and he scared us away from that hole so's he could see what was in there. His game worked all right, but I'm mighty sorry to lose that hilt. I'll bet he killed old Ben, though."
"You ought to be thankful you gave the map to the Captain and didn't leave it in the hilt," said Ned. "You've still got the best of the souvenir."
At these words the Captain clapped his hand to his pocket, but the wallet was still safe with the map within it.
Greatly relieved at this simple explanation of the mysterious tracks, but still nervous at the thought of a murderer at large in the forest, the scouts resumed their way towards Porto Bello and had covered many miles before approaching darkness compelled them to camp.
A careful watch was maintained all night, for the Captain had no intention of allowing any prowlers to come near without his knowledge, and with darkness the boys' fears increased so that few of them slept that night. But nothing disturbed the camp, no one approached and by the next afternoon the party reached Porto Bello.
Luck was with them, for a schooner was in the harbor and about to sail for Colon, where the party landed in the best of spirits after a short and uneventful sail up the coast.
Over and over again the boys related the story of their trip to their young friends who were filled with envy, and openly admitted their chagrin and disappointment in not having accompanied the Scouts.
Even the grown-ups listened with intense interest to the boys' story and examined the various souvenirs and relics, and complimented both boys and old Cap'n Jack on the success of the expedition.
"I knew of that eccentric old Ben," said Dr. Johnson. "He was a famous character on the Isthmus for years—seemed a harmless, half-witted old sailor who had somehow obtained a supply of old Spanish coins. I can't imagine who could have killed him, the natives look upon such weak-minded people as directly under the protection of God, they wouldn't harm him for all the wealth of the Isthmus. However, the Panamanian police should try to apprehend the murderer—its their affair—outside the zone. I'll tell Colonel Rojas about it."
“Weird sort of disguise for an assassin to take—leaving footprints like the Old Boy," remarked Prof. Abbott. "I expect Ben's crazy talk put the idea in his head. Wonder who he is anyway."
"Hello! back again I see," cried Captain Stelling as he ran briskly up the steps. "How's treasure hunting, boys? Been spinning the yarn of your adventures, eh?"
So, for perhaps the hundredth time, the boys repeated their story for the Captain's benefit.
"I'll wager I know who your devil-footed friend is," he declared when the boys' story was ended. "When I was up the Chagres last year the blacks were pretty nearly crazy and scared half to death by Obeah. You know they're all French West Indians in that section and a mighty superstitious crowd. We couldn't reason with them or coax or frighten sense into their woolly heads—said the Obeah man must be obeyed and swore there'd be all sorts of charms and spells put on them if they didn't do as he said. Took a lot of time and lots of trouble to locate the old fakir, but found him at last in a little shanty out in the bush. Proved to be a mulatto chap and ugly as sin, but the strangest thing about him—and that's where he got all his pull with the niggers—were his feet. One foot was all right but the other was deformed and double—regular cloven-foot effect. We gave him six hours to get out of the zone and made a bully bonfire of all his dead and dried snakes and bones and other junk while the niggers stood around with eyes popping out of their heads expecting to see us swallowed up or wiped out of existence for desecrating old devil-foot's charms. But when nothing happened the old chap's stock dropped about a thousand below par and the whole gang swung square around and started after Mr. Obeah Man to pay him proper for being a fake. But he hadn't waited—went while the going was good, and I'll bet a month's pay he's the same old rascal that killed old Ben and stole Rob's sword hilt."
Everyone agreed that this was undoubtedly the case and the conversation turned to Rob's map.
"There's no doubt it's genuine and very old," declared Prof. Abbott, "and I think Cap'n Jack was right in his conjecture as to the intentional mutilation of the document. The drawing is so crude and the information so meager and fragmentary that it is worthless as a guide, without the missing portion. It's a most interesting relic, however, and should be carefully preserved. I would suggest that you make an accurate copy Rob and deposit the original in the library for safe keeping."
"I'll do that," declared Rob, "and I'm going to read all I can find about Tisingal."
"You'll find it as interesting as any tale of adventure," said Captain Stelling, "and you'll learn a lot about the early history of the Isthmus. Great old times they used to have hereabouts. Some day that old mine's going to be found and the lucky chap that spots it will be a multi-millionaire, if all the old Dons said about it are half true."
"Well, I've half found it, anyway," laughed Rob as the boys rose to leave.
In Costa Rica
SEVERAL weeks had passed since the boys' return from Porto Bello, and their adventures had been almost forgotten in the excitement of preparing for another journey, for Mr. Wilson was to take a trip to look over his interests in Costa Rica and Fred and Rob were to accompany him.
The two boys had read all they could find in regard to the land they were to visit; Mr. Wilson had told them of the marvelous scenery, the wealth of wild life and the wonderful resources of the republic, and a fellow passenger on the steamer which bore them towards Port Limon proved a veritable mine of information.
Mr. Grayson was an explorer and scientist engaged in studying the prehistoric ruins of Central America and the two boys were fascinated by his tales of the wonderful monuments, the beautiful carvings and the vast cities left by the once great, but long-forgotten, race which occupied the land untold centuries before the advent of Europeans. But of all things his descriptions of the ancient graves proved most interesting to the boys and when Mr. Grayson showed them some of the golden images and bells taken from the tombs, the two boys vowed they would not be satisfied until they had found and opened some of the graves.
Mr. Grayson was also deeply interested in the boys' stories of their adventures and particularly in the finding of the map, which he assured them, was the only clue to the lost mine which had ever been found.
"You'll find a great deal about Tisingal in the excellent library at San Jose," he said. "It's a fascinating story of lost treasure, but its my belief that if Tisingal is ever found it will be by accident.”
"Do you suppose it's really as rich as they said?” asked Fred.
"It's hard to tell," replied Mr. Grayson. "What was considered vast wealth in the old days would seem comparatively little today, but I expect Tsingal was really a wonderful mine. It is supposed to have been the source from which the Indians secured all their gold, as the greatest number of gold images are found in the graves in Chiriqui and that neighborhood. Some idea of the amount that was buried may be obtained when I tell you that, several years ago, two men took over half a million dollars' worth of gold from graves they opened, and they only opened a very small proportion of the graves in one small district."
"Whew!" exclaimed Fred. "I should think some one would open them all."
"There are strict laws against disturbing the graves or any other monuments or ruins without permission of the government," replied the explorer. “Moreover, the living Indians are very superstitious about such things and resent any one meddling with the graves. They might make it very unpleasant in the more remote districts,"
"Are there any real wild Indians in Costa Rica?" asked Rob.
"Plenty of them," declared Mr. Grayson, "but I doubt if there are any savage or hostile tribes. The natives tell stories of unknown Indians who kill all strangers who enter their territory; but I've traveled over most of the republic and have never met one of them. Still, there is a great deal of Central America unexplored and unknown and it is not impossible, or even improbable, that there may be such Indians. Of course, if they kill off all visitors, no one can return with first-hand information. But for that matter there are plenty of wild Indians in Panama."
"Why, I thought all the Panamanian Indians were civilized," exclaimed Rob. "We saw some San Blas Indians in Colon and they all wore clothes and talked English and acted just like the other natives. Fred and I talked to some of them and they said they'd been sailors on American schooners and had been to Boston and New York. They weren't a bit interesting."
Mr. Grayson laughed. "Your San Blas Indians are pretty well civilized," he agreed, "but if you went to their country down the coast you'd find they still retained many primitive customs, and, until quite recently, they had very strong objections to allowing any strangers to dwell in their district. But there are many Indians in Panama besides those of the San Blas coast. In Veraguas and Chiriquí there are Indians who file their teeth to points and live very primitive lives and of whom little is known, but the really 'wild' Indians are found in the southern part of the republic in Darien. There are two tribes there, the Chokois and the Kunas. The Chokois are very primitive and wear no clothes, but they are a peaceful, good-natured, happy tribe and visit the settlements and trade with outsiders freely. The Kunas are very distinct and while some of them are on good terms with the Panamanians and are called 'mansos' or tame, the greater part of the tribe are 'bravos' or wild and will not permit any civilized man to enter their district."
"Do they really kill people?" asked Fred.
"Undoubtedly," replied the scientist, "I have visited some of their outlying villages and found them a very intelligent race and in some ways more civilized than the Chokois and the 'tame' Kunas, but they have made up their minds to keep their tribe pure and to retain their country to themselves."
"Why didn't they kill you?" inquired Rob.
"In the first place," said Mr. Grayson, "I underhand Indian ways and have the knack of winning their confidence through long association with them, but as a matter of fact I don't believe the Kunas ever kill any one who enters their country for the first time or accidentally. But the trespasser is warned to get out and not to return and if he disobeys he takes the consequences. On one occasion a party of rubber gatherers about 100 strong, attempted to penetrate the 'forbidden district' thinking their numbers would prove a safeguard, but every morning a few would be struck down by poisoned arrows and only a dozen of the party finally reached the settlements, and yet they never saw an Indian. Just before my visit two men attempted to re-enter the Kuna country after having been warned out and a few days later their four thumbs were sent down to the settlements as souvenirs."
"Goodness, that's news to me," cried Fred. "I wish we'd known of those people, we might have gone down to Darien and seen some really wild Indians."
"Aye, an' be shot with poisoned arrows," added Rob. "I'd rather bide wi' the Chokois than yon Kunas."
"Well, I hope we have some adventures in Costa Rica," declared Fred. "Could we get permission to open some graves?"
"Probably not," replied Mr. Grayson. "But I'll tell you what we'll do. I'm planning to excavate a large cemetery near Terraba and which has never been disturbed. I understand Mr. Wilson is to visit Ysleta which is not far from there and if he'll trust you boys in my hands for a week or ten days I'll take you along and let you help me open the graves."
"Hurrah! that will be bully," cried the boys in chorus and both hurried off to secure Mr. Wilson's consent to the plan.
Mr. Wilson had no objections to offer and all details were soon arranged.
Early in the afternoon Port Limon was sighted with its lighthouse on its palm-fringed islet, and as the steamer drew slowly in towards shore the boys looked with interest on the big docks, the busy railway yards with their puffing locomotives and long strings of banana cars and the low buildings of the little town.
They were soon ashore and spent the remaining hours of daylight wandering about the town and its pretty park, but they found Port Limon held little of interest, being merely a port on a low and narrow spit of land and quite tawdry and modern. Indeed, the most interesting sight to the boys was the clever machines by which the bunches of bananas were carried from the docks and into the hold of the waiting ship.
The sun had not yet risen above the blue Caribbean the next morning when, after a hasty cup of coffee, the party boarded the train which was to carry them over the mountains to San Jose, the Capital of the republic.
For a few miles after leaving Port Limon, the way led through a dark swampy jungle, but the vegetation was marvelously luxuriant, gorgeous butterflies and brilliant birds flitted among the trees, and several times the boys caught fleeting glimpses of monkeys leaping from branch to branch. Then the swamps gave way to rolling prairie land, covered with broad-leaved banana trees, stretching for miles and miles as far as eye could see, while, at every siding, were strings of box cars being loaded with thousands of bunches of the green fruit.
"I never thought there were so many bananas in the world," said Fred. "Where on earth do they all go?"
"To the United States, mainly," replied Mr. Wilson. "Costa Rica is one of the largest banana producing countries in the world, but wherever the Fruit Company has holdings—in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua or even in Jamaica—you will see the same thing. Few realize the enormous numbers of bananas which are consumed each year. Over sixteen million bananas are brought into the United States weekly, and the mystery is where they go, for we seldom see more than one or two bunches here and there in the stores."
Soon the banana portreros were left behind; patches of forest alternated with well-tilled fields and clearings; great herds of cattle were seen grazing in rich pastures and the train roared across a bridge spanning a broad river, and drew up at a tiny station nestling at the foot of forest-covered hills.
Here breakfast was served in the dining car and the train commenced its long upward climb of the mountains. Every moment the boys found something to delight and interest them. Far below the track flowed the foam-flecked, tumbling river; troops of monkeys leaped and chattered among the trees on the farther bank; macaws, parrots, toucans and other strange birds winged their way across the stream; herons and egrets flapped from their feeding grounds as the puffing, snorting train toiled up the steep grades, and once or twice the boys caught glimpses of sleek dainty deer drinking at the river's brink.
But while the wild life was abundant, the scenery magnificent and the wealth of foliage marvelous, yet the boys were most impressed by the wonderful feats of engineering which were revealed at every turn. For mile after mile, the track wound around towering precipices, clinging to a narrow niche cut in the solid rock and the boys, looking from the windows, gazed down a sheer thousand feet to the rushing, foaming torrent far below, or, peering up on the other side, found the sky blotted from view by the overhanging mountain side. Round and round, in great horseshoe curves and hairpin turns the way led, and often twisting so sharply on itself that the locomotive was directly above the last car. Sometimes too, the train roared into tunnels of Stygian blackness, to rush forth into the sunshine on the opposite side of some stupendous mountain, or again, it crept slowly over cobweb-like bridges of such immense height that the forests in the valley beneath seemed mere patches of soft green moss and the rushing mountain torrents were transformed to silver threads.
Steadily, tirelessly; for hour after hour, the train, climbed up the mountains, which rose in tier after tier on every hand and were covered everywhere with the interminable forests of every imaginable, shade of green.
Several times the boys noticed great steam dredges standing on sidings and when, at Juan Viñas, the train stopped for water and the passengers alighted to stretch their legs and secure refreshments, Fred noticed another of the uncouth looking machines and inquired what they were for.
"To dig away landslides," replied Mr. Wilson. "Slips are of almost daily occurrence on this road and formerly trains were often stalled and the passengers held prisoners for hours, or even days, by slides blocking the tracks. To prevent this, the company now maintains steam dredges at all the most troublesome spots."
"I'd like to see a landslide," declared Rob. "It must be quite an experience to be marooned on a railway train."
"You may have that experience yet," laughed Mr. Grayson. "It's now the beginning of the rainy season when slides are most likely to occur and we've a long distance to travel yet."
"Do they ever kill any one?" asked Fred.
"Strangely enough, fatal accidents are extremely rare on this road," replied his father. "A few trains have been derailed and there have been one or two collisions, but I don't recollect hearing of any passenger being seriously injured or killed."
About half an hour after leaving Juan Viñas, the train swung around a sharp bend, and with a grinding of brakes and a series of bumps and jolts, came to a sudden stop.
"What's the matter?" cried Rob, as every one rose and hurried to the doors of the car.
"That slide you were wishing for, I expect," replied Mr. Wilson.
Hurrying forward, the party came in sight of the track ahead and a single glance sufficed to show the reason for the halt.
For a hundred feet or more, the rails rose up in billowy curves at a steep angle and stretching crazily across the huge mound of soft mud, from which projected broken limbs, great boulders and uprooted trees, while on the mountain slope above, a great bare gully of sand and rock marked the track of the slide.
"Whew!" exclaimed Fred. "That's some slide. Why it looks as if half the mountain had slipped down. How will they ever fix it so we can get through?"
"You'll see presently," replied his father. "This is where the dredges came in handy. Look, they're telegraphing for one now." He pointed to a man who was climbing rapidly up a telegraph pole. Reaching the wires he quickly connected the instrument slung over his shoulder and in a moment was ticking off a message for help.
"I thought slides covered up the tracks," remarked Rob, "this one has left them all bare and has just boosted them right up in the air."
"That's a peculiar feature of many of the slips, here," replied Mr. Grayson. "They do the same thing over in the Canal. You must have seen the way landslides force islands up through the water at Culebra Cut."
"Yes, we've seen those," admitted Rob, "but somehow seeing a track lifted up, and with the mud and trees and everything shoved underneath, seems much stranger."
"Did you ever see a slide as bad as this on the road before?" asked Fred.
The two men laughed. "Why, this is nothing," declared Mr. Wilson. "I remember on one occasion we ran up to a slide below here and after some hours delay managed to shovel it away by hand and get through—that was before the days of dredges you see. Then, a few miles farther on, we came to one of these burrowing slides, and finding it impossible to go on, and that several days would be required to repair the tracks, we started back to Juan Viñas. Imagine our feelings when we found the first slide had come down again carrying away rails and all and completely barring our way. There we were, shut in between two impassable slides without food, sleeping accommodations or means of sending a message, for both poles and wires were down. To make matters worse the rain commenced to fall in torrents. Finally, two of the passengers—Americans they were—managed to dig and force a way through the slide, and tapping a wire, sent a call to Cartago asking for a special train to come down to the slide. The idea was that while waiting for the train we could dig some sort of a path over the slide so the women could reach the further side. We had just finished this when we heard the whistle of the relief train, but when half an hour passed with no sign of it we realized something had gone wrong. Then, just as we were beginning to despair, a hand-car came trundling into sight and we learned that a third slide had prevented the train from coming within a couple of miles. So we piled the women and baggage onto the handcar and pushed it up the track. That doesn't sound difficult, but when I tell you that we had to cross Juan Viñas trestle on the wet and slippery ties and in a crashing thunder storm you may imagine what we were up against. I'm not nervous, but I don't mind admitting that my heart was literally in my mouth and that I felt actually faint as we jumped from tie to tie, and at every step, I expected to go hurtling through space to the rocks two hundred feet beneath. We managed to reach the train safely, however; but I'd spend a week on a foodless train rather than take that trip again. It wouldn't have been so bad if we'd found food and a comfortable train waiting for us, but instead, we found the "special" train consisted of a flat car and a locomotive. For six fearful hours we were huddled on that dirty, rattling, old flat-car without food or shelter until we reached Cartago at one o'clock the next morning."
"Thanks to the dredges, they do better nowadays," remarked Mr. Grayson. "Listen! there comes the dredge now."
As he spoke, the boys caught the sound of an approaching locomotive, there was a shrill whistle, and around a jutting cliff came the ponderous, sinister-looking dredge.
Without a moment's delay it commenced work; a crowd of laborers swarmed from it like a bevy of black and brown ants and fell on the tracks, ripping them up and casting them aside, while behind them, the great steel arm rose and fell majestically, irresistibly; its enormous hand-like bucket grasping tree trunks, boulders and tons of mud, and seemingly without effort, tossing them over the precipice. It was fascinating to see the rapidity and ease with which the powerful machine gnawed its way into the mound while sweating men hurriedly threw down ties and spiked rails into place over which the ponderous, roaring thing moved forward with the calm, undeviating assurance of some stupendous monster.
In a marvelously short space of time the last vestige of the slide had been removed, the last lengths of track had been laid, the dredge retreated to its lair beyond the mountain spur, and the passengers climbed aboard the train and resumed their interrupted journey.
A few miles further on, they passed the dredge, standing inert and silent on its siding, and a moment later, commenced a seemingly endless climb up a terrific grade towards the very summits of the cloud-capped mountains.
"Is San Jose right up in the sky?" asked Fred, as he craned his neck in an effort to see where the track led.
"Pretty near it," laughed his father, "it's nearly 1 mile above the sea and we have to climb right over the mountain crest and slide down the other side. We are almost at the summit of the divide now."
A few minutes later the locomotive screeched out a triumphant whistle, the train swung around a bend, and with a defiant roar, swept swiftly down grade. The boys exclaimed with delight at the lovely sight which lay before them, for no longer were there endless forests, grim precipices and tumultuous rivers. Instead, they looked down upon vast, rich valleys, red-roofed villages and dark green coffee groves, while, far in the distance, swept the great mountain ranges, their rugged outlines softened with luminous purple haze above which rose the massive symmetrical cones of huge volcanoes, rapidly the train slipped down; through gardens of surpassing beauty, past country villas embowered in palms and wonderful verdure, between endless rows of fragrant-flowered coffee trees and fruit orchards and with clanging bell crawled through the outlying villages and into the station at Cartago.
Off for New Adventures
AS the train stopped but a short time at Cartago the boys had no opportunity to see the town, but they were not at all impressed by its appearance as seen from the car windows. The houses and buildings seemed poor and unattractive and many ruined walls and buildings were visible. These, Mr. Wilson explained, were due to a severe earthquake and landslide which had practically destroyed the town a few years previously and he added that Cartago was particularly subject to such calamities, and had been destroyed with great loss of life on several occasions.
"No doubt it's owing to its proximity to Irazu," said Mr. Grayson. "It's an active volcano, look, that lofty, conical mountain yonder—but earthquakes are very common throughout the country, even San Jose has suffered severely and heavy quakes are an everyday matter."
"Isn't the volcano likely to have an eruption, if it's active?" asked Fred.
"All active volcanoes—and dead ones for that matter—are liable to break forth at any time," replied Mr. Grayson. And within the past year Irazu has thrown out immense quantities of ashes and dust, but people become accustomed to living near volcanoes and even after disastrous eruptions rebuild their homes in the same places."
"I'd love to see a volcano in eruption," declared Rob, “Can persons go up to Irazu's crater?"
“Quite easily," Mr. Grayson assured him. ''But the crater itself is by no means as interesting as the view from the summit. On a clear day one may look from there upon both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I believe its the only spot in the world where that is possible."
"Perhaps we'll be able to arrange an excursion to the summit," said Mr. Wilson, "I'd like you boys to see as many of the wonders of this country as you can."
The train had now left Cartago and was rushing through a beautiful verdant country with cultivated fields, coffee groves and orange orchards on all sides, and with numerous villages and settlements of picturesque, adobe buildings with red-tiled roofs. Here and there, the boys saw huge, lumbering bull carts toiling along the roads and at every crossing were the country people in their national costumes; the women in gorgeous rebosas, snowy camisas and gay skirts; the men in short jackets, flaring trousers and sandals and looking quite brigandish with their scarlet sashes supporting long sword-like machetes,
Soon, houses became more frequent, the train slowed down, and with clanging bell rumbled through the outskirts of San Jose and into the station at the capital.
As, seated in a motor car, the party were whirled through the streets to the hotel, the boys expressed their surprise at the size and modernity of the city. The smooth, wide, straight streets and avenues; the streams of automobiles, carriages, trolley cars and horsemen; the thick-walled, mansion-like houses with glimpses of magnificent patios through ornate gateways; the splendid public buildings; the numerous large, well-stocked stores; the massive churches and the lovely parks, were all a revelation, for although the boys had read much about Costa Rica they had thought of San Jose as a sleepy, little capital of a miniature republic and nothing had prepared them for the busy, up-to-date city which they found.
Particularly were they impressed with the cleanliness of everything, for the streets seemed scrubbed and polished, and indeed, Mr. Wilson assured them that the streets actually were scrubbed and washed each morning and that to throw rubbish, or anything else, in the streets or gutters was a serious offense.
During their stay in San Jose the boys found much to interest them. There was the great theater, which Mr. Wilson told them was one of the finest in the world; the beautiful old churches with their priceless paintings; the huge market with its motley throng of country folk who came from far and near in their house-like bull carts with wheels hewn from sections of tree trunks; the president's palace; the military barracks with its denim-clad soldiers and gorgeous officers; the parks where the band played of afternoons and "all the world and his wife," promenaded around and around dressed in their best, while the "young bloods" of illustrious old Castilian families pranced about on splendid Arabian steeds caparisoned in saddles and bridles heavy with silver; and last, but in the boys' eyes most fascinating of all, the museum with its huge collections of birds, animals and ancient Indian relics.
Here they saw quantities of the beautifully-wrought golden bells, the quaint old images and the elaborate golden ornaments which Mr. Grayson had described. And the collections were made doubly interesting by Mr. Grayson who told the boys wonderful tales of prehistoric people and their ruined cities and related his experiences in far-off corners of the earth, until both boys were convinced that there could be nothing more interesting than to excavate ancient cities, and, from the ruins, build up the histories of long-dead races.
Many excursions were also made to nearby places. They visited Alajuela and its vast coffee groves; they traveled on horseback to enormous estates whose owners lived like veritable feudal lords, and they clambered up mighty Irazu and gazed forth from its summit across endless mountains and deep valleys to the glittering surfaces of the two oceans.
It was while climbing Irazu that the boys saw their first live Quetzals—the sacred bird of the Aztecs—and for an hour or more they watched the glorious scarlet, green and golden creatures in the primæval oak forests of the mountain side.
"Wouldn't it be fine to have a tame Quetzal," exclaimed Rob, as one of the dazzling birds flashed, like a green comet, through the still air to catch a passing butterfly.
"They'll not live in confinement," replied Mr. Grayson. "They are insect and fruit eaters and thrive only in these heavy forests. They nest in holes in trees."
"I don't see how they can go in and out of holes without spoiling their long tails," remarked Fred.
"The female Quetzal has rather a short tail," replied the scientist, "but the males also sit on the eggs and they manage to do this without injuring the tail by the simple expedient of making a hole straight through the tree. Then they don't have to turn around inside and the tail projects from the hole while the bird is sitting."
The boys thought this a most ingenious and interesting habit and, as they resumed their tramp, they peered sharply at the great trees in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a Quetzal on its nest.
But much as the boys found to interest them and occupy their time in and about the capital, they were impatient to get away from civilization and into the interior where they could hunt some of the strange animals they had seen in the museum and could delve with Mr. Grayson among the tombs of the prehistoric Indians.
At last, Mr. Grayson announced that he was ready to leave and suggested that the boys should accompany him without waiting for Mr. Wilson.
Fred's father willingly gave his consent to this and, in high spirits, the boys watched the suburbs of San Jose speed past the windows of the train which bore them westward towards the Pacific.
But they had traveled less than half way to the western ocean when the train drew up at a tiny way station and the party disembarked and found mules and men awaiting them.
Soon all the baggage was lashed to the pack animals; the three travelers mounted their saddle mules, and accompanied by a couple of swarthy muleteers and a grinning Mestizo boy, the cavalcade cantered briskly off.
"I'll bet this is just the way the old Dons used to ride over the Gold Road," declared Fred. "Remember how old Ben described the jingling bells and the shouts of the muleteers?"
"Yes, and our muleteers look wild enough to be real pirates in disguise," laughed Rob.
Mr. Grayson smiled. "Methods of life and travel have changed but little here in 300 years," he said. "I don't doubt the muleteers of Morgan's time were much like those of today. By the way, did you know this was a 'Gold Road,’ too?"
"Why no," exclaimed Fred in surprise, "I thought there was only one Gold Road."
"There's only one which has been made famous by Morgan's raid on Panama and the history of the Isthmus," replied Mr. Grayson, "but in all the Spanish colonies there were well-built highways leading from the seaports to the mines, or from ocean to ocean, and over which all the vast wealth of the Dons was transported. This road was known as the Camino Real (King's Highway) and many of the ancient Spanish bridges, built in the days of Cortez and De Soto, are still standing and as strong as ever, we'll cross one of them very soon."
"It's just like those on the Gold Road," was the boys' comment as they clattered over the quaint arched bridge with its little sentry towers.
Time passed rapidly, for the boys found something to interest them at every turn. The brilliant birds and butterflies; the strange and luxurious verdure, and the wonderful vistas of mountain and valley, of forest and river, delighted them, for it was all very different from anything they had seen in Panama. Moreover, the air was cool and dry and there was no hint of the humid, oppressive heat of the Isthmus, for they were traveling over the high table lands of the Codilleras where a temperate climate prevailed and northern fruit and vegetables are grown to perfection.
Many long miles had been covered, when, late in the afternoon, the party halted at a wayside inn or "fonda" and the boys were delighted when they saw it, for it was the exact counterpart of the ruined fonda they had explored on the Gold Road. But Instead of being tumble-down and deserted this "Fonda de Gaballeros Bravos" (Inn of the brave horsemen), was in excellent repair and teeming with life and business. The paved patio was crowded with a motley gesticulating, chattering throng of muleteers, cartmen and farmers; horses and mules stamped and jingled their bells at the hitching rails; great, lazy, long-horned bulls placidly chewed their cuds beside their cumbersome carts; women in brilliant-hued costumes were frying tortillas on hot irons over charcoal braziers and everywhere was noise, color and animation, for the inn was at the junction of two great highways leading from the distant corners of the republic to the capital.
"It's just as if we'd stepped back three hundred years," exclaimed Fred, as pushing their way through the throng, they entered the inn. Once inside the walls, all resemblance to the ancient fonda of the Gold Road vanished, however. Instead of swaggering Dons in velvet and lace, quiet, prosperous-looking, well-bred planters in khaki and riding leggins sat at the tables discussing the latest war news and the coffee market. Cheap American glasses took the place of pewter tankards; brass candlesticks had given way to Rochester lamps, and the walls were decorated with posters advertising patent medicines and liquors. Across one end of the room, were several luxurious hammocks and, conspicuously tacked to the wall nearby, was a notice in Spanish, which translated, was as follows:
"Gentlemen will refrain from sleeping in the hammocks without first removing their spurs."
"That's the funniest thing I've seen here yet," laughed Rob, as tired with their long ride, the boys flung themselves into the hammocks.
The Boys Make a Strange Friend
A FEW miles beyond the fonda, the road commenced to descend, winding down the mountain side in great sinuous curves, doubling on itself, zigzagging in and out and rapidly bringing the travelers from the lofty highlands to the level lowlands. Looking down upon it from the heights, the country below appeared to be a vast, gray green carpet, level as a table and cut by innumerable silver threads of rivers; but when the last ridge was left behind, the boys found the country undulating and hilly, broken by deep gullies or ravines and with broad prairies alternating with patches of dense forest growth.
Everything seemed dry and parched in comparison with the cool greenery of the mountain heights and the wind was hot, dry and filled with dust Only in the gullies, through which flowed the streams, was there moisture and to these the cattle had thronged by hundreds from the parched prairie lands and had roiled and muddied the water until it was unfit to drink. But many had been unable to reach their goal and had fallen by the roadside where their bones lay whitening in the sun, while great flocks of repulsive black vultures stood about, gorged to repletion on the unfortunate cattle.
"It's like crossing a desert," remarked Fred. "I never thought a place could be so hot and dusty and dry, and all the dead cattle and skeletons, they make me think of the descriptions of the caravan routes on the Sahara."
"It's not always so hot and dry here," replied Mr. Grayson. "This is a period of drought, but as soon as the rains commence the country will spring into life and beauty. The grass will be lush and green and higher than our horses' backs, the cattle will be sleek and fat, wonderful flowers will cover the prairies with a carpet of gorgeous color and the place will teem with bird, animal and insect life."
"Well, I wish some rains would come now," declared Rob, "I'm fair dyin' o' thirst an' broiled with the heat."
"We’ll soon be past this arid stretch," Mr. Grayson assured him. "That dark line on the horizon ahead is the forest belt and marks the valley of the Rio Dulce—we'll have plenty of good water and cool shelter there, with charming country beyond."
Somewhat cheered by this, the boys managed to control their thirst and to endure the blistering heat and stinging dust without further complaint, and an hour later, entered the cool, green forest and dismounted at the brink of a broad rippling river.
Here camp was made, all agreeing they had suffered enough discomforts to entitle them to a long rest, and every one enjoyed a refreshing bath in the stream.
For many hours after leaving camp the next morning the way led through the forest, until early in the afternoon, they emerged from the shelter of the giant trees to see broad green savannas stretching away—flat as a board, to the hazy, distant mountains.
Unlike the hilly prairies they had left, the savannas were fresh and cool; the river flowed in great, lazy, serpentine curves through the center and dark wooded "islands" and clumps of graceful palms rose above the waving grass upon which knots of sleek cattle grazed contentedly. But the boys saw little of this, for their whole attention was instantly centered upon a flock of great pink birds which rose from the shallow stream at the travelers' approach. They were Roseate Spoonbills and both boys uttered cries of admiration as the magnificent creatures circled and alighted a few hundred yards away looking like a giant rose-colored cloud against the greenery.
"Aren't they magnificent!" exclaimed Fred.
"There must be thousands of them," declared Rob.
Mr. Grayson laughed, "Not quite that," he said, "several hundred I should think; but you'll soon become accustomed to such sights. Look yonder, near the cattle, and you'll see a flock of flamingos. Those enormous white birds—as high as the cattle—are Jabirus or South American storks and the smaller dots of white are egrets. The country teems with birds and animals and game is abundant. I expect we can dine on roast duck tonight as Muscovies are all about. We'll go into camp early and you boys can have a little hunt for a change."
Accordingly, camp was made in a little copse of palm trees and the boys, accompanied by Jose the Mestizo, wandered off towards a little creek. Ducks were very plentiful and the great black and white Muscovies were so ridiculously tame and unsuspicious that the boys declared it was like shooting barn-yard fowl. Enough for their needs were secured in a few minutes, and sending the birds to camp by Jose, the boys seated themselves in a secluded spot and devoted an hour or more to watching the wildfowl that fairly swarmed in the vicinity.
There were ducks of a dozen kinds—brown and black tree ducks, teal, Muscovy and many the boys did not recognize; a score of species of herons, ranging from the tiny green herons to the great blue-gray Cocoi and snow white egrets; spoonbills and ibis and an occasional flamingo, besides a host of smaller birds—purple gallinules and gray coots, shy rails and long-legged stilts, dainty sandpipers and plover, while everywhere, the brown and yellow jacanas or "spur-wings" ran nimbly back and forth across the lily pads and supported by their grotesquely long toes.
"It's just like a huge aviary," declared Fred, as, at last, the boys rose and started towards camp.
For the next two days the travelers rode through this beautiful savanna country with its abundant life and the boys repeatedly expressed their surprise that it was not inhabited.
"I should think people would live here," said Fred, "but we haven't seen a single house—except those cattle herders' shacks, and we haven't met over half a dozen people on the road."
"There is no reason for any one dwelling here," replied Mr. Grayson. "The savannas are flooded in the rainy season and they swarm with mosquitos at that time. There are no crops which will do well here and the district is only useful as grazing grounds. In other parts of the world, people might reclaim such land and cultivate it, but not here in a country where there is such an abundance of better land nearer towns and railways."
"Well, I'm glad they don't live here," declared Rob. "If the place was settled there wouldn't be any game."
Gradually, the savannas merged into low hills; the grass gave way to brush and patches of forest, and by mid afternoon on the second day, the party rode slowly up a long ridge under the shade of giant trees. As they reached the summit, Mr. Grayson halted and pointed to a lovely valley spread before them and encircled by forest-covered hills.
"There's the end of our journey," he said, as the boys drew rein beside him. "See those white specks and lines yonder? Those are the ancient graven and walls."
"My, but there are lots of them," exclaimed Fred.
"Several hundred in this one valley," declared Mr. Grayson, "but I don't expect to open them all."
Cantering rapidly down the slope along a narrow path the party soon reached the valley, and while the men made camp, the boys wandered about, examining the graves and the strange relics of a long-dead race.
It was too late to commence work that evening and the boys could scarcely restrain their impatience and were up and ready for work at daybreak the next morning.
"We might as well commence with the nearest graves," remarked Mr. Grayson, as breakfast over, the men gathered up picks and shovels and waited for orders.
Close at hand, were numerous mounds of stones which marked graves, and having photographed and measured the nearest, Mr. Grayson ordered the men to begin. The boys, enthusiastic and anxious to see what was hidden beneath the stones, fell to work also and in a short time the great stone slabs, which covered the tomb, were exposed. These were five or six feet in length and a foot or more in width and very heavy, and the united efforts of every one were required to move them from their resting places. At last, with a mighty heave, one of the stones was tossed aside, exposing a rectangular chamber about a yard in depth and neatly walled with cobble stones. It was dark, damp and musty, I nit the boys knelt at its edge and peered intently within.
"Hurrah!" shouted Fred. "There's a lot of pots and things and some bones; but I don't see any gold."
Mr. Grayson smiled, "we'll find those in every real grave," he said, "but you cannot see the gold, even if it's there; it will be covered up with dust or concealed in the vessels. Besides, there's not one grave in a dozen that contains any gold. We must move these other stones before we can examine the grave carefully."
As soon as the remaining slabs were lifted off, Mr. Grayson photographed the interior of the grave and then stepped carefully within it, cautioning the boys to use every care not to disturb or break the bones or pottery. The skeleton was first placed in a basket and removed and then each of the beautifully decorated pots and vessels was lifted and examined for anything it might contain.
"Isn't it just wonderful to think that these things have been here for thousands of years," exclaimed Fred. "And these pots don't look as if they'd been here a year, the paint's just as fresh and bright as new."
"And to think the old chap's been resting here all those years," added Rob. "Why, man, he didn't even know America'd been discovered!"
But as pot after pot was found empty, or contained only the remains of seeds or grain, the boys began to lose interest.
"Let's open another grave," suggested Rob. "I guess this old fellow was too poor to have any gold."
"Not a bit of it," cried Fred, "just look here." He had thrust his hand into a wide mouthed jar and had drawn forth a grotesque image of solid gold.
"There are more inside," he declared, as Rob and Mr. Grayson examined the find. As he spoke he lifted the vessel and turning it upside down dumped out a dozen or more gleaming golden objects which fell tinkling on the stones.
There were images, bells, bracelets and last of all a sun-shaped disk of beaten gold.
"Whew!" cried Rob, "If every one of these graves has that much gold there must be a fortune here. I'll take back all I said about the old chap—he must have been a regular millionaire."
"Don't expect to find such treasures in every grave," laughed Mr. Grayson. "This is a remarkable find, that one pot contained more gold than I've ever before seen in a single grave. Fred, you must be a mascot."
But no trace of gold was found in other graves that day and, as grave after grave was opened, and the days passed without finding more than an occasional golden bell or image, the boys' enthusiasm waned and they found greater interest in hunting in the surrounding forest.
Game was plentiful and deer, monkeys, peccaries and curassows formed a large part of their diet, while both boys were filled with pride because of two fine jaguars they had killed.
On their first few trips they had been accompanied by Jose, but as they became more familiar with the district and the forest they left the Mestizo with Mr. Grayson and wandered off by themselves, and each day going further from the camp in the valley.
Thus it happened that on one morning they had tramped for several hours without finding game and, coming to the banks of a small stream, Fred suggested they should cross over into the forest where they had never been.
"All the game's been scared away around here," he declared. "If we're going to shoot anything today we've got to go into new country."
Rob, with his native Scotch caution suggested that they might lose their way, but Fred laughed at the idea and pointed out that by cutting blazes on the trees they could always find their way back.
So, crossing the stream and taking careful note of the landmarks, the two boys entered the strange forest and blazed the trees as they proceeded. For some time they tramped on, stopping repeatedly to listen for sounds of game, but while tracks were numerous, birds and animals were scarce. They had almost given up and were speaking of turning about, when, with one accord, both halted and stood silent and motionless looking at each other with questioning, half-frightened faces, for both had heard a low moaning groan as of some being in anguish.
"What was it?" whispered Fred.
"I don't know," admitted Rob, "but it's something suffering pain and needing help maybe. Let's call out."
Acting on this suggestion both boys shouted together and almost instantly a weak answering cry came from a dense growth of trees a short distance ahead.
Forgetting their fears the boys hurried forward and entered the thicket, and a moment later, were bending over a man pinned under a fallen tree.
That he was an Indian was evident, but he was quite different from any Indians the boys had ever seen. He was naked, save for a loin cloth of woven cotton, his long hair was confined by a narrow band of plaited bark and his yellowish brown skin was covered with strange blue tattooing.
But the boys gave little heed to such details at the time, for the man was suffering and helpless and gazed at the boys with the mute appealing expression of a suffering dog. Fred spoke to him in Spanish, but the Indian made no reply, and throwing down their guns, the boys strove manfully to lift the log from across the man's legs. Their united strength was insufficient, however, so, cutting stout poles for levers, the two pried and lifted the log and placed blocks beneath it. By the time this was accomplished the Indian had fainted and Fred and Rob dragged his inert form from beneath the fallen tree. Their training under Doctor Abbott and their scout knowledge of first aid was now of the greatest value, for while no bones were broken, still the flesh was swollen, bruised and torn. Before the boys had finished bathing and cleansing the wounds, the Indian had regained consciousness and watched the two with the greatest interest and curiosity as they skilfully bandaged and bound up the injured limbs with antiseptics and salves from their pocket-emergency kits. Then, when the boys had done, the Indian spoke for the first time, muttering a few words of thanks in broken Spanish.
Fred plied him with questions; asking who he was, where he lived and how he happened to meet with the accident, to all of which the man replied by shaking his head and repeating, "No entiendo," (I don't understand), until at last, Fred gave up in despair.
Then, to the boys' amazement, the man rose quickly to his feet, hobbled and limped towards the fallen tree, and reaching down, picked up a powerful bow and several arrows which had escaped the boys' notice.
"I wonder if he's going off," exclaimed Fred. "I shouldn't think he could walk a dozen yards. He is a queer chap. I'll bet he understood Spanish all right, too."
"Look what he's doing," cried Rob. "See, he's stringing his bow. You don't suppose he'll attack us do you?"
"Nonsense. Even a savage would not be so ungrateful," replied Fred. "Besides," he added, "he knows we have guns and he isn't a wild Indian anyway."
But while he spoke bravely and confidently, there was a note of doubt in his will and both boys were relieved when the Indian unstrung his bow and limped back to where the two were standing. Removing the string of teeth and beads about his neck he drew off two of the ornaments and handed one to each boy. Pointing to the bits of stone and then to himself he smiled, and with expressive gestures, spoke in a mixture of Spanish and his own dialect.
"What's he saying?" asked Rob.
"I don't understand all he says," replied Fred, "but I can make sense out of it. I think he's trying to tell us that he's a chief or something of the sort and that these things he's given us will make his people treat us as friends—sort of primitive passports I expect."
"They don't look like much," declared Rob, as he examined the bit of green stone in his hand, "Hello!" he exclaimed, "they're covered with carvings on one side and I do believe—yes—they're intended to represent some animal. Look, Fred, they're really little stone images."
"You're right," agreed Fred, as he examined his own stone. "I didn't notice it before, I thought they were just rough beads."
"And they're alike as two peas," added Rob, as the two compared the little ornaments.
Their interest aroused, the boys' attention was concentrated on the curious stones for a few minutes and when they looked up again their faces assumed an expression of blank amazement and the words of thanks on their lips changed to involuntary exclamations of surprise. The Indian had vanished!
For a bit, the boys were utterly dumbfounded. "He must be hiding," declared Fred. "I'll bet he’s having a lot of fun over our surprise."
"I don't see how he could have moved without our seeing or hearing him," cried Rob, "and with his bad legs, too. Why, we didn't take our eyes off him for more than a second and he was standing within a yard of us. It's the most mysterious thing I ever knew."
But, impossible as it seemed, there could be no question that the Indian had disappeared and a careful search failed to reveal any sign of him, or even of his footprints.
"Well, he's gone at all events," admitted Fred, at last. "If he's hiding, it's because he doesn't want to be found and there's no use hunting. It's time we started back anyway."
As the two boys slowly retraced their way by means of the marks they had made, their thoughts and conversation were all of the Indian and his strange disappearance and of the green stone images Indeed the boys repeatedly drew the stones from their pockets and examined them to be sure they too had not faded away for, as Fred said, "If it wasn’t for the stones the whole thing would be unbelievable."
Mr. Grayson was intensely interested in the boys story and he examined the stones with the most minute care.
"They are totally distinct from anything I've ever seen," he announced. "The carving represents the snake-headed god which is so commonly found on many of the prehistoric ruins, especially at Copan in Honduras, while the inscriptions are picturegraphs or hieroglyphs similar to those of Copan and which have never been deciphered. The stone is jade and probably came originally from Asia, as it is not known to occur in America. I expect your Indian friend found the stones in some ruin and looked upon them as charms or fetishes. He may know of some undiscovered ruins. Did you notice if he had any more of these on his necklace?"
But neither of the boys could answer this question for they had given little heed to the ornaments worn by the Indian.
"I'd like to talk to that Indian," declared Mr. Grayson. "I believe I'll try to follow this trail; no doubt he went directly back to his camp or village."
His decision made, Mr. Grayson lost no time in acting upon it, and leaving the accumulated specimens, and most of the outfit, in charge of the natives, he at once started into the forest accompanied by the two boys.
There was no difficulty in following the boys' blazed trail to the spot where the Indian had been found, but they searched for a long time in vain for signs of the Indian's track. In fact, they were about to give up in despair when Rob discovered a footprint on a moss-covered log. Slowly and with the greatest difficulty the trail was followed, for the Indian had evidently tried to hide his tracks and had picked his way over fallen trees and across roots and carefully avoiding stepping on any soft earth or muddy spots.
Then, when half a mile or more had been covered, the tracks joined a well-marked path and the party hurried forward. Like all Indian trails, the path way wound and twisted about in a most erratic manner, crossing streams, encircling hills, zigzagging back and forth, and frequently doubling on itself, until the boys and their companion lost all sense of direction. But they gave little heed to this, confident that they could retrace their steps along the trail.
Several miles had been traveled and no sign of Indians heard or seen when, on mounting a low hill, they came suddenly upon a small clearing in the center of which was an Indian house.
It was little more than a thatched shed and in its shelter a woman was busily at work over a fire, while in a hammock, a man was reclining. At sight of the strangers, the woman uttered a startled cry and, like a flash, dove into the nearby bushes, while the man sprang from his hammock and seized a bow and arrows. But the next instant he dropped his weapons, called a few words to the concealed woman and limped towards the boys with a grin of recognition; he was the Indian the boys had rescued.
At first he was reticent and merely muttered broken Spanish, but when Mr. Grayson spoke to him in his own dialect, his face brightened and he spoke freely. The woman too, now that she realized the visitors were friends, returned to the camp and resumed her cooking, while the boys and Mr. Grayson made themselves comfortable in hammocks hung for them by their Indian host.
Much to Mr. Grayson's satisfaction, his first hasty glance had assured him that there was still another of the carved jade images on the Indian's necklace. But the scientist knew the Indian character far too well to mention the object of his visit at once, and not until presents had been given and food and drink accepted by the visitors did he broach the matter of the jades.
Much to his surprise, the Indian showed no hesitation about speaking of the ornaments, although he refused to part with the one he wore, or even to remove it for Mr. Grayson to examine. According to his story, he had obtained the jades from another tribe who dwelt in the depths of the forest further south. These Indians, he averred, were hostile to all outsiders, but owing to a service he had rendered them he had been permitted to leave their territory and had been given the three green stones. These, he declared, were charms which would protect their owners from all harm, and, in proof of this, he referred to the timely arrival of the boys when he had been pinned under the log, for with Indian superstition, he attributed this to the supernatural power of the jade talismans.
But when Mr. Grayson expressed his wish to visit the strange denizens of the unexplored forest the Indian insisted it was not to be thought of. Never, he said, had a white man reached their country and lived to return and no Indians would dare to enter the hostiles' district knowingly. They were savage, he explained, and used poisons and witchcraft and dwelt in a stone village surrounded by great mountains and deep rivers and protected by spirits. Much of his tale was evidently superstition, but there could be no doubt that some unknown tribe did exist to the south and the more he told of these people the more Mr. Grayson wished to visit them.
But no offer, no promise, would induce the Indian to guide him to them. Indeed, he insisted he did not know the way, and that when he had come away he had been led blindfolded and carried in a canoe for many miles and could not return, even if he was willing to do so.
Mr. Grayson, suspecting this was but an excuse, asked him how he had reached the hostile tribe in the first place. To this, he replied that he had come upon a party in the forest and had been taken a prisoner to their town by hidden ways; that they had planned to sacrifice him on a "stone table," but that his life had been spared because he had saved the chief's daughter from death by a snake bite, for which he possessed an antidote, and that the chief in person had given him the charms and had ordered him set free.
"It's a mighty interesting tale," Mr. Grayson remarked to the boys. "Of course, it may not be true, and no doubt there's a lot of nonsense in it; these Indians love to elaborate and exaggerate; but in the main it's much the same as other stories I've heard of these unknown people, and the fact that he has the stones is evidence in favor of his story. But it's no use trying to wheedle him into acting as a guide; he's too superstitious, or else there really is danger, and perhaps it's all for the best after all. I wouldn't dare to take any risks with you boys and I don't like to leave you to go back to civilization alone."
"Well, in that case I'm glad you can't go," declared Fred. "We'd feel mighty disappointed if you went without us."
As there was nothing to be gained and no additional information could be obtained, Mr. Grayson announced that they would spend the night with the Indians and return to the camp the next morning, and the boys, tired out with their day's tramping through the forest, were glad indeed to tumble into their hammocks after a hearty meal.
A Surprising Discovery
FRED was the first to awake the following morning, and as he glanced drowsily about the hut, he could scarce believe his eyes, for there were but three hammocks swinging from the rafters and the Indian and his wife were nowhere to be seen.
But Mr. Grayson showed little surprise at the mysterious disappearance of the Indians. "They are shy people," he said, "and I have frequently known them to slip off in this way. Moreover, this is merely a temporary hunting camp and not a place of residence. Very likely they had planned to leave before now and were only delayed by the man's accident. They usually leave before daybreak and would not dream of disturbing us in order to say good-by. It doesn't make the least difference any way—as long your Indian friend had given us all the information he could and had refused to guide us to the other tribe."
Breakfast over, the three prepared to return to their camp in the valley, but as they reached the encircling forest they hesitated.
"I don't see any path," exclaimed Fred in puzzled tones.
Rob looked about and searched the nearby bush with his gaze. "I'm sure it was just here that we came into the clearing," he declared.
"I think it was more to the right," said Fred.
Mr. Grayson had turned and was sighting back towards the hut. "I'm positive it was not here," he announced. "As we came in sight of the camp we could see the woman cooking. From this spot she would be hidden by the tree yonder. It must lave been further to the right, as Fred says."
Skirting the edge of the woods, the three searched carefully for the trail, frequently glancing towards the hut to take their bearings and in a short time Fred found a path leading into the forest.
"We did get turned around," he exclaimed. "I should have said the path was on the opposite side of the clearing."
"That shows how easy it is for a person to go astray in a strange place," said Mr. Grayson. "We were so interested in finding the Indians that we neglected to note our surroundings."
"Well, we can't have any more trouble," remarked Rob confidently. "All we've to do now is to follow the trail."
For some time they walked rapidly along the well marked pathway and then Fred, who was in advance, halted. "The trail forks here," he announced, "Do we go to right or left?"
Mr. Grayson pondered a moment. "To the right, I believe," he said and added, "but we'd best look for footprints, I didn't notice the fork when we came in."
But it was a difficult matter to distinguish any footmarks in the dead leaves and it was some time before they found some scarcely visible imprints on the left-hand trail.
"That's further proof of how easy it is to make a mistake in the bush," remarked Mr. Grayson as once more the party continued on their way.
They had traveled for a mile or two along the winding path when they came to the banks of a small stream. The trail led directly to the water's edge, but no sign of it could be seen on the opposite shore.
"Probably it crosses diagonally," suggested Mr. Grayson. "If we walk a few yards up and down stream we'll pick it up, I expect."
"I wonder how we came over it without any trouble," remarked Fred. "As I remember it, we followed the trail easily enough yesterday."
"I don't remember this ford either," said Rob, "but we crossed so many streams it's hard to keep them in mind."
"Probably the trail we've just left is more easily seen from the other side than the one we're looking for," said Mr. Grayson. "Ah!" he exclaimed. "Here it is."
Sure enough, a plain well-defined path led into the forest a few yards from where they stood and in a few moments the stream had been left behind. For fully an hour they tramped on and then Mr. Grayson, who was leading, stopped beside a vine-grown, upright stone. "Boys," he said, "I'm positive we're on the wrong trail. We cut away a good deal of brush and lianas as we came over the path yesterday and we haven't seen a sign of a cut twig today. Moreover, the character of the country is different. Ever since we left that stream we've been steadily ascending, whereas, we should have been crossing low ridges and gradually descending. But here's something that proves we're astray; this stone is a carved Stella and I can swear we didn't pass that yesterday."
Fred sat down and fanned himself with his hat. "Then we'll have to go all the way back and take the other fork," he said in dejected tones.
"And have all this long tramp for nothing," complained Rob.
"There's no other way," replied Mr. Grayson. "We'll have a little rest," he added, "and meantime, I'll examine this Stella and then we'll go back and try the other trail. I'm awfully sorry, boys, for I should have taken better note of the trail; but I didn't dream we'd have the least difficulty."
"Oh, it wasn't your fault," declared Fred, "We're Scouts you know, and we ought to keep track of such things, but I'm beginning to realize we've an awful lot to learn yet."
"It's the second time we've been lost," muttered Rob. "We must be regular chumps."
"We're scarcely lost yet," said Mr. Grayson. "We can always find our way back by the path, and personally, I'm glad we did go wrong, for this stella is most interesting." As he spoke he was busy clearing away the vines and brush about the stone and soon disclosed the grotesque carvings which covered the monolith on all sides. The boys at once became interested and plied their friend with questions as to the meaning of the figures, how the stone came in the forest and why it had been placed there.
"No one knows who erected these monuments, or why," replied the scientist, "and no one has yet been able to decipher the carved hieroglyphs, but they are found throughout various portions of Central America and are usually attributed to the same race whose graves we opened. Look, boys; here's the snake-headed god which appears on your stones." He pointed to one of the figures graven on the stone pillar and which the boys at once recognized.
While the boys examined the stone Mr. Grayson busied himself making sketches and measurements, and having completed this, he suggested that they should retrace their way to the fork in the trail.
But in clearing the brush and vines from the stella the trail had accidentally been obliterated and it was some little time before the refuse was removed and the pathway found.
An hour later, Mr. Grayson stopped abruptly and uttered a sharp exclamation of surprise. A few yards ahead a carved gray stone stood upright among a litter of freshly cut foliage. They had come back to the stella!
For a moment all were silent, too surprised and confused to speak.
"I guess we are lost now," ejaculated Fred at last.
"And all this hard walk for nothing," lamented Rob.
"I can't imagine how this happened," said Mr. Grayson in a puzzled tone, "We didn't leave the trail or follow a branch and yet here we are back again when we should be at the stream. There must be two paths leading from this place and we took the wrong one."
A short search proved this was the case, and having found the other path, the three again turned away from the ancient monument. At last Mr. Grayson halted once more. "There's no use in going further," he announced. "This is not the trail we followed from the stream. Somehow or other we've taken the wrong track again."
"I knew we were lost," declared Fred, resignedly
"There must be a regular maze of trails," continued Mr. Grayson, "and unwittingly we've turned off somewhere."
"Well, what's to be done now?" queried Fred. "We can't go on tramping about in the forest forever."
"And I'm nigh starved already," declared Rob.
"I think the first thing to do is to eat," replied Mr. Grayson, "Then we'll have to use all our skill and experience trying to work our way out of out dilemma, regardless of trails."
This seemed good advice, and as they ate, the three discussed the situation and offered suggestions.
"It's too bad we didn't bring our compasses along," said Rob. "But I never expected we'd need them; we haven't been carrying them for a long time."
"They wouldn't be much use now," said Fred, "that is," he added, "unless we'd watched them and had noted the directions we traveled."
"Well, we could travel a straight line with them anyway," replied Rob, "and if we go straight we must come out somewhere."
"And starve to death in the meantime," scoffed Fred. "We've just enough food for this meal."
"We've our guns, haven't we?" maintained Rob. "What's the reason we can't eat game?"
"The compasses would undoubtedly prove useful," said Mr. Grayson, "but it would be, hopeless to attempt tramping through the forest in a straight line. We would be compelled to cut our way and might come to mountains or streams which we could not cross. No, the only solution is to follow the trails,—selecting these which appear to be the newest and most frequented,—until we reach an Indian camp or meet an Indian. These are all Indian trails and where there are trails there are men and camps; we are certain to find a camp or village in a few hours, provided we follow one path and do not become sidetracked. We won't starve,—don't worry on that score,—for we can kill monkeys and birds even if we see no large game. Remember the greatest peril when one is lost is in becoming frightened and losing one's head. Now, boys, let's keep our eyes open and go carefully and see if we can't work out of this. Just pretend we're real scouts trailing Indians and turn our predicament into a game."
Thus cheering and encouraging the boys, and making light of their plight, although inwardly greatly worried, Mr. Grayson led the way, examining the narrow trail with minute care, carefully watching for diverging paths and ever keeping a lookout for possible game. That they would not suffer from hunger was soon apparent for Rob shot a fine curassow, and toucans, macaws and various other birds were abundant, while game tracks were frequently seen.
For some time they tramped steadily onward and then the sound of running water reached their ears and a few rods further on they came forth from the forest to the banks of a rapidly flowing stream with a charming cataract close at hand.
"This helps us," announced Mr. Grayson as the three halted and threw themselves down to rest in the shade. "If we find the trail too long we can always follow this stream, it's certain to lead us to one of the larger rivers and the settlements. Now what do you say to a good meal before we start on?"
"That suits me," declared Rob, adding, "I'd rather carry this curassow in my stomach than on my shoulders."
In a short time a fire was built and the bird was broiling over the coals. As they waited for the curassow to cook, Fred suggested a bath in the stream, and followed by Rob, started for a tranquil pool bordered by a sandy beach at the foot of the falls.
Suddenly he stopped, uttered a cry of surprise and stood staring fixedly at the sand before him.
"What do you see?" cried Rob, hurrying up; but before Fred could reply Rob also halted and stared with unbelieving eyes at the sand.
"What on earth is the trouble with you boys?" exclaimed Mr. Grayson as he hurried towards the two. "You look as if you'd seen a ghost."
"Don't—don't you see it?" cried Fred in troubled, half-frightened tones and pointing to the firm, smooth sand before him.
"Hello! Tracks, eh," exclaimed Mr. Grayson. "Well, there must be people about; but you needn't be so startled. You act like Robinson Crusoe when he found the footprints on his island."
And then, ere the boys could speak, the import of the tracks dawned upon him and he uttered a low whistle of amazement.
Mingled with the human footprints were the marks of a cloven foot!
FOR a space they stood speechless, staring with unbelieving eyes at the unmistakable footprints; too utterly astounded to utter a word and scarcely crediting their senses. But while filled with wonder and amazement at their discovery, yet the boys felt none of that nameless dread and terror which the track of the cloven foot had caused when they first saw it beside the body of Old Ben. "It's the de'il's track again," exclaimed Rob at last.
"You mean the Obeah man's," corrected Fred in a low voice, "but what do you suppose he's doing way over here?"
Mr. Grayson shook his head. "Perhaps these tracks were left by the same man who made those you told me about," he said, "but it's not impossible that there may be others with a similar deformed foot, perhaps an Indian. It doesn't seem possible that a semi-cripple could have wandered all the way from the Gold Road to this out-of-the-way spot. At any rate, it proves there's a trail leading somewhere and that a village or camp must lie within walking distance."
"I'm not too keen on finding this chap's camp," declared Fred. "He's a murderer you know."
"We don't know if he is the murderer of your hermit friend," Mr. Grayson reminded him, "and," he added, "if he is, he has no reason to injure us. Besides, we're armed and are three to one. Anyway, the chances are we'll find Indians; if your friend of the Gold Road is about he's not likely to be roaming the bush where nobody lives. On the whole, however, I don't believe these tracks were made by that chap."
"Well," said Rob. "if 'tis yon de'il of the Gold Road he must ha' walked here,—bad foot an' all, an’ I'm minded we can walk out where he's walked in."
"Right you are," exclaimed the scientist with a laugh. "Come, boys, we’ll eat lunch and then search for the trail of the cloven foot."
While the boys would not acknowledge they were afraid, yet, as they ate, they could not avoid casting furtive glances at the silent, mysterious forest nor restrain a nervous start whenever a falling fruit or twig pattered to earth from the tree tops, and both boys kept their guns loaded and within easy reach.
But nothing disturbed them, no unusual sound was heard, and lunch over, a very short search revealed the trail leading into the bush from the opposite side of the stream.
All through the afternoon they trudged along the pathway, which was well marked and evidently often traveled, and camping time found the three still upon the trail with no sign of Indian huts or villages visible.
Between the roots of a giant tree they constructed a rude shelter and satisfied their appetites on roasted sloth. To the boys, tired out with their all day tramp, a bed of palm leaves on the earth seemed luxury, and scarcely had they finished their meal, ere all three were sleeping soundly.
Undisturbed they slumbered and the sun was high in the heavens when Rob awoke, although the forest was still in semi-darkness. Yawning and stretching himself Rob rose from his rude bed and glanced about, hoping to see some creature which would provide a breakfast, for all about, the patter of falling seeds and bits of fruit spoke of the presence of live things feeding in the tree tops, while, from every side, issued the cries, calls and songs of innumerable birds and animals. To Rob, many of these were familiar; the hoarse, barking yelps of toucans; the screams of parrots and macaws; the chattering of monkeys and the tapping of giant woodpeckers, while from afar, came the booming roar of a troop of howling monkeys. Then, from a short distance to the right, issued the clattering cry of a curassow, and grasping his gun, Rob stepped cautiously along the trail, his gaze fixed on the upper branches of the trees and scanning each limb and mass of leaves for a glimpse of the big turkey-like birds.
Before he had traveled fifty yards, he glimpsed them, feeding in a tree top, and instantly the roar of his gun echoed like thunder through the forest. At the report, two of the curassows came crashing to the earth, and elated at his success, Rob rushed forward.
The first bird was quite dead, and picking it up, the boy hurried after the second, which, badly wounded, had managed to flutter into a small open space surrounded by dense brush and vines. Forcing his way through this barrier Rob stooped to grasp the wounded bird. The next instant he had forgotten all about the curassow and stood with open mouth staring at the muddy earth, for there, plain and unmistakable were the marks of the cloven foot! Then the enquiring shouts of his comrades broke the spell, and hastily securing his game, Rob hurried from the spot and regained the camp.
And as he rejoined his companions his own discovery was forgotten, for everywhere about the camp were the same weird footprints and Fred, in excited tones, announced that his gun and cartridges were missing and that Mr. Grayson's notebook had been rummaged and its contents strewn upon the ground. There was but one explanation possible: the cloven-footed man had visited the camp while they slept! And as realization of this was forced upon them the boys shivered and their scalps tingled, for the thought of lying asleep and helpless while the mysterious, unknown being stood over them and ransacked their belongings was enough to shake the stoutest nerves.
"I don't think there's anything missing, aside from Fred's gun and cartridges," said Mr. Grayson, as he rearranged his scattered belongings.
"Well, that's bad enough," declared Fred. "If we don't get out of here soon we'll starve to death. How many shells have you, Rob?"
"Twenty-two," replied Rob, counting the cartridges in his pockets.
"And now he's armed he can attack us at any time," continued Fred. "We were fools not to have kept watch last night."
"If he'd wanted to harm us he could easily have done so while we slept," said Mr. Grayson. "I don't think we need fear him. He probably wanted your gun to secure game; but I can't understand why he went through my papers,—unless he's lost and was searching for a map. We should have kept a watch as you say, Fred; but it's no use regretting it now. We must trust to getting to civilization or an Indian settlement before our ammunition gives out. Thanks to Rob we've enough food for to-day at any rate."
"Ugh! It makes me goosefleshy to think that chap's about," exclaimed Rob. "For all we know, he may be watching us from some hiding place now."
"More likely he's put as much space between us and himself as possible," replied the scientist, "now he has the gun and knows we've nothing else of value to him he'll not linger about here."
But despite Mr. Grayson's reassuring words, the boys could not overcome the feeling that the mysterious being with the cloven foot was watching their every movement, and they ate their breakfast of broiled curassow hurriedly and with nerves atingle, and all three felt relieved when they once more set forth on their journey.
For hour after hour they plodded on, and while at first the boys continually glanced apprehensively behind, as if expecting to see their midnight visitor on their trail, yet, as mile after mile was covered and no signs of the cloven footprint were seen, their nervousness wore off and their only thoughts were of what might lie ahead.
About noonday they reached a little glade beside a stream and here they halted for a rest and lunch.
"It's a long, long way to Tipperary," laughed Fred as he threw himself down in the shade. "I wonder if we'll ever come to—" But his sentence was never finished; the words froze on his lips and with wondering, staring eyes and dropping jaw he sat gazing, speechless, at the forest.
Rob and Mr. Grayson glanced towards him enquiringly and instantly their faces, too, assumed the same expression of incredulous amazement and fear. At the edge of the glade stood two naked Indians, each with bent bow and poised arrow!
Involuntarily Rob reached towards his gun, but as he turned, a low cry escaped from his lips and his hand dropped to his side. Behind him were three more savages. They were surrounded and completely at the mercy of the Indians.
The attitudes of the savages left no doubt as to their hostility and each second the boys expected to hear the twang of a bowstring and to feel the deadly arrow piercing their flesh, and for what seemed hours, they remained motionless, silent, waiting for the end.
Then at last Mr. Grayson spoke. "Perhaps they don’t intend to harm us," he whispered. "Very likely they're as much afraid of us as we are of them. I doubt if they've ever seen a white man before."
Then, slowly raising his right hand with palm outward in the world-wide peace sign, he spoke to the Indians in the Talamanca dialect.
No reply was made, no indication given that his words were understood, but the tense bows were slightly relaxed and without a sound the savages stepped from the shadow of the forest and advanced towards the boys and their companion.
And now that the Indians were in the full light, the boys' fear partly gave place to wonder and Mr. Grayson uttered an ejaculation of amazement, for the silent, ominous figures were utterly unlike anything he had ever seen. Tall, herculean in build, clad only in loin cloths, with naked bodies painted with black, white and scarlet, and with crowns of gaudy feathers on their heads they were strikingly savage and awe inspiring; but it was not this which had called forth Mr. Grayson's exclamation. Their skins, where free from paint, were a light olive; their hair, which fell in long plaits over each shoulder, was golden red and their eyes were blue! All this the three noted at a glance and then, ere they fully realized what had happened, their arms were seized from behind, they were thrown violently to the ground and in a moment had been bound and wrapped in turn after turn of tough, rope-like vines.
Dazed and helpless they lay there while over them towered the five savages who regarded their victims with about as much concern as if they had been three trussed pigs.
Fred was the first to regain his breath sufficiently to speak, "Well, we've found Indians," he remarked tersely.
"An' a muckle welcome they gi'e us," rejoined Rob bitterly. "I ha' me suspeecions they'll be spittin' us o'er yon fire an' deevourin' us to show appreciation o' the honor o' our veesit the nonce."
"They are a bit rough," admitted Mr. Grayson with a wry smile, "but I don't think they're really cannibals. I suspect they're members of the tribe your Indian friend mentioned. They're unlike any people I've ever seen and I don't believe they are Indians. I'd gladly stand a lot more than we have for the sake of seeing them."
"They may be interesting for you," muttered Fred, "but for my part I'd be more interested in seeing them clear out or cut these ropes. Do you suppose they're going to kill us? Remember what that chap said about killing people on a 'stone table.' "
But before Mr. Grayson could reply the savages reached down, and grasping their prisoners by the shoulders, jerked them to their feet. As they did so, a small object dropped from Fred's pocket, and, with a swift motion, an Indian stooped and seized it and the next instant gave a sharp cry of mingled terror and surprise. And then a strange thing happened for, with a few quick words to his fellows, the savage flung himself prostrate at Fred's feet. And at his words, the others, their features expressing unspeakable terror, swiftly tore the bonds from their captives and threw themselves groveling upon the earth.
So suddenly had all this taken place that for a space neither Mr. Grayson nor the boys could realize they were free and stood motionless, uncomprehending, and puzzled at the strange change of affairs.
"It was that green stone," exclaimed Fred at last. "It dropped from my pocket and one of these fellows picked it up. I guess that old Indian wasn't yarning after all when he said they'd protect us." The savages had now raised their heads and were gazing at Fred with a strange commingling of fear and reverence.
"I say, Fred, you can't pose as the only high Panjandrum," exclaimed Rob, and thrusting his hand in his pocket he drew forth his jade image and held it up to the Indians' view.
Instantly every feather-decked head bobbed down to the earth and a sigh-like moan issued from five pairs of lips.
"It's marvelous," exclaimed Mr. Grayson. "It's evident that the possession of those jades renders you sacred in the eyes of these people. Perhaps they'll enable us to enter their stronghold. I'd give anything to study these people and their ways."
"We won't ever get to any place if we stay here while these chaps kowtow to us this way," declared Fred.
"Can't you make them understand we want to get away from here, Mr. Grayson?" enquired Rob,
"I'll do my best," replied the scientist and then, as the Indians' heads were again raised, he spoke to them in several of the Central American dialects. But the savages made no reply and by the blank expression of their faces it was evident that the scientist's words conveyed no meaning to their earn,
"It's no use," declared Mr. Grayson. "I've tried Guatuso, Talamanca, Kuna and half a dozen other dialects. There's only the sign language left."
Then, while the boys looked on with intense interest, Mr. Grayson commenced to move his hands in rapid and seemingly meaningless gestures. For an instant, the savages watched him intently and then the light of understanding dawned upon their features. As Mr. Grayson's actions ceased the Indian who had seized Fred's image, and who was apparently the leader of the band, stepped forward and began to wiggle his fingers and wave his hands in reply.
"Hurrah!" exclaimed Fred in an undertone. "They do understand."
"What does he say?" asked Rob as the man's gesticulations ceased.
"I can't make it all out," replied Mr. Grayson. "It's different from any sign language I know, but most of it's clear enough. He says they are a hunting party, that the tribe dwells in a city four sun’s march from here and he begs forgiveness for himself and his companions for daring to lay hands on our sacred persons."
"Well, just tell him to get us out of here and back to civilization and we'll forgive him," said Fred.
Mr. Grayson laughed. "I'm afraid you're asking the impossible," he replied. "I'll wager these fellows have never seen civilization or civilized men before. Moreover, sign talk has its limitations. I'll do my best, but I'm going to ask him to take us to his 'city.' From there we should be able to find our way, for there must be streams we can follow to the coast. Why, boys! you don't realize what this chance encounter means to me. It's simply marvelous. These men are unquestionably members of that strange mythical race I've told you about and I'm convinced they're of European blood,—perhaps Phoenician, or even surviving descendants of the people of Atlantis. A few weeks among them may revolutionize the history of America."
"I'd just as leave see their old town," declared Fred. "If we're so sacred in their eyes I suppose we're safe enough."
A few moments of sign conversation between Mr. Grayson and the Indians—if Indians they could be called—followed.
"It's hopeless," announced Mr. Grayson regretfully. "I can't make him understand our wants and neither can I comprehend all he tries to say. He wants us to go with him and I guess the best we can do is to follow where he leads. I imagine he'll take us to some settlement anyway."
"Anything's better than stopping here," declared Fred. "Let's tell him to go ahead."
"Hoot mon, we've na eaten yet," Rob reminded him.
"I'd quite forgotten lunch," laughed the scientist With a few rapid signs he told the Indians the three wished to eat before starting off and at a few words from their leader two of the men rekindled the neglected fire and in a short time the party had finished their interrupted meal and Mr. Grayson signed at the waiting savages that they were ready to proceed.
"Well, we may not know where we're going but we're on our way," laughed Fred as the little procession left the scene of their adventures and stepped into the forest.
Three of the Indians led the way, behind them came Mr. Grayson and the two boys and the remaining savages brought up the rear. For a few miles they followed a well marked trail and then, abandoning the pathway, their guides stepped confidently into the trackless forest. All through the afternoon they tramped on, the Indians treading their crooked way among the trees and never pausing to halt or rest. Then, just as the forest grew dim with approaching night, the party came upon a rude shelter of palm leaves beside a spring. Here they halted, and to the boys' surprise, the savages produced several hammocks from some hiding place and in a few minutes the odor of broiling meat and the pungent smell of smoke filled the shadowy forest.
The following day was but a repetition of the first and camp was made beside a swift flowing stream. While two of the Indians prepared the evening meal the others slipped out of sight and a few minutes later reappeared paddling three dugout canoes which were moored close to the camp. It was evident that the next stage of the journey was to be by water and the boys were rejoiced at the promised relief from steady tramping. Having secured their craft the Indians joined their companions beside the fire and a short conversation followed. Then, rising, they gathered up their weapons, wrapped some food in a bundle with leaves, and stepping into one of the canoes, paddled quickly up the river and out of sight.
"I wonder where they've gone," exclaimed Fred.
Mr. Grayson shook his head. "I haven't any idea," he replied, "but I'll try to find out."
Turning to the chief he made a series of signs in which the other replied in the same manner.
"He says they've gone ahead to let his people know we're coming," explained the scientist. "He tells us the 'city' is two days' journey by water and two more through the bush. We're to follow with him and the other canoe to-morrow morning."
"Well, I'm mighty glad we'll have two days of rest, at any rate," declared Rob.
"Yes, I've had enough hiking to suit me," agreed Fred. "I wonder how they'll treat us in that city of theirs—you don't think they'll keep us prisoners do you Mr. Grayson?"
"No," replied the scientist, "I believe they'll consider us as friends and guests, judging by the actions of these men." Then, after a moment's pause, he added, "Nevertheless, if we could elude these chaps I'd do so. I've been thinking over the matter and while I'd give a great deal to visit their people and study them I don't feel as if I've a right to run risks with you boys, one never can tell what might happen among unknown savages. But it can't be helped, we must go with them, willy-nilly."
"There are only two of them now," remarked Fred suggestively.
"Very true," admitted Mr. Grayson. "But we don't know where the others may be. Besides, in order to overcome these we'd have to shoot them, perhaps, and so far they've shown us nothing but kindness."
"Perhaps they'd let us go without any trouble, if we asked them," said Rob.
"Possibly," replied Mr. Grayson. "But, even so, we'd be no better off. We have no idea how to get to civilization."
"We could take a canoe and go down river," declared Fred. "We'd be sure to come out at the seacoast somewhere."
"And might lose our lives in falls or starve to death on the way," replied the scientist. "No," he continued, "we are safer with these people than dying to win our way out alone. Moreover, I have hopes of inducing some of them to guide us out of the forest to the settlements or near them."
"Yes, I suppose you're right," agreed Fred. "Anyhow, there's no use worrying. I'm going to bed." The others followed his example and soon all three were sleeping as soundly as though in their beds at home.
A sharp cry aroused the boys from a deep slumber. Day had dawned and by the dim light the boys saw the two Indians standing by the riverside and gesticulating and talking excitedly. Springing from their hammocks the three hurried towards the savages.
“Hello!" exclaimed Mr. Grayson as he came within sight of the water's edge, "one of the canoes is missing."
But the boys paid little heed to his words for both had halted and stood gazing at the soft damp ground. Once more the track of the cloven foot confronted them! Almost at the same instant the two Indians caught sight of the weird footprints and, with a terrified yell of superstitious fear, they turned, and leaping into the remaining canoe, paddled frantically from shore.
In vain Mr. Grayson shouted and waved his arms in signals for the men to return. Mortal fear of the supernatural had gripped them and, without even looking back, they drove their craft up the stream and in a moment had vanished from sight beyond the wooded shores.
"That's a nice way to leave us," ejaculated Rob, all thoughts of the mysterious prowler driven from him by the Indians' action.
"Perhaps they'll come back after they recover from their fright," suggested Fred.
"Possibly," replied Mr. Grayson. "But I don't think so. Those savages are terror stricken and, moreover, they probably associate us with the foot prints. There's been a lot that's seemed mysterious to them,—the jade images and all,—and they'll not return to such an uncanny spot as this if they can help it."
"Well, we were wondering how we could evade them and they've solved the puzzle for us," said Fred. "There's nothing to prevent us from going down the river now."
"Except that we haven't any boat," Rob reminded him.
"That's so," admitted Fred. "What do you suppose became of the other boat, Mr. Grayson?"
"I expect your Obeah man friend took it," replied the scientist. "He's probably been following us for some time, or at least watching our movements, and now, having a gun and a canoe, he's probably speeding down stream as fast as he can."
"I'd like to know why he's so interested in us," mused Fred. "If he wanted to injure or rob us he's had plenty of chances. Ugh! it makes me shiver to think of him hanging about and watching us and helping himself to anything he wanted."
"It's a puzzle for which I have no answer," replied Mr. Grayson, "but I imagine he was lost and has merely kept near us in the hope that we'd eventually lead him out of the forest, then, when he thought we had been taken prisoners by the Indians, he decided to take matters into his own hands and try to find his way by river. However, there's no use wasting time in conjectures, we must bend all our energies to getting away from here, although I'm sorry we'll never see that unknown city."
"Can't we build a canoe?" asked Fred.
"We haven't the tools, even if we knew how," replied the other, "but possibly we might be able to construct a raft of some sort."
This seemed the only feasible suggestion, and having eaten their breakfast, the three at once commenced operations.
After a short search a number of large Balsa trees were found and these were soon felled and dragged to the river bank, which was not a difficult task as these trees are as soft and light as cork. Then a large supply of tough lianas or bush ropes were gathered and with these the several sections of trees were lashed firmly together. Strong, hard wood saplings were then bound across the logs, both above and below, and by mid afternoon the crude raft was completed.
Shoving it into the river the boys were delighted to find that it floated high and buoyantly and easily supported the weight of all three. As there was no reason for remaining longer the raft was pushed from shore and the voyage down the river was begun. The current was fairly swift and no effort was required, save to guide the raft and keep it in the center of the stream. The boys thoroughly enjoyed the change from tramping and joked and laughed as they swept rapidly around bend after bend and past mile after mile of unbroken forest.
Game was fairly abundant and Rob succeeded in killing a deer which was swimming the river. At sundown the raft was run ashore on a little wooded island and the party dined royally on broiled venison. The trip was resumed the following morning and soon afterwards the raft shot through a series of rapids; but there was plenty of water and although the craft bumped against several rocks and tossed about in the broken water, yet the tough lianas held and no harm was done.
"We must keep a sharp lookout," declared Mr. Grayson. "Those rapids didn't amount to much, but at any moment we may meet with dangerous falls or cataracts. We must be ready to run the raft ashore at an instant's notice."
"How will we be able to go on if we come to falls?" asked Fred.
"If they're not too dangerous or abrupt we can streak the raft through them by means of bush ropes and re-embark below, and in case of bad cataracts we'll have to portage around, or even abandon the raft and build a new one below the falls."
"I hope we don't find any," declared Rob. He had scarcely ceased speaking when the raft swung around a sharp bend and before them the river swept straight as a canal between the walls of forest to where, less than a quarter of a mile distant, it disappeared in a cloud of spray, while the roar of a cataract was borne distinctly to their ears.
Instantly the three upon the raft seized their clumsy paddles and exerted every effort to swing their craft ashore. But while fully realizing their own peril their attention was riveted upon another object on the river before them. A dugout canoe was speeding towards the cataract and within a hundred feet of the brink!
The End of the Obeah Man
THE single occupant of the canoe was striving frantically to check the mad course of his craft, but in vain. Then, in a last desperate hope, he cast aside his paddle and, leaping from the canoe, plunged into the torrent.
But he had waited too long; the dugout was already at the verge of the cataract and as it reared high in air and shot over the brink, the struggling swimmer was swept into the resistless maelstrom, and with a shriek that rose even above the roar of the water, he disappeared in the foaming tumuli of the falls.
It had all happened in an instant; the whole vivid drama had been enacted in a flash and, ere the three upon the raft had realized what had occurred; before they had had time to speak, the whole tragedy was over,
Fred was the first to find his voice. "It was awful!" he exclaimed, "and he was a civilized man too, he had on clothes."
"Paddle! don't talk," snapped Mr. Grayson.
And paddle they did with straining muscles and panting breaths, but the raft was clumsy and ungainly, the paddles were rough and heavy and despite their utmost efforts, the craft continued to sweep steadily down stream and crept towards the bank with maddening slowness.
Louder and louder became the roar of the cataract, swifter became the current and the boys realized that in a few brief moments they too would meet the fate of the occupant of the canoe.
Then, with a little jar, the raft struck upon a hidden sand bar and for an instant hung motionless. "Jump!" shouted Mr. Grayson, “it's our only chance."
Without hesitation the two boys plunged into the shallow water with their companion while the raft, relieved of their weight, floated free and swept swiftly towards the cataract. Floundering and splashing the three made their way towards dry land and while in places the water rose to their armpits, yet there was little current across the bar, and in a few minutes they threw themselves upon the rocky shore of the river.
For a space all were silent, too exhausted, spent and breathless to speak.
"That was a close shave," exclaimed Mr. Grayson at last. "If it hadn't been for that bar we'd have shared the fate of the chap in the canoe."
"I wonder who he was," remarked Fred.
"Man! he may be livin' the nonce," cried Rob, "an' we a squattin' here wi' him sufferin' below yon falls."
"That's true," agreed Mr. Grayson. "We must try to get around the cataract. The poor fellow may be wounded but still alive. Come on, boys,"
It was no easy task to make their way around the falls. To force a way through the forest was impossible and, although all three still retained their machetes, which were in scabbards at their belts, to hew a way through the bush would mean a delay which might prove fatal to the injured man, if indeed he had survived.
To follow the shores seemed the only way but this too was a most difficult undertaking. Everywhere were the jagged broken rocks; jutting from the swirling waters, piled in masses, overgrown with thorny vines and razor-grass and slippery with moss. To make matters worse, great trees and innumerable branches, which had been carried down the river during floods, had lodged and caught among the rocks and had transformed the river's bank into a gigantic chevaux de frise. Leaping from rock to rock; climbing from ledge to ledge; crawling under and over the logs; wading through the shallows; slipping, sliding, barking shins and knees, the three worked their way down the stream and past the cataract.
The boys had expected to see a tremendous waterfall, a veritable Niagara, but the cataract proved to be scarcely sixty feet in height; a churning, angry, rock-filled fall, tumbling into a great bowl-like expanse of tranquil water. Upon the surface of this pool floated a number of logs and bits of wreckage.
"Look, there's the raft," cried Fred.
"Yes, what's left of it," agreed Mr. Grayson, "but I don't see any signs of the canoe."
"Nor of the man," added Fred.
"Hist!" exclaimed Rob. "Did you hear that,— a low moanin' like?"
The three remained silent, listening intently. For an instant there was no sound, save that of the water, and then, from somewhere near at hand, came the groans of a being in agony.
Instantly the three commenced searching among the tumbled rocks, and in a moment, a shout from Mr. Grayson brought the two boys hurrying to him. He was bending over the body of a negro caught between two jagged rocks at the water's edge. The pitifully grotesque and contorted position of the body gave evidence of many broken bones and the features were bruised, cut and mutilated; but a spark of life still remained, for the chest rose and fell spasmodically and now and then a low moan issued from the swollen, bloody lips.
All this the boys saw at a glance and then their pity gave place to wonder and they stood dumbly staring. The man was barefooted and one foot was malformed, misshapen, and resembled a cloven hoof.
"It—it's the Obeah Man!" exclaimed Fred in awestruck tones.
"Aye, the de'il wi' the cloven foot," whispered Rob.
"I know it," cried Mr. Grayson. "But that doesn't make any difference. We must do what we can to help him. Give a hand, boys, and carry the poor chap onto dry land in the shade."
Not without some misgivings, the boys helped lift the limp and battered body of the negro and, with as much care as possible, carried him to a patch of smooth sand in the shade of the forest.
There was little they could do for the injured man, but they bound up his worst cuts, placed him in a comfortable position and sat silently awaiting the end, for the poor fellow was beyond all human aid. Indeed, it seemed little short of miraculous that he could have survived at all, for there was scarce a bone in his body unbroken and he was gashed, torn, bruised and cut from head to foot.
But he was powerfully built and with tremendous vitality and died hard. Presently his eyes opened, the bloodshot yellow orbs looked enquiringly upon those beside him and then, slowly, a look of understanding dawned upon him and with a supreme effort he managed to speak.
"M'sieu's,'' he whispered in almost inaudible tones. "Me mek to die. M'sieu's been kind. Look M'sieu's—the map—here—the pouch. It is yours—me—" His voice trailed off to nothingness, with a last convulsive movement his right hand grasped at a cord about his neck, a shiver ran through his body and all was over.
"Poor chap," murmured Fred after a moment's silence. "I'm sorry for him, even if he was a murderer."
"Aye, and we'll never know why he followed us," said Rob.
"He said something about a map," Mr. Grayson reminded them, "and he grasped at the cord about his neck. Perhaps we'll find a solution to the mystery in the pouch he mentioned."
Gently undoing the stiffening fingers, the scientist withdrew the cord to which was fastened a small pouch or wallet of leather.
"He said it was ours, so I suppose we needn't hesitate to open it," said Fred as Mr. Grayson ripped the stitches along one edge with his pocket knife.
Within, was a second covering of soft leather, inside of this was a little square of oiled cloth and, unwrapping this, Mr. Grayson disclosed a neatly folded piece of parchment, yellow with age and covered with a tracery of lines and letters.
For a space the three gazed at the sheet of parchment in silence and wonder. Fred was the first to break the silence. "Why, it's the other part of our map," he cried. "Look here." Producing the copy of the mysterious map from his pocket he spread it out beside the fragment from the Obeah man's pouch.
"There's no doubt of it," agreed Mr. Grayson. "The lines and words join perfectly and no doubt, if you had the original map from the sword hill, the torn edges would fit together as well."
"Hurrah! perhaps we can find the treasure now," cried Rob.
"You forget we're lost in the forest and may never get out," said Mr. Grayson. "This is no time, to think of treasure hunting. Our first duty is to bury this man and then strive to reach civilization. Remember, we have lost practically all we possessed, except our machetes and the gun. In the meantime, take good care of the map for I admit that with it there is a very good chance of locating the lost mine—if we do get out."
A shallow grave was scooped in the sand, the dead man was buried, a rude cross was placed over the grave and the three then proceeded down stream.
A short distance below the falls they found the smashed and broken remains of the canoe, wedged among the rocks.
"Can't we build another raft?" asked Fred, after they had toiled laboriously over the jagged rocks for an hour or more.
"Yes, when we reach fairly smooth water," replied Mr. Grayson, "but it would be a waste of time to attempt it here, the river's full of rocks and rapids and any raft we could build would soon go to pieces."
But mile after mile was covered and still the river tumbled and roared in foaming rapids among the rocks. Camp was made in the shelter of an overhanging mass of rocks and the party dined on a tree-duck which Rob had killed.
As darkness descended on the river, the plaintive calls of tinamous and the notes of curassows issued from the forest and Rob suggested that they should go on a hunt early the next morning, before starting down river. Mr. Grayson approved of the plan and at daybreak the two boys set forth, Fred cutting the way through the dense bush and Rob, with gun ready, keeping a sharp lookout for furred or feathered game.
A few hundred feet from the river the forest became more open and the boys found little difficulty in moving along silently and without cutting a path. Presently Rob spied a pair of curassows feeding in the tree-tops and with a single shot secured them both.
As the two birds came tumbling to earth and the boys rushed forward to pick them up, a small deer bounded from a clump of giant ferns and dashed away.
At Rob's shot the creature fell, but almost instantly regained its feet and disappeared in a thicket of low palms. It was evidently badly wounded and Rob hurried in pursuit, leaving Fred to secure the birds.
Pushing his way into the brush and searching for tell-tale blood drops on the ground, Rob moved slowly forward for a few rods and suddenly gave a shout which brought his companion to him on the run.
"What's the matter? What have you found?" exclaimed Fred as he gained the other's side.
"A path, man. Look, a real cut trail," cried Rob,
Fred whistled: "You're right," he declared. "It's a trail all right, and where's there's a trail there are people. Let's hurry back and tell Mr. Grayson."
"Perhaps it goes to the river," suggested Rob. "Let's follow it and see."
With all thoughts of the deer driven from their minds by this new discovery, the boys hurried along the pathway through the forest in the direction of the river and, much sooner than they expected, came to the banks of the stream.
"I wonder whether we're above or below the camp," said Fred as the boys stood hesitating which way to turn.
"Below it, I think," replied Rob, "the path was on our left and we didn't cross it going into the bush."
"We'll walk up stream a way and see," declared Fred. "Do you suppose we can find the trail again?"
"Aye, I ken the spot well," Rob assured him. "Look at yon dead tree fallen across the rock. We can find it by that."
Taking good note of this and other landmarks the boys hurried as rapidly as possible up the river bank and to their joy reached their camping place in less than ten minutes.
Mr. Grayson listened to the boys' story with intense interest.
"It may be a most fortunate discovery," he declared. "This river is unnavigable here and may be the same for many miles; but if we find an Indian camp all may be well—and the trail must lead us somewhere."
"But perhaps the Indians will attack us," suggested Fred.
"That's scarcely possible. Aside from those strange fellows who took us in charge and deserted us so precipitately, I doubt if there are any hostile Indians in the country. And we know that tribe lived up the river, not down. It's a chance we'll have to take. Now let's have breakfast and be off on the trail."
Having breakfasted on broiled curassow the three made their way down the river and entered the trail Rob had discovered.
"This path hasn't been used very recently," declared the scientist as he carefully examined the sodden earth and fallen leaves, "but it's not an old or deserted trail. I should judge it might lead to a good sized village. But I can't understand why it should end here at the river, unless there's a ford and the path continues on the other shore. In that case we may be going in the wrong direction,"
"At any rate it leads from somewhere to somewhere," said Fred. "One direction's as good as another to us."
It was an easy matter to follow the trail and for several miles Mr. Grayson and the boys tramped on, little wild life was seen and this, Mr. Grayson declared, was evidence that the trail was frequently used by human beings. A few hours after leaving the river the ground commenced to rise and soon the path was zigzagging up a steep hill or ridge. Then it dipped sharply down; it skirted a deep gorge or ravine and suddenly emerged on a little open glade or savanna. The three halted abruptly at the edge of the forest; on the other side of the clearing were a number of thatched Indian huts. There were no Indians visible and after a moment's hesitation Mr. Grayson called out a few words in the Talamanca dialect. But there was no reply, no sign of life.
"That's queer," exclaimed the scientist. "It doesn't look like an abandoned village, and yet, no one's here."
"Well, let's investigate," said Fred. "If nobody's here we'll make ourselves at home and wait for the people to come back. Perhaps they've all gone on a hunt or something."
"Maybe they ran away when they heard us coming," suggested Rob.
They were now approaching the first house and a glance within sufficed to show that it was unoccupied. It was the same with every dwelling, not a living being, not even a dog, was to be found.
They've gone,—bag and baggage," announced Mr. Grayson, "and they're not corning back right away for they've taken their hammocks and cooking utensils with them."
"They haven't taken all their food," cried Rob, who was rummaging among some baskets and packages stored on the rafters under the roof. "Here's a basket of corn and a lot of yams. We won't starve to death at any rate."
"No danger of that," said Mr. Grayson. "There's probably a provision field near, where we can secure all the vegetables we wish. I expect the people have gone off on a visit to some other village,—perhaps to a feast or dance. If they have gone on a fishing or hunting trip some of the old women and children would have remained."
"Perhaps they've gone to the settlements," exclaimed Fred.
"That's a bright idea," replied the scientist. "I shouldn't be surprised if you were right. These people are in touch with civilization. I noticed some beads and rags in one of the houses. Possibly there's a trail leading either to a navigable river or to some road. We'll have a bite to eat and then try and find the trail."
Roasted yams and parched corn proved a most welcome change after a steady diet of unseasoned game and everyone ate heartily. Then, having helped themselves to a supply of vegetables and corn which was packed in baskets ready for carrying, the three proceeded to search for the trail by which the Indians had departed.
There were several paths leading from the village through the surrounding forest. One led to a large provision field; another lost itself in the bush and was apparently a hunter's path; still another ended at a spring where the Indians secured water and the last carried the boys to a thicket of bamboos and palms from which building materials for the houses had been obtained. But no trail was found which showed evidences of going any distance and the boys became discouraged.
"I don't believe there's any trail leading out of here," declared Rob.
"Except the one we came by," added Fred, "and I'll bet the Indians went that way."
"I'm positive they did not," stated Mr. Grayson. "That trail hadn't been used for a month at least and the Indians haven't been gone more than a day or two at most. The plantain skins and yam parings are not even shriveled yet. Come on boys, don't give up."
Thus encouraged, the boys again commenced searching diligently and examining every yard of the encircling forest for signs of an opening. Presently a shout from Mr. Grayson announced that he had met with success.
"Here it is," he cried as the boys reached him. "It was hidden by a screen of branches. Queer I didn't think of that before. Many of the South American Indians have the custom of placing green branches across the trail by which they have traveled. It's a sign for their friends that they've gone on a long journey."
"Let's get started then," said Fred.
"I suggest that we remain here for to-night," said Mr. Grayson. "We would have but a few hours to travel to-day and by resting here we'll be able to cover much more ground to-morrow. A few hours more or less will make little difference, now we have an abundance of provisions."
The boys were not sorry for the chance to rest and when, just before sundown, a heavy rain began to fall, they were all thankful for the dry shelter of the Indian houses and were glad they were not sleeping in the open forest with only a few palm leaves to protect them from the torrential downpour.
An early start was made the following morning and although the day was clear they were soon drenched to the skin, for the forest was dripping wet and, as they walked along the narrow trail, they brushed against bushes and vines and dislodged bucketsful of water. But the boys paid no attention to such incidents for they had long been accustomed to being soaking wet from morning until night,— as are all travelers in the tropical jungles,—and as the trail was open and easily followed they made rapid progress.
Soon after leaving the village the path crossed a small stream; then, for several miles, it traversed a level, dry, brush-covered area and beyond this ascended a forest-covered mountainside. Steeper and steeper it became while the traveling was most difficult, for the trail led into a dry watercourse and up this the boys and their companion climbed and crawled over, around and under the masses of rocks and boulders.
So hard was the ascent, loaded as they were with their baskets of provisions, that every few moments they were compelled to stop and rest.
"Whew!" exclaimed Fred as after a particularly stiff bit of climbing they threw themselves down to regain their breaths. "These Indians must be regular goats."
"Hoot! 'tis the top o' the world we're aiming for," declared Rob.
"It is a bit steep," admitted Mr. Grayson, "but Indians never mind such trifles. They have never learned that the longest way round is often the shortest way home, and such a thing as an easy route never occurs to them."
"Well, it'll be all down hill on the other side and that's some comfort," laughed Fred as they again started up the precipitous mountainside.
But the worst of the climb was now over. Presently they reached the summit of a hog-backed ridge, and walking in comparative comfort along this, they came forth upon a great level plateau; a barren expanse of rain-worn ledges dotted with clumps of low, stunted trees, pools of stagnant water and strange vegetation. Everywhere were masses of gigantic lily-like plants; the crevices of the rocks were filled with grotesque orchids and overgrown lichens and, in many places there were thickets of immense brake-like ferns, nodding blue harebells and glaring red and orange marigolds. Scattered over the plateau, as if tossed about by some giant's hand, were immense blocks and slabs of stone, carved and worn into grotesque forms by the rains of countless centuries.
Altogether it was a weird and striking scene and the three travelers halted and stared about in wonder. A cool refreshing breeze was blowing and proved most delightful after the humid, breathless air of the forest.
"This is a queer spot," exclaimed Fred, as, seated upon a block of stone, he surveyed the scene about.
"Sure, it's the top o' the world as I said," laughed Rob.
"It's certainly several thousand feet in air," declared Mr. Grayson. "The vegetation is that of high altitudes and almost like that of the temperate regions. We're on the flat summit of a mountain peak and we may be able to obtain a view of the surrounding country which will give us our bearings. For all we know, we may be in sight of some town or village. We'll have something to eat and then look about."
Traveling across the plateau was not difficult and the boys rather enjoyed the novelty of their surroundings, and stopped frequently to examine the masses of rain-carved rocks which resembled uncouth monsters transformed to stone. Mr. Grayson suggested that they should work their way around the plateau, to obtain views in all directions, and they first made their way towards the nearest edge. Here the mountainside dropped off for a sheer thousand feet to the bottom of a tremendous gorge with a silvery thread of river winding through the forest far below. Across the gorge rose towering, forested mountains; stretching in tier after tier as far as eye could see while, to the left, a stupendous cataract fell plunging from the level of the plateau to the river below. It was a superbly beautiful sight and Mr. Grayson and the boys stood gazing at it in wonder and admiration for a long time.
"I should say that it is the highest waterfall in the world," declared the scientist. "Its only rival is Kaieturk in British Guiana and this is far higher, although not as wide."
"How high is it?" asked Fred.
"At least a thousand feet," replied the other. "Kaieturk is 820 feet and this certainly exceeds it by 200 feet."
Turning with regret from the marvelous waterfall they proceeded around the edge of the plateau. For some distance the gorge continued and the opposite mountains hemmed in the view, but presently, the gorge widened, the mountains receded and the sides of the plateau fell away in a gradual slope. Below stretched a great, velvety, green valley beyond which rose a hazy mountain range culminating in a towering peak with two sharp pinnacles half shrouded in the clouds. But there was no sign of human habitation in all that vast expanse of interminable green stretching from the mountain's base to the distant horizon.
While Mr. Grayson stood, carefully scrutinizing the map-like expanse spread beneath him, the two boys wandered about and presently seated themselves upon a smooth boulder. Near them two great rocks were poised at the very verge of the plateau, twin columns almost as cylindrical and regular as though cut by human hands.
"That's a queer pair of rocks," remarked Fred idly picking up a pebble and tossing it at the two pillars.
Rob glanced at them. "Aye," he replied, "they look like,—Fred, man! do ye no recognize them? Hurrah! Hurrah!" Leaping up he ran first to one side and then another, stooping down, craning his neck and peering across the valley as if suddenly bereft of his senses.
Fate Takes a Hand
WHAT on earth's the matter with you? Have you gone crazy?" cried Fred as, jumping up, he joined his chum.
"Loony nothing," exclaimed Rob. "Do ye no see, Fred. Hoot mon! 'tis the very spot. Where's the map, lad? Look here,—here between yon rocks,—dinna ye mind what the map says,—'ye shall know the way by two great rocks like the bitts of a ship. To the west the high peak riven in twain.' An' did ye ever see rocks more resemblin' ships' bitts? An' yonder's the peak split in half. Canna ye see it, lad?"
Fred gave a long whistle of surprise as Rob's meaning dawned upon him. "Gee!" he exclaimed, "I do believe you're right, Rob. Oh, Mr. Grayson, come here quick."
Mr. Grayson hurried to them at Fred's shout "What's up?" he asked. "Do you see anything off there?"
"No, but we've found the lost mine," cried excitedly. "At least," he added, "Rob's discovered the road to it. Look, there are the two rocks like a ship's bitts and over there's the peak riven in twain just as the map says. All we have to do is follow the directions and we'll reach the mine Hurrah!"
"By Jove!" exclaimed the scientist. "They do resemble the drawings on the map. You may be right. Let's have another look at the map."
Seating themselves close to the stone pillars the two parts of the map were spread upon a smooth rock and Mr. Grayson carefully compared the rude tracery and quaint drawings with the surroundings, while the two excited boys listened breathlessly to his words.
"There's no question about it," he declared. "It's inconceivable that there should be two such spots,— two rocks resembling ship's bitts with a bifurcated peak to the west. Moreover, these drawings are identical with the rocks yonder,—even to that protrusion of the left-hand side of the further column; the man who drew this was most observant of detail. But I don't see anything of the sugar-loaf mountain mentioned here. Perhaps it's not visible from this spot, however. Let's see if the direction on the original map added to the words on the parchment will make matters clear."
Omitting the quaint spelling and phraseology Mr. Grayson slowly read as follows: "The Tisingal lies beyond the cross, distant west by south, two score and ten furlongs up the defile passing the ridge. You shall know the way hither by the two great rocks standing, like the bitts of a ship, and passing hither, you descend the mountain keeping to the west the high peaks riven in twain, and bearing ever onward to the south such time as the sugar loaf is fairly between the peaks, you will come unto the cross of rocks. Hence the savanna of the dead, where lies much gold, is but one league to the east; but yet it avails nothing. No less than one hundred brave men-at-arms, well equippcd, will suffice for the passage to the Tisingal this way for the savages are fierce and terrifying, using poisoned darts most deadly, and monstrous witchcraft and charms of the Devil, so fearful and strong, that no man yet may overcome. No man knows all, the Dons being destroyed, save he who fell into our hands having fled from the savages by chance, and, fearing death, he gave the map to buy life; but this did avail him nothing for the Dons are ever tricky and full cunning and, to be sure none others might profit by his own true knowledge of it, a true finding was made and he met the fate of his fellows."
"That sounds plain enough," declared Fred.
"And here's the path!" cried Rob who had been searching carefully about while Mr. Grayson read the scarcely decipherable words on the ancient parchment.
"It's most remarkable," said Mr. Grayson. "I should scoff at such a coincidence if I read it in a story; but then, truth's often stranger than fiction."
"Let's get our packs and hurry on to the mine," cried Fred impatiently. "It can't be very far."
"Wait a bit, my boy," said Mr. Grayson. "We're trying to get out of here and to reach civilization,—not hunting for lost mines. It will not be difficult to find your way back here with a properly equipped expedition for we can blaze our trail as we proceed, I'm afraid we'll have to stick to that Indian trail for the present. I've only your safety and interest at heart when I say this; but I cannot consent to any deviation which might put us in a worse predicament than we are in at present."
"I suppose you're right," admitted Fred dejectedly, "although it's awfully hard to turn away when we know that wonderful old mine is so near and we're right on the road to it."
"It was just as hard for me to give up my chances of seeing the stronghold of those mysterious blue-eyed Indians,—and this 'savanna of the dead' might reveal most important discoveries. Don't think I'm not just as anxious to prove the accuracy of that map as are you boys. But that old mine has been there for over 300 years and it will still be there whenever you want to send an expedition to find it. You're probably the only people in the world who have such a map and certainly no one else has actually been here, within sight of these landmarks."
"Mr. Grayson's right," declared Rob, and added, philosophically, "and we couldn't carry away the gold, even if we had it."
"And don't forget about those fierce and terrifying savages and their witchcraft," laughed the scientist. "For all we know they may still exist and we might be killed by their poisoned darts or devilish charms."
"Bosh" was all Fred could say as they rose and started to retrace their way to the spot where they had left their loads.
It was a rather difficult matter to follow the Indian trail across the plateau and the little party proceeded with the utmost care. Sometimes, when they came to an expanse of bare ledge, a long and careful search was required before the faint pathway could be located; but little by little, they picked their way. Pushing through thickets of scrub and terns, splashing across water-filled hollows, twisting and turning around the scattered masses of rock they crossed the mountaintop at last and came forth on the western of the plateau.
"Ye gods!" ejaculated Mr. Grayson.
"Hurrah!" shouted Rob.
"Now what do you say?" cried Fred.
Before them rose the two rocky monoliths and straight between these led the path they were following.
"Fate must be on your side," declared the scientist. "This trail certainly follows the directions of your map, but it may branch off down below. If it does I warn you I shall take the most promising trail, regardless of your mine."
But the boys were too elated to worry over such future contingencies and were already hurrying forward towards the edge of the plateau.
The way was down hill, but Fred's prophecy that it would be "some comfort" was not borne out. Although the slope was not as steep as the side up which they had come, yet it was very difficult traveling, for the surface of the mountain was here composed of small, loose pebbles and bits of broken rock which slid and rolled away at a touch and afforded a very precarious foothold. Time and again Mr. Grayson and the boys sat down most unexpectedly and barely saved themselves from rolling head over heels down the slope by clutching at the tough vines and brush beside the trail.
But despite these difficulties, their progress was rapid and in a wonderfully short time, they reached the base of the mountain. Before them stretched a broad grassy savanna, a vast, level amphitheater of green surrounded by mountains. Above their heads, and stretching towards the south, towered the almost perpendicular sides of the flat-topped ridge they had left. To the west, the twin-spired peak loomed majestically against the sky and, far to the south, a low range of wooded hills rose above the furthest limits of the sea of waving grass. From where they stood they could trace the pathway winding erratically across the plain.
"Bully! It doesn't branch yet," exclaimed Fred. "I'll bet this trail is the very one to the mine."
"I don't see why it doesn't go straight," commented Rob. "It's an awful waste of time and strength, following all those turns and twists yonder."
"Indians never make a straight trail," replied Mr. Grayson. "To travel in a devious course is the primitive savage's instinct for self protection; to allow himself to ambush anyone following him and to prevent any enemy from keeping him in sight from the rear. But there may be good reasons for that crooked path across the plain; these savannas are often treacherous with deep mud holes and swampy spots. It may be impossible to go straight across."
As there was no hope of crossing the savanna that afternoon, and as the open grassy plain would be a poor spot for a camp, it was decided to remain at the base of the mountain over night.
Tramping across the level plain in the cool of early morning was very pleasant, but as the sun rose above the mountains, it became uncomfortably hot. From the summit of the plateau, the distance across the plain had appeared comparatively short, but hour after hour passed and the hazy mountain ranges seemed no nearer than before. Only by looking back at the lofty ridge behind them, could the boys convince themselves that they were making any progress.
It was on such an occasion that Fred, glancing about for perhaps the fiftieth time, uttered an exclamation which brought his companions to an abrupt halt.
"There 'tis," he cried, pointing to the north. "The sugar-loaf-shaped mountain."
Sure enough, standing sharply forth was a massive, conical peak which had hitherto been hidden behind the corner of the flat-topped ridge.
"The map says it's fair atwixt the two peaks of that other mountain, and this is away off to one side," objected Rob.
"No, it doesn't," declared Fred. "I wrote down what it says when Mr. Grayson read it, back there on the mountain. It says 'keeping to the west the high peak riven in twain, and bearing ever to the south such times as the sugar-loaf is fair between the peaks.' "
"Well, we're going south and the mountain isn't in the right place," insisted Rob.
"I think I can solve the difficulty," interposed Mr. Grayson. "Although we're going south just now our general direction is more nearly southwest. The two peaks are still to the west and, as nearly as I can judge, if we continue on our present course we'll soon bring the sugar-loaf in line with them. Then, if we follow the map, we should turn due south, keeping the conical mountain between the peaks as a back sight to guide us. But I expect this trail will lead us in a totally different direction,—it's scarcely likely it's been in existence for 300 years."
"It's confoundedly hot and I'm just dying of thirst," declared Fred bitterly. "As long as we can't hunt for the mine I don't care where the old trail goes if it only takes us to shade and water."
Rob said nothing, but he gazed wistfully at the twin peaks and the sugar-loaf mountain and cast frequent glances over his shoulder as the party tramped silently onward.
Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the twin peaks appeared to move towards the east. Closer and closer they drew to the conical mass beyond; they hid it from view and then, gradually, it reappeared and stood, clear and sharp against the sky, in the gap between the cloud-capped pinnacles.
"Here's where we ought to turn south," remarked Rob casually, and striving to suppress his excitement. "The sugar-loaf's fair atwixt the peaks now."
"And here's water at least," cried Mr. Grayson.
Instantly peaks, maps and mine were forgotten, and dashing forward, the two boys threw themselves down beside the little stream that crossed the trail and plunged their faces into the tepid water.
"My! but that's good," declared Fred as he shook the water from his hair. "Water's better than all the mines in the world, when you're thirsty. I don't believe I could have walked another mile without a drink."
" 'Tis a bonny wee brook," was Rob's only comment as he took another long draught.
Seated by the little stream they ate their lunch of parched corn and cold roast yams, for they had seen no game and there was no fuel with which to build a fire. Then, refreshed and rested, they rose to continue their journey. Apparently the trail crossed the brook, and splashing and floundering through the water and the mud, they gained the opposite bank. But there was no trace of a path, no break in the dense wall of savanna grass.
"Perhaps it's up or down stream," suggested Mr. Grayson. "I'll walk up and you boys can walk down and whoever finds the trail call out."
Pushing and cutting their way through the tangled grass the two boys slowly made their way down the stream. They had traveled perhaps a hundred feet when Fred halted and called to his companion.
"Here's a footprint," he cried. "Someone's been this way."
Rob, who was a few yards away, turned at Fred's call and hurried through a dense mass of grass between him and his comrade. The next instant the ground seemed to open under him and with a tremendous splash he dove head first into a hidden pool.
Spluttering and choking he came to the surface and, half-swimming, half-wading, floundered towards shore. But as he gained the edge of the pool and grasped the reed-like grasses to draw himself up, he gave a cry of surprise. "O, Fred," he shouted, "here's a boat."
The splash made by Rob's unexpected plunge had already brought Fred to the verge of the pool and his first fright gave way to a peal of laughter at sight of Rob's sorry, mud-covered figure. But at his friend's words his merriment ceased.
"A boat?" he repeated. "Where is it?"
"Right here," replied Rob who had now dragged himself up among the grass.
"Well, of all things!" ejaculated Fred. "Thats the queerest boat I ever saw."
And truly, the craft that Rob had discovered hidden among the rank grass was a most remarkable affair for it consisted of several cylindrical bundles of reeds wrapped and lashed together with twisted grass and with the tapered ends of the bundles slightly upturned to form bow and stern.
Indeed, had it not been for the paddles resting upon it and the fact that it was moored to a tuft of grass, the boys never would have recognized it as a boat.
"We must call Mr. Grayson," said Rob, and together, both boys hallooed.
There was an answering call and in a few moments the scientist could be heard crashing through the grass towards the spot where the boys stood.
"Great Scott!" he ejaculated, as he saw the strange looking craft. "That's a balsa,—one of the most primitive types of boats in the world. I've seen them in use on Lake Titicaca in Peru, but I never expected to find one in this part of the world,"
"Can we use it?" asked Fred.
"Of course we can," replied Mr. Grayson. "Evidently our Indian friends have continued their journey from here by water, there's no sign of a trail going beyond the stream. Of course they may have gone either up or down, but I expect they went down, at any rate, that's the route we'll follow."
Much to the boys' wonder, the basla easily supported their weight. After a short search they found the opening to the pool among the grass and reeds and gaining the brook, paddled their odd boat up to the spot where they had left their baskets. Even with this additional load the balsa floated buoyantly, and, in high spirits, the party slipped down the stream. The boys were surprised to find how easily the balsa could be guided and paddled and they made rapid progress.
"This is a heap better than walking," declared Fred.
"And no danger of going thirsty," added Mr. Grayson.
Rob chuckled. "And do ye ken where we're gangin'?" he asked. "Look back at yon mountains."
His two companions glanced back at his words. Above the surrounding grass the twin summits of the riven peak were visible and, between them, could be seen the sugar-loaf mountain.
"Why, we're going just the way the map describes," exclaimed Fred.
"I give up," said Mr. Grayson resignedly. "When fate takes a hand there's no use trying to do anything. Everything seems to conspire to take us towards the mine. I might just as well sit back and let chance guide us."
"All streams lead to the sea, anyway," said Fred sagely. "So we're on our way to the coast. Say, I'll bet this stream runs right past the mine,—don't you remember the map says the Spanish chap escaped in a canoe?"
"Hmm, perhaps you're right," admitted the scientist, "though if that's the case I don't understand why all those involved directions should be given for reaching the mine overland."
"I do," declared Rob. "Don't you mind how it says a hundred men-at-arms would be needed to reach it by way of the savanna of the dead. I'll bet this river flows that way."
"That may account for it," replied Mr. Grayson, "but there's a lot in that map that's puzzling. For example, there's nothing said as to how one is to reach those stone columns on top of the plateau,— it seems to be taken as a matter of course that one will start from there."
"Perhaps all that was on a part of the map that's been lost," suggested Fred. "I noticed the upper edges of the map we found and the one the Obeah man had were both ragged, as if torn."
"That must be the explanation," agreed Mr. Grayson. "But at any rate, as long as fate has compelled us to come this way I can't say I'm sorry. I'd like to see that place of the dead that contains so much gold."
"Aren't you afraid of those terrifying savages?" taunted Fred.
"Terribly," laughed the other. "Especially of their witchcraft."
Thus talking and laughing they had taken little note of the speed they were making or of their surroundings, but Rob had constantly kept a watch on the landmarks far to the south and now he spoke.
"Yon sugar-loaf's slipping away from the cleft," he announced. "We must be nigh the stopping place. I wonder where that rock cross—"
"Hark!" Mr. Grayson interrupted. "Didn't you hear voices?" he continued in a whisper. "Listen, there; surely those are voices ahead. Steer into the shore, quietly."
A touch of the paddles and the balsa ran silently into the shore, and almost breathlessly, the three listened. Then, from somewhere near at hand, came the sound of low voices,—unintelligible but unmistakable.
"Someone's there," whispered Fred. Despite himself he could not keep his voice from shaking with excitement, for the sound of human voices in this out-of-the way corner of the world seemed weird and uncanny.
"They must be Indians," declared Mr. Grayson in low tones. "We'll go on slowly and call out as soon as they are in sight. If they hear us coming they may be frightened and clear out."
Paddled cautiously, the balsa slipped silently forward and round a bend and there, in plain view and not fifty yards distant, were three other balsas, each manned by naked, bronze-skinned Indians.
Instantly a wild yell arose from the dusky throats and, with savage strokes of their paddles, the Indians whirled their frail craft about and dashed down stream. Mr. Grayson shouted to them in Talamanca, in Spanish and in Guatuso, but without effect. The fleeing Indians did not even turn their heads, and, in a moment, were out of sight.
"Hurry up, boys, paddle after them. I'll keep on calling as we go. Perhaps when they're over their first fright they'll stop and talk."
Propelled by the boys' frantic efforts, the balsa sprang forward and swept after the Indians while Mr. Grayson called out words of reassurance and friendship. But there was no sign of the savages, no answering cry; no sound of splashing paddles nor of human voices; the Indians had utterly vanished.
"They're gone," said the scientist in disappointed tones. "Frightened out of their wits. I don't suppose they dreamed there was another living being within a hundred miles; much less white men."
"But where have they gone?" asked Fred in puzzled tones. "The river's straight here and there's nothing but grass on the sides."
As Fred spoke, the river opened into a little lake-like expanse from whose edges several narrow creeks led into the savanna.
"There's the answer," replied Mr. Grayson. "They've gone up one of those creeks, probably their camp is there."
"There's a hill over yonder, to the right," said Fred, "and there are trees and brush on it. You can see it above the grass, perhaps—. Gosh!"
A soft whistling sound and a gentle thud had brought this sudden expletive from Fred's lips and now he stood, staring, dazed, at a long arrow which had buried half its length in the basket by his side.
"Duck down and paddle for your lives," cried Mr. Grayson, and as the three crouched low, and wielding their paddles, spun their craft about, a shower of arrows sang through the air and spatted spitefully into the raft, the baskets and the water. Mr. Grayson uttered a sharp cry and jerked up his leg as an arrow pierced his flesh, but luckily the balsa was almost out of bowshot and most of the missiles fell short. An instant more, and they had slipped into a narrow opening in the grass and were speeding up a narrow slough or creek.
There were no sounds of pursuit and the fugitives resumed more comfortable positions, but continued paddling with all their strength.
"That was a close call," exclaimed the scientist, as gritting his teeth to suppress a groan, he drew the bone-headed arrow from his leg.
"Why, you're hurt," cried Fred, turning about at this instant.
"Don't stop paddling; it's nothing. Just a scratch. The arrow's not poisoned, fortunately."
"Well, for a country where there are no hostile Indians those chaps are mighty unfriendly," said Fred dryly.
" 'Twas fair excitin' for a bit," remarked Rob. "Do ye think they'll follow us, Mr. Grayson?"
The scientist was busily bandaging his leg. "I'm sure I don't know," he replied somewhat testily. "Everything's so amazing that I don't know what to expect next. But I'll take good care not to chase any unknown Indians in future, even if—"
The sentence was interrupted by Fred. "Here's the end of the creek," he announced.
WITH a slight jar, the balsa ran its nose onto the mud. Up from the water's edge the ground sloped gently and, above the grass, reeds and water-plants which fringed the shallows, rose graceful bamboos. Beyond these, and blotting out the sky, was the dense foliage of bush and trees.
"This must be the hill you saw," announced Mr. Grayson. "We've crossed the savanna."
"What's the next move?" asked Fred. "There's no way out of here and I don't fancy running the gauntlet of those arrows."
Mr. Grayson peered intently about. "No," he said at last. "There's no other waterway and it would be dangerous in the extreme to go back,—at least by daylight,—we might wait here until—"
"Here's a path," called Rob, who had stepped ashore and was standing under the giant bamboos.
The others hurried ashore. "Why it's a regular road," cried Fred, who was in advance.
Mr. Grayson cast one glance at the spot and passed his hands across his eyes. "Am I dreaming?" he exclaimed, "or has that arrow wound affected my eyes? That's a prehistoric paved way. Look at those steps leading up the hill yonder. They're covered with hieroglyphs."
"I vote we follow it anyway," said Fred. "If we go down river some of those savages will wing us,—we're too good a target to miss,—and we can't see them. This road must lead to some place. It looks good to me."
"Probably it leads to some ruined temple," said the scientist. "But it's no use staying here,—we'll hide the balsa though; in case we decide to go back we'll need it."
Having carefully concealed their craft and paddles the three stepped forward along the ancient roadway and commenced climbing the stone steps which led up the hillside.
Trees and bushes had sprung up from between the immense stones; vines, creepers and moss covered them, and in many places the boys were obliged to cut their way; but the steps were still intact and Mr. Grayson constantly exclaimed in admiration at the carvings which decorated them.
They had ascended for some distance when the steps ended at a broad, paved path which curved to the left and along this the three hurried on; the boys athrill with the excitement of penetrating unknown mysteries and Mr. Grayson elated at the thought of what archaeological treasures might be ahead.
Presently, the road turned sharply and, swinging around the corner, the party came to an abrupt halt
Fred gripped his companion's arm. "There's the cross," he exclaimed.
Before them rose a massive half-ruined archway; all about were tumbled-down walls and blocks of stone, half hidden by the jungle, and beyond,—upon a pyramidal hillock,—stood a rude stone cross.
"The triumph of Christianity over the heathen gods," remarked Mr. Grayson. "Confound those old Spaniards. I wish they hadn't been so blamed fanatical. They've made an awful mess of this place."
"What are you talking about?" asked Fred.
"Don't you see?" cried the scientist petulantly. "Here I've stumbled on the only known prehistoric temple in Costa Rica and it's all knocked into bits by the old Dons, and with a cross on top of the sacrificial altar. It's rotten."
"I'm mighty glad to see that cross," declared Rob. "We're but fifty furlongs from the mine."
"Yes, 'up the defile and under the bridge,' " added Fred. "Hurrah! fate is guiding us you see. But I don't see any defile."
But Mr. Grayson was already busily examining the carved stones and walls of the ruined temple and paid little heed to the boys' words.
"I wonder how we go on from here," continued Fred. "There must be a trail, or something."
"Let's look around while Mr. Grayson's poking about here," suggested Rob.
"Clambering over the debris, and slashing a way through the vines and brush which covered the ruins, the boys sought for a trail or path. They had worked their way around two sides of the ruins and were pushing through some thick weeds behind the pyramid with its cross, when Fred gave a little cry and leaped quickly back.
"Gee!" he exclaimed, "I almost tumbled down that hole."
Stepping cautiously, the boys cut away the surrounding vegetation and exposed a square, black opening in the earth at the base of the pyramid.
"Why, there are steps leading into it," cried Rob.
"I wonder where it goes. I say, perhaps there's treasure down there."
Picking up a fragment of stone Fred tossed it into the hole. "It's deep anyway," he declared, as the tinkle of the falling stone grew fainter and fainter.
"Let's make a torch and go down," suggested Rob.
"Hadn't we best tell Mr. Grayson first?" said Fred.
"Hoot mon! We'll do a wee bit exploring ourselves first," chuckled Rob. "He's too busy sketching yon heathen carvings to miss us for a time."
As he spoke, Rob busied himself gathering dry sticks and twigs and tying them in bundles to form torches, and Fred, as anxious to explore the mysterious opening as his companion, also fell to work. "I wonder what's become of those Indians," remarked Rob, presently. "I hope they don't follow us."
Fred jumped up and glanced nervously about. "I'd forgotten all about them," he exclaimed. "Perhaps they're right near here in the bushes now. But I suppose there's no danger,—Mr. Grayson doesn't seem nervous—and he's a regular scare-cat about our safety. Just imagine him not—"
His sentence was never finished for at that instant there was a warning cry from Mr. Grayson, followed by the sound of running feet, and the scientist came dashing madly towards the boys. "Indians!" he shouted as he caught sight of the two. "Quick, get under cover,—they're all about."
As he reached the boys and dodged behind a mass of fallen masonry an arrow whistled within an inch of his head. Rob grasped his gun and peered cautiously around the rocks.
"Don't shoot," commanded the scientist. "It would only make matters worse; but you might fire in the air,—perhaps the noise will frighten them. They may not know we are armed."
But the report of the gun was answered by savage shouts, and a shower of arrows fell clattering against the stone which protected Rob and his companions.
At this instant a bright idea flashed across Fred's mind. "Let's go down the hole," he exclaimed, "they'll never get us there."
"What hole?" asked Mr. Grayson, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
In a few rapid words Fred told of their discovery. "I guess that's our best plan," agreed the scientist. "They'll scarcely dare follow,—these Indians are always afraid of such places. I expect their superstitious dread of the ruins is all that's prevented them from rushing us. Moreover, if they should follow us, the advantage will be all on our side down below."
Gathering up the torches they had prepared, and crawling like snakes through the weeds, the three gained the edge of the opening and descended the rude stone steps.
Soon they were in semi-darkness, for the stairs were broad and the slope was gradual, and by the time the last steps were reached the boys and their companion were fully fifty feet beyond the narrow opening by which they had entered. Lighting a torch, the three looked curiously about. They were in a narrow passage, walled and roofed with carefully fitted stone.
"I guess we're safe here," said Fred. "Those Indians can't see us from above and if they start to come down we can pot 'em easily. What sort of cellar is this, anyway? Do you suppose there's treasure down here?"
Mr. Grayson was carefully examining the wall. "It's prehistoric handiwork," he announced. "I expect it's a secret underground passage leading from the temple. Very likely it was used by the pagan priests who conducted the sacrifices up on that pyramidal altar."
"Let's go on and find where it goes," suggested Rob.
"Yes, we can't go back with those chaps keeping watch above, and there's no good staying here," urged Fred.
"I suppose we might as well go on," agreed the scientist. "We must proceed cautiously, however; these ancient tunnels are often dangerous, the builders had a playful habit of making wells and pitfalls to trap those unfamiliar with the way. Keep your eyes on the floor."
Holding their torches high and picking their way carefully, the three walked down the subterranean passage. Suddenly Fred stopped. "Hold on," he exclaimed. "We've left all our provisions behind."
"By Jove! that's so," ejaculated Mr. Grayson.
"Let's go back for them," said Rob.
"No, we can't do that," declared the scientist. "The baskets were left close to the archway. It would be suicidal to attempt to regain them. Besides, the Indians have probably taken possession of them by now. Well have to find our way out and trust to luck to get game, as we did before. There's bound to be an opening at the other end of this tunnel."
"Maybe it's covered up, or fallen in," suggested Fred. "Then we'd be in a pretty fix."
"No worse off than back there," said Rob cheerfully. "Hoot mon! don't be croakin'."
For a time they tramped on in silence. Then Fred spoke. "We must have been going for miles," he said.
Mr. Grayson laughed. "We've been walking about fifteen minutes," he replied. "Hello! we're going up hill."
"We've only two torches left," announced Fred. "If we don't get out pretty soon we'll be without lights."
"Look out!" called Mr. Grayson, "There's a lot of loose stones here; part of the roof's fallen in."
With the utmost care they climbed over the obstructions which nearly filled the passage.
"Light ahead!" exclaimed Mr. Grayson, "we're near the end."
But the tunnel now sloped steeply up and every few feet it was choked with fallen stones and progress was slow, and difficult. Spurred on by the faint glimmer of daylight before them, the three toiled on, while the torches burned lower and lower until, when still some distance from the opening, the boys were obliged to cast them aside. In the semi-darkness they stumbled forward, barking their shins against unseen rocks and feeling their way as best they could while, in low tones, the scientist constantly warned them to be careful.
"Don't call out or brush against the walls," he cautioned. "A sudden jar, or the vibration of a voice, might cause the whole roof to come tumbling in on us, and for Heaven's sake, don't dislodge any of these blocks of stone,—the whole place is just ready to give way. Thank God, we're nearly out."
Five minutes more and they could see the sunlight and green foliage ahead,—only a dozen yards separated them from the entrance, but with each foot that they progressed their difficulties increased. In places they could scarcely squeeze between the piles of fallen stones and the sides of the tunnel; in other spots they were compelled to crawl flat on their stomachs over the heaps of rubbish that filled the passage to within a few inches of the roof, and several times, their hearts seemed to cease beating as bits of earth and masonry came rattling down from the cracked, arched roof. Then the last barrier was reached,—not ten feet distant gleamed the exit from the tunnel. Mr. Grayson was already outside and, with a cry of relief, the two boys dashed forward. Fred was in the lead, and grasping the scientist's outstretched hand, drew himself into the open air. Taking the gun that Rob held out to him, he handed it to Mr. Grayson, and turning, reached down to help his companion.
As he did so, his foot dislodged a stone which crashed down the slope into the tunnel. There was an ominous rending sound, a shout from Mr. Grayson, and Fred, exerting all his strength, pulled his friend clear as, with a tremendous roar, the tunnel caved in.
Rob's life had been saved by the fraction of a second, and with nerves shaken by the narrow escape, the three sat silent and breathing hard. Fred was the first to break the silence. "That was the closest shave yet," he exclaimed.
"Aye, very close," agreed Rob. "But ye ken a miss is as good as a mile."
"Thank the Lord, it didn't occur with us inside," said Mr. Grayson fervently.
"Well, the Indians can't follow us that way now," declared Fred. "Where are we anyway?"
Then, for the first time, they looked about and took note of their surroundings. They were upon a level, platform-like spot on the side of a heavily-wooded hill. Above them rose the dense forest, while below, the slope was curiously terraced down to a little stream that wound through a deep gully. On the farther side of this rose another wooded hill, also terraced up from the water's edge, and all about, sharp angular stones projected from the dense jungle growth.
"By Jove! what a discovery," exclaimed Mr. Grayson. "Do you realize what this is, boys? We're standing in a prehistoric city,—a ruin as wonderful as Copan in Honduras. It's an archaeological treasure-trove. Lord, how I wish I had a gang of laborers here."
"You'd need a few provisions and supplies also," Fred reminded him dryly.
Rob's eyes twinkled mischievously. "An' dinna forget the ruin has been here hundreds o' years an' 'twill likely stop here 'till you can come back with your expedition," he said.
Mr. Grayson laughed. "You're right, Rob," he admitted. "You've turned the tables on me and brought me back to earth. We'll get out of here before we think of anything else."
"The question is, how to get out," said Fred. "The tunnel's gone and I don't see any other way."
"Can't we walk along the brook?" suggested Rob. "It may lead us to a river where we can make a raft."
"That's our best chance," agreed the scientist. "Come along, boys."
Scrambling down the terraces, which proved to be immense stone steps covered with curious, elaborate carvings, they soon reached the bottom of the gorge.
"Oh, look at that idol," exclaimed Fred, pointing to a grotesque image at the foot of the stairway. "It's just like those jade stones of ours."
"Yes, it's the snake-headed god," replied Mr. Grayson.
"I say, we were boobs," cried Rob. "Perhaps those Indians wouldn't have attacked us if we'd shown them the charms."
"Yes, and we had a swell chance to try it," said Fred sarcastically.
They had walked for some distance along the bed of sand and pebbles bordering the stream when, rounding a bend, they came suddenly upon a most unexpected sight. Spanning the gorge in two graceful arches, was an ancient bridge, it's quaint, lantern-like sentry boxes speaking eloquently of its Spanish origin.
For a space the three stood speechless, staring with unbelieving eyes at this evidence of civilization here in the unknown wilderness. Rob was the first to recover from his surprise. "Down the defile and under the bridge," he cried. "Hurrah! We're right by the mine."
Breaking into a run he dashed down the gorge and under the bridge with Fred at his heels.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" exclaimed Mr. Grayson and then, as there seemed no other course to follow, he too hurried after the boys.
Just beyond the bridge the stream was crossed by a dyke of rock over which the water poured in a miniature cataract. On either side, the hills rose steeply; that on the right covered with dense bush; that on the left a bare expanse of broken rock and glaring red and yellow gravel, cut into deep gullies by the rain and with huge masses of debris piled against the slope. At the apex of each of these pyramids of rock and gravel, and piercing the hillside in a dozen places, were irregular black holes. "The mine!" exclaimed Rob. "Hoot mon! Hoot! 'tis the lost mine we're gapin' at."
"Hurrah!" shouted Fred in a perfect frenzy of excitement. "We've found Tisingal,—we've found it, we've found it!"
The next instant both boys were scrambling madly up the hill towards the holes.
"Hold on there!" shouted Mr. Grayson. "Don't try to go in those holes. Do you hear?"
But the boys were deaf to his cries, and gaining the first opening, disappeared from sight.
Hurrying after them, the scientist clawed his way up the piles of tailings from the long-lost mine, and constantly shouting for the boys to come back, for he well knew the danger of entering the ancient shafts.
But he was still several yards from the summit of the slope when the boys reappeared with expressions of chagrin and disappointment on their faces.
"The hole's all filled up," announced Fred. "We couldn't go in ten feet."
"Thank Heaven, you couldn't," exclaimed Mr. Grayson. "You two deserve a good trouncing. What do you mean by diving into that hole after I told you not to? Suppose the place had caved in and buried you."
"I'm awfully sorry, Mr. Grayson," said Fred apologetically.
"Aye, we were that addle-headed with excitement we never heard you," declared Rob.
"Yes, yes, I suppose so," said the scientist molified. "But you must be more careful. Safety first you know."
"Do you think this is the mine?" enquired Fred anxiously.
"Unquestionably," replied Mr. Grayson with conviction. "That is, unless there are two old mines in the vicinity,—which is scarcely probable. These old shafts, the piles of tailings, the dam across the brook,—which was probably built to supply water power for the mill, all these indicate extensive mining operations. Finally, there's this bridge,—the Dons wouldn't have built such a structure as that without an output to warrant it. Besides, everything agrees with your map. Yes, I think you've found the long-lost Tisingal mine,—remarkable as it may seem,—and I congratulate you. If all the old tales are true you'll soon be millionaires."
"Well, it doesn't look such-a-much to me," declared Fred. "I don't see anything that looks like gold here."
Mr. Grayson laughed. "Judging from the tailings the veins were pretty well in," he said. "To reach the gold the shafts will have to be reopened. You didn't expect to find nuggets scattered all about in plain sight, did you?"
But, before Fred could reply, a shout from Rob drew their attention to where he was kneeling down and digging frantically with his machete among a pile of rocks. "Mr. Grayson, Fred, come here, quick," he cried.
"What is it? What have you found?" asked Fred as the two hurried to Rob's side, and then, "Gee!" exclaimed Fred. "Gee whiz!" and dropping to his knees beside his chum he too commenced tearing the earth aside.
"By Jove!" ejaculated the scientist and in another instant, he also was digging as if his life depended on it.
Before their astonished eyes, and gleaming dully among the brown rocks, was an enormous nugget of virgin gold.
Feverishly they toiled and presently the gigantic nugget was finally exposed. "Whew! but that is some gold," exclaimed Fred.
"An', ye dinna see muckle milch eh?" cried Rob. "We're rich, lad. There must be thousands and thousands o' pounds worth o 'gold in yon lump."
"And not worth ten cents to you just now," added Mr. Grayson who had now recovered his accustomed equanimity. "But don't let me cast cold water on your elation. Once we reach civilization you can come back and reopen the mines and make your fortunes, no doubt."
"Can't we carry that piece with us?" asked Fred. "Then we could prove we'd found the mine."
Mr. Grayson fairly roared with merriment. "I've not the least objection," he declared. "Just lift it up and we'll start along."
"I don't see anything so funny about it," said Fred. Stooping down he grasped the nugget and tugged at it with all his strength. "Come on, Rob, and give a hand," he exclaimed. "The nugget's wedged between these rocks."
But the united efforts of the two boys failed to stir the mass of gold from its bed.
"Man, but 'tis queer we can't lift it," said Rob, straightening up and wiping the perspiration from his forehead.
"Nothing queer about it," declared the scientist. "You seem to forget that gold's one of the heaviest things in the world. That bit of metal weighs at least 600 lbs. Something of a load to carry, eh?"
"Six hundred pounds!" repeated Fred incredulously. "Six hundred pounds, and pure gold! How much is it worth?"
"Roughly, about one hundred thousand dollars," replied the scientist.
"Gosh!" was all Fred could say.
As for Rob, he dropped limply on a rock and gazed with undisguised awe at the lump of dull yellow that represented a veritable fortune.
"I guess the old yarns about Tisingal were true after all," said Fred at last. "If lumps worth a hundred thousand dollars are knocking about like this there must be millions inside."
"Aye, do you mind Cap'n Jack telling us of the lad who knocked a bit off a lump with his machete?" cried Rob.
"That's an idea," exclaimed Fred jumping up. "We'll whack off some pieces of this nugget and carry them back." Seizing machetes the boys hacked away at the golden mass, while Mr. Grayson looked on with twinkling eyes and chuckled.
"It isn't much easier to cut than to lift, is it?" he asked.
"Say, you're making fun of us," exclaimed Fred, ceasing his efforts. "Why didn't you tell us we couldn't cut it?"
"Oh, as long as you're mine owners I thought you might as well gain some experience first hand," laughingly replied Mr. Grayson. "But all joking aside, you can cut off some pieces if you go about it properly. Here, let me show you."
"Don't forget you're a mine owner, too," said Rob. "It's share and share alike, Mr. Grayson."
"Yes, if it hadn't been for you we'd never have found the mine," declared Rob.
"Nonsense," replied the scientist. "It was pure luck, nothing else. I did my level best not to let you find it."
"Well, we all found it together then," insisted Fred, "and you're going to have an equal share in it."
"We'll talk business later," replied Mr. Grayson evasively. "Now let me show you how to cut off a sample of gold."
Placing the edge of a machete across a corner of the nugget he hammered upon the back of the blade with a rock and slowly, but surely, the steel penetrated the soft, ductile metal, and in a few moments, a five-pound lump had been sheared off.
"I guess those will do for samples," remarked the scientist when he had cut off two more pieces. "Now let's cover up the nugget and attend to more important matters. Time's not standing still and we've only an hour of daylight and nothing for supper."
"Golly! I'd forgotten all about that," exclaimed Fred.
"So had I, but I'm fair famished, now I think of it," declared Rob.
"First we must find a camping place and try to shoot something to eat," announced Mr. Grayson. "Let's see, there's—"
"I have it," interrupted Fred. "Let's camp up in one of those sentry boxes. Then, if any Indians come snooping about, we'll be safe at any rate."
"Excellent," agreed Mr. Grayson.
Climbing up the hillside, they soon gained the bridge which was as firm and solid as when first built four centuries before. The sentry boxes were also in good repair, but were tenanted by swarms of bats and deep with accumulated dirt. But when the bats had been driven off and the interior swept out, and a layer of dry leaves had been placed on the floor, the little room was as snug and comfortable as one could wish, although rather close quarters for three.
While Fred and Mr. Grayson were preparing the sentry box for occupancy and were gathering fire wood, Rob went in search of game. The scientist cautioned him to remain within hailing distance and warned him to keep out of the thick bush. "I don't believe there are any Indians about," he said, "but one never can tell. We must be on the safe side. If you hear any unusual sound or see any signs of savages, hurry back as quickly as you can. Act as if enemies were all about. Don't forget."
"Won't the sound of the gun attract the Indians?" asked Fred.
"It will if there are any near enough to hear it," replied Mr. Grayson, "but it's a risk we must take. We can't starve. Indians are the lesser of two evils."
But Rob was not compelled to go far. Crossing the bridge, he found an old road led into the forest, —an ancient paved way overgrown with vegetation and choked with fallen trees,—but still easily traced and reminding him of the old Gold Road. With Mr. Grayson's warnings in mind he hesitated to enter the forest and stood irresolutely just within the border of the woods. He was about to turn and skirt the edge of the bush at the top of the hill when he caught a glimpse of something moving in a large tree a few yards ahead. With his eyes fixed on the dense foliage he stepped noiselessly forward and at his first movement the branches swayed and rocked as a big troop of monkeys leaped chattering from limb to limb.
At the double report of Rob's gun two of the creatures came crashing down, and hastily picking them up, Rob hurried back to his companions.
Mr. Grayson was deeply interested in Rob's news of the old road. "I suspected as much," he said. "According to the old accounts, there was a good sized settlement here with a chapel and a fort. This bridge was built to accommodate considerable traffic and the road was, no doubt, the regular route to and from the mines. If we follow that road we're sure to reach the settlements or the sea coast. We've come in here by the back door, so to speak."
"What I can't understand is why no one's found the mines, if there's a road leading to them," said Fred.
"Or why the map says to come the other way," added Rob.
"That's a puzzle we may solve yet," replied Mr. Grayson. "But I imagine when the Indians revolted and destroyed the Spaniards and their settlements that they also destroyed the road and bridges and concealed all traces of them, or perhaps, they occupied the territory and made it impossible for anyone to approach that way. Very likely the survivors of the massacre, or the sole survivor if we credit your map, escaped by the way we arrived and gave that route as the only one possible at that time."
"In that case we may have trouble yet," remarked Fred. "Seems to me we're just getting out of one scrape and into another."
"Don't cross your bridges before we come to them," Mr. Grayson admonished him.
"And get busy with your supper or there won't be any left," said Rob, as he tossed aside a clean-picked bone.
The End of the Trail
THEIR meal over, they entered the sentry box, barricaded the narrow opening with branches and reclined in ease upon the soft leaves within. It was decided that they should take turns keeping watch for, despite the fact that no signs of Indians had been seen, Mr. Grayson had no intention of being taken unawares. He had kept his thoughts to himself, for he had no wish to arouse the boys' fears or make them nervous, but he realized that they were far from safe. He had no idea how far they had come from the old temple or in what direction and for all he knew, the Indians who had attacked them might have heard Rob's gun, and with this to guide them, they might even now be lurking in the forest near at hand.
But the night passed quietly and having breakfasted on the remains of the monkeys, the three left the bridge behind and entered the forest along the ancient Spanish highway. It was by no means easy traveling for they were constantly compelled to climb over or crawl under the fallen trees and branches; in many places they were obliged to cut their way through the jungle and lianas which had spread across the road, and there were numerous streams to be forded. Some of these had evidently been bridged in the past, for the remains of stone abutments could still be traced, and once or twice, the low, ruined walls of buildings were noticed beside the road.
Game was abundant and Rob secured a paca and an agouti and camp was made in the shelter of a giant tree in the forest. All through the forenoon of the next day they tramped on,—the road becoming more and more difficult to follow and leading over many hills and through numerous hollows. Then, as they followed the scarce distinguishable way along a steep mountainside, the road came to an abrupt end at the verge of an immense precipitous scarf; an impassable gulf, a gaping wound a hundred feet in depth and a mile wide extending from base to summit of the mountain.
"There's the answer to the puzzle," announced Mr. Grayson. "A landslide's torn away half the mountainside carrying the road with it."
"Well, I suppose we'll have to go around it," said Fred resignedly.
"I expect that's the only way," replied the scientist. "Though the Lord knows if we'll be able to find the road on the further side."
For an hour or two they slipped, slid and fought their way through the forest down the mountainside. Then, to their ears, came the sound of falling water and three minutes later they stood beside a tumbling, foaming river.
All ideas of climbing back up the mountain were abandoned in favor of following the river. As they proceeded, the ground became less rough and broken, the river widened and flowed more slowly and, within an hour, the stream was flowing tranquilly through level country covered with an open, parklike forest.
"Hurrah! now we can build another raft," cried Fred. "I've had enough tramping to last all my life."
"Yes, we'll build a raft to-morrow," agreed Mr. Grayson. "But it's too late to attempt it to-day. We'll have a good rest and take things easy. It looks to me as if we wouldn't have far to travel. I think we're on the coastal plains now."
A fire was soon started, and while the dinner was cooking the boys lolled on the grassy bank of the stream, resting their tired limbs.
"Let's take a swim," suggested Rob. "The river looks fine."
"All right," assented Fred. Leaving Mr. Grayson to attend to the cooking, the two boys made their way towards an inviting sand beach a few rods from the fire.
Suddenly Rob grasped Fred's arm and jerked him behind a tree. "Look!" he exclaimed in low tones and pointing across the river. "What's that? See, back of those vines beside that fallen tree."
Fred peered intently at the spot indicated. At first he saw nothing, then something moved, there was a little splash in the water and a faint rattle as of wood striking on wood.
"It's a canoe," whispered Fred in shaking tones, "and an Indian!"
"Two!" ejaculated Rob.
"And they're coming this way!" cried Fred.
With one accord, the two boys scurried from their hiding place and fairly threw themselves on Mr. Grayson.
"Quick!" cried Fred. "Look across the river,— a canoe with Indians. They're coming after us."
Mr. Grayson whirled about towards the river. There, in plain sight, and coming swiftly towards them was a big dugout canoe manned by two Indians.
"Let's run," urged Fred.
Rob seized his gun. "Shall I shoot at them or over them?" he asked.
"Don't shoot at all," replied the scientist, "and don't run. Those chaps won't hurt us,—they're civilized Indians,—don't you see they're wearing trousers? Boys, we're saved!"
Stepping forward, with the two boys, somewhat shamefaced, following, Mr. Grayson greeted the approaching Indians in Spanish to which the Indians replied in the same tongue.
Then, as the dugout grated on the shore, the Indians stepped out, and very deliberately and ceremoniously, shook hands with Mr. Grayson and the boys in turn.
They were stocky, pleasant-faced fellows and in short, disjointed sentences explained that they were Valiente Indians on a hunting and fishing trip, that their camp was up a creek on the other shore, and that seeing the white men, they had come across in the hope of obtaining tobacco and rum.
No trace of surprise or disappointment was visible on their faces as Mr. Grayson explained that he and his companions were lost and had been wandering in the forest for many days and that they had neither tobacco nor any other possessions. But the redmen willingly agreed to carry the three down the river to the settlements and assured Mr. Grayson that in five days' paddling they could reach Chiriqui Lagoon and Bocas del Toro.
Ten minutes later the boys and the scientist were dining with their Indian friends at the latters' thatched camp across the river and that night they once more slept comfortably in hammocks.
The Indians had already finished their hunt, and with the canoe deeply laden with jerked meat, dried fish and the three additional passengers, the journey down stream was begun at daybreak.
It was a wonderful sensation to feel that all troubles were over, that in a few days more they would be back to railway trains, steamships and busy cities, and the boys could scarcely realize it.
"I can't believe it's not all a dream, especially the mine," declared Rob.
"Neither can I, until I touch that lump of gold in my pocket," said Fred, then as an afterthought, he exclaimed: "But how will we ever find the road again?"
"Easily," replied Mr. Grayson. "Just look back at that high mountain. That landslip stands out like a sore finger. You'll have no trouble locating the road with that signpost to guide you."
* * *
There is little need to describe the rest of the boys' journey. The trip down river was uneventful and on the fifth day the canoe was run ashore at an Indian village a few hours' paddle from Bocas del Toro and two days later the three were safely back in Christobal.
Mr. Wilson had not returned from Costa Rica and a cable was sent to tell him of the boys' arrival. As he had felt they were perfectly safe in Mr. Grayson's care he had not worried, although they had been absent nearly two weeks longer than planned, for he knew the uncertainty of scientific expeditions in respect to such matters.
With the help of Mr. Grayson and their many friends the boys at once filed a claim to the mine which the scientist, after consulting many old maps and records, declared was on Panamanian territory. Over and over again the boys related the story of their adventures and many narrow escapes to the never-ending wonder and envy of their boy scout friends. But no one was more interested than old Cap'n Jack.
"I allers know'd you'd beat me fer a runnin afoul o' a'ventures," he declared. "Sink me, lads, if ye ain't had enough to last ye the rest o’ yer lives. An' to think that there splay-footed nigger run athwart yer hawse ag'in. Well! well! An' now ye're a pair o' bloomin' millionaires an' a ownin' o’ a honest-fer-true mine,—or leastwise ye will be, soon's as ye git yer claim."
"You'll have to go with us when we start to reopen it," declared Fred.
The old sailor shook his head. "No, son," he exclaimed, "ye don't catch me a stompin' into them places wi' this ere timber leg o' mine. I'm a gettin' too old fer such carryin' on. Lor' bless ye!"
"Well, you can have a gold leg, if you want," laughed Rob. "We're going to give you a share in the mine you know. We've talked it all over and we won't take 'no' for an answer."
"That's right," added Fred, "we've got you down already in the papers as a shareholder and they're all filed and recorded, so you can't back out."
"Lor' love ye!" cried the old salt with a suspicious quaver in his deep voice. "What'll a ol' sailor-man do with all that there money? All I wants is just enough to keep me in baccy an' duds. Why, lads! them lumps o' gold ye give me'll more'n keep me all my days an' give me a bloom in' fine send off to me last port, asides."
In a few days Mr. Wilson arrived and the boys' story was again related to his wondering ears.
"Are you sure that mine is in Panama?" he asked after he had marveled sufficiently at the boys' remarkable tale.
"There's no question about it," declared Mr. Grayson. "I've gone over every available map and I'm positive the boundary is fully ten miles to the north,—the other side of that double peaked mountain in fact. But the exact boundary is a bit uncertain and, to make assurance doubly sure, I've filed an application for mining rights to about 200 square miles in Costa Rican territory. We don't want the boys to lose their find through oversight."
"Hmm," muttered Mr. Wilson. "It's time you received some notice regarding your application. I'm going over to Panama to-morrow and I'll look into the matter and poke up Don Anastasio. There's no reason for any such delay."
"Did you see Don Anastasio? What did he say?” cried the two boys when Mr. Wilson returned from Panama the next evening.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you,” he replied. "It seems the district covered by your application is not government land. It is owned, or at least claimed, by a man named Cabral—Pedro Esquival Maria Santos de Cabral, is his full name.
"Then we can't get the mine," exclaimed Fred dejectedly.
"And won't the fellows laugh at us,” put in Rob.
"Wait a bit," continued Mr. Wilson. "Cabral doesn't own the mineral rights and he couldn't prevent you from mining but as he owns all the surrounding land you'll have to secure his consent before you can build a road or fell a tree to reach the mines. I've talked the matter over with Grayson and Don Anastasio—and they both agree with me that to reach the mine it's necessary to cross Cabral’s property."
"Unless you take the route we followed, and which is hardly practical," agreed Mr. Grayson.
"Let's hurry up and get his permission then,” said Rob.
"'There's the trouble," replied Mr. Wilson. "Cabral's present whereabouts are unknown. When last heard from he was over in Colombia or Venezuela."
"Then the mine's no use to us till we find that Cabral person," sighed Fred. "And now every one knows about it and somebody'll find Cabral and get the mine ahead of us."
Mr. Wilson's eyes twinkled. "Oh, not quite so bad as that," he declared. From his pocket he drew a bulky official envelope and handed it across the table to the boys. "Here's your concession to the Tisingal Mine," he said.
"And here's another from the Costa Rican government," added the scientist producing a second envelope.
The boys, too confused, elated and surprised to speak, gazed helplessly at the documents before them.
"And as for that 'Cabral person' as you call him," said Mr. Wilson, "I think we can locate him. Grayson thinks he knows him,—bought a lot of antiquities from him last year."
"Yes," declared the scientist, "I commissioned him to collect for me. He said he was going over to Goajira. I think it will be worth while to go over and look him up."
"Oh, can't we go, too?" cried the boys in chorus.
"As a business proposition I suppose it will be a good investment," said Mr. Wilson judicially. "Let's see, when does the next steamer leave, Grayson?"
But the other's reply was drowned by the boys' rousing cheers.