Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Inca's Treasure House 1/5 magazine story

The Inca's Treasure House
Part 1 of 5
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Illustrated by Heman Fay, Jr.
From The Open Road for Boys, Vol. XIII October, 1931 No. 10. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, March 2013.

THEY were lost! For some time both boys had felt sure of it, and could no longer conceal their helplessness, or their realization of the dangers they faced. They gazed at each other wide-eyed, without speaking, for each dreaded to voice his fears.
It seemed days since they had crawled from under the overturned car, unhurt, to find the Cholo chauffeur crumpled lifeless under the steering wheel; yet Pancho's watch told them it had been only eight hours since they had been laughing and chatting in the car as it bumped across the desert toward La Raya mining camp where the boys had planned to pass their vacation with Bob Stillwell's father, the manager.
For months they had looked forward to the trip, ever since Bob had received a letter from his father telling of the wonders of Peru and suggesting that he bring a friend with him. Of course Bob had chosen Pancho McLean, his most intimate chum, who, having lived for several years in Mexico, spoke Spanish fluently.
Bob's father had sent word that he could not meet the boys as he had planned, but one of the officials of the La Raya Company had greeted them aboard ship at Callao, and had seen them safely started on their way to the mines in one of the company's cars.
The accident happened suddenly, unexpectedly. One instant they were speeding across seemingly trackless desert, the next instant the car had skidded, crashed into one of the countless outcrops of jagged rock that dotted the waste, and overturned.
Shaken and terrified, Bob and Pancho cut through the wrecked top. With trembling hands they tried to drag the chauffeur free, but after one horrified glance at the fellow's battered face and crushed head they hastily retreated.
“Let's take food and the water bottles and get going," said Bob. "That poor chap is beyond help, and there's no use staying here."
"How about the guns?" asked Pancho, as they prepared to burrow beneath the car in search of food and the thermos bottles.
"What's the use," said Bob. "There's nothing to shoot in this desert, and we'll have to get someone to bring in the rest of the stuff. We can get the guns then. I'm not going to lug a gun across this desert. It'll be bad enough hiking as it is."
"I don't know," muttered Pancho. "I'll feel safer with my rifle."
"All right, take it if you want to," said Bob, "but mine stays right here."
It was not a pleasant job, salvaging the precious water bottles, the lunches provided for their journey, and the few other necessities while the dead man lay so close beside them; and it was a still more unpleasant duty to cover the body with the cushions and ripped top in order to protect it from the black vultures which already were gathering. At last it was done and the boys breathed sighs of relief.
"Now which way do we go?" asked Pancho, glancing at the glaring desert and distant mountains.
"Follow the road, of course," replied Bob.
"Yes, if there were a road to follow, but I don't see any."
The boys gazed about in bewilderment. Beyond the spot where the car had skidded, there was no sign of road, nothing to distinguish one part of the rock-strewn waste from another.
"I never noticed we weren't following a road," muttered Bob. "There was one back a ways. I wonder how far."
Suddenly Pancho laughed. "We are boobs!" he exclaimed. "Even if there's no road, we can follow the wheel marks back the way we came."
"Yes and walk fifty miles before we get anywhere," said Bob. "We passed the last village a little after eight and it's now eleven.'"
"The Cholo said we'd be at a place called Palitos in time for lunch," Pancho declared. "So it can't be more than twenty-five miles away, but it might as well be a hundred if we don't know the road. I wonder how long we'd have to wait here before someone comes along?"
"We'd die of thirst," declared Bob. "This isn't the regular route to La Raya, you know. They generally go down to the coast and take a steamer at Lobos. Dad had us come this way because there won't be a ship for ten days. What's twenty-five miles? All we've got to do is to head for the hills, if Palitos is there."
"Fine!" Pancho exclaimed sarcastically. "There are thousands of hills. Count 'em."
"Well, the car was heading northeast so we can hike that way," declared Bob "Come on, feller, move your feet."

THE walking was not hard, and though the sun beat down mercilessly and the desert quivered with heat, the boys trudged doggedly on. But they had not learned that mirages in the Peruvian deserts can play tricks, that the hill they had selected as a guide to their objective did not exist—at least in that spot—but was really ten miles further than it appeared.
Tired and hot they threw themselves down to rest at the foot of a billowy sand dune. They ate greedily, and washed the dry food down their parched throats with copious draughts from the thermos bottles.
"I guess we must be pretty near there," remarked Bob when, refreshed and with appetite satisfied, he rose and looked about. "I hate to think of climbing over these dunes."
"No reason why we should," said Pancho. "The car couldn't have done it so there must be a way around them."
They soon found that there were a dozen ways around—or rather between the sand hills. Moreover, they were criss-crossed with innumerable narrow trails.
"That looks like an old river bed to me," observed Pancho, as they pushed wearily onward. "I don't see how a car could ever get up here."
"Oh those Fords can go anywhere," grunted Bob. "Anyhow, this is a sort of pass and the trail still leads up it, so there must be someone in here."
Presently the trail swung around a jutting shoulder of the mountains, leaving the stony area behind, and zig-zagged up the steep slope.
The boys halted undecided. Should they follow the wash or keep to the trail? Finally, deciding that the trail was probably a short cut, and that from a height they could obtain a view of their surroundings, they turned up the narrow pathway.
Up and up they climbed, until at last they came to a wide stretch of hard rocky puna, or upland desert.
"It doesn't look as if anyone ever lived here!" cried Bob. "Whew! I hope we don't have to go all the way back."
"I don't know," said Pancho, who was studying the surroundings carefully. "It looks as if there were a valley over between the hills to the left, and there's some green among the rocks. That means water and most likely the village is in the valley. Let's go on and see."
"There's green all right," declared Bob, a few minutes later. "Perhaps you're right, Gee whittaker! I'd like to lie down and rest!"
"There's a house!" Pancho shouted suddenly.
Elated at thought of finding a village, they rushed forward. Clinging to the hillside was green vegetation, and, at the edge of the stunted growth, a hut; but the boys' faces fell as they reached it. The rude shelter of sticks and dry wild cane was empty; it had been deserted for months, as even their inexperienced eyes told them. And the vegetation consisted of only a scanty growth of wild cane, of giant prickly-pears and scraggly, dwarfed algorobo trees that clustered about a tiny fissure in the rocks where a trickle of moisture showed.
Worst of all, there was no valley—only a dark, yawning canyon surrounded by forbidding cliffs.

UTTERLY spent, Bob and Pancho flung their tired bodies to the ground in the shadow of the abandoned hut. The sun was already dipping toward the west and the mountains cast long purple shadows across the rocky puna. Their tramp had been for nothing and night was fast approaching. Still the two did not realize the predicament they were in. They were confident that had they kept on up the pass, instead of striding off on the trail, they would by now have been in the village they sought.
"My feet are two big blisters," Bob groaned. "But, if we've got to go we might as well be on our way," he sighed resignedly. "I'd be too stiff to move if I stayed here much longer."
For several minutes they tramped with heavy feet across the puna, then came to an abrupt halt. The trail led up, not down, the hillside. Silently the two boys, now inwardly fearing the worst, turned in the opposite direction only to find that the trail described a wide loop and again led up hill. "How are we going to get out of here?" Bob looked around helplessly. "Why didn't we notice some landmark?"
"Because we felt too cocksure there were people here," replied Pancho.
Suddenly he laughed. "There are your people!" he exclaimed. "They're goats, and these paths are only goat trails!"
Pancho dropped to one knee and cocked his rifle. "Going to have fresh meat for dinner," he declared. The goats had approached within easy gun shot. A half-grown kid dropped in its tracks and the others scampered off.
There was plenty of fuel in the little thicket, a fire was soon blazing, and a hearty meal of broiled kid worked wonders in restoring the boys' spirits. To be sure, the sip of water they permitted themselves seemed only to increase their thirst, but they were too tired and sleepy to worry over it much. Stretching themselves on the warm sand, they were soon sleeping soundly.

SUNLIGHT streaming on their faces awakened them. "I've been thinking," observed Pancho, as they ate breakfast, "that the best plan is to climb one of these hills before it gets too hot. Then perhaps we can spot a valley where there's water or a village or something."
"All right," assented Bob, "but I hate to think of climbing up there and then being no better off."
"We can't be any worse off," Pancho reminded him. "We've either got to find a village or a stream or we'll be up against it, Bob. There's no use kidding ourselves. As it is we're lost and we haven't a decent drink of water left."
It was a terrible climb up the steep slope. Loose rocks rolled beneath their feet, the razor-edged outcrops cut their hands and shoes, and their thirst became an almost unbearable torture. At last they reached the summit and gazed about. Far below them was the little hidden desert surrounded by its rim of rocky ridges. Beyond the western hills lay the hazy expanse of the big desert, a shimmering sea of sand.
Their eyes swung hopefully, expectantly around the horizon, and they shouted triumphantly. Almost at their feet a deep valley lay between the hills, and in the bottom of the cleft was rich green vegetation and a sparkle of running water!
Promptly they drained the last of the precious fluid in their thermos bottles. No need to save those few drops now. Then, stopping only long enough to pick out a descent that seemed passable, they hurried downward towards the valley.
How they managed to reach the bottom without breaking their necks neither boy ever knew. They got there somehow, and threw themselves down beside the little stream.
"I never knew water could taste so good," exclaimed Bob, when at last he raised his dripping face. "I'm going to stay right here till we're rescued."
"I'm not,” declared Pancho. "But just the same that water's the best thing I ever tasted."
Refreshed, and having bathed their dust-covered bodies and blistered feet in the cool water, they discussed their next move.
"I'll bet there are people not far away," declared Bob. "This is the only place we could see from the hill that had water."
"We'd better keep on up this valley," declared Pancho. "I'm for sticking to the water as long as we can. We won't die of thirst, and there should be game in these thickets."
As they walked up the valley, Pancho held his rifle ready. He had begun to fear that they would either have to go hungry or depend upon small birds for their lunch, when he saw something moving among the rocks and called his companion's attention to it.
"Looks like a rabbit to me," said Bob.
"Or a woodchuck," added Pancho. "Anyway, it may be good to eat, whatever it is."
The creature was now standing erect on its haunches watching the boys in the ravine below. It was an easy shot, and at the report of the rifle the beast tumbled and slid down the hillside.
"Maybe it's a chinchilla," suggested Pancho, as they examined their kill. "They live in Peru and their fur is valuable. We'd better save the skin, Bob."
"Do you suppose it's good to eat?" asked Bob.
"Guess it depends on how hungry we are," replied Pancho. "We'd better wait a while; it's not lunch time yet."

AS THEY continued up the valley they shot two more of the viscachas, as the gopher-like animals are called in Peru, and at Bob's suggestion that it would be easier to carry them in their stomachs than in their hands, they found a shady spot, built a fire and proceeded to broil their game. With their appetites whetted by their tramp, the tender white meat tasted most delicious even without salt or seasoning.
They were just finishing when, with a whirring of wings a large, brownish bird sprang from the ground almost at their feet and dropped into a tangle of vines across the little valley.
"Partridge!" exclaimed Pancho.
"Well, he'll be good for dinner," declared Bob. "Let's see if we can get him."
Cautiously the boys crept forward, but the vines and weeds were so thick that they couldn't detect the mountain partridge, or perdis. Not until they were within a few feet of it did it take flight with a roar that startled them. With only a rifle and a limited supply of ammunition their only hope was to get a fair shot at it when it alighted, but the bird, whose plumage blended perfectly with the sand and rocks, appeared to vanish as it dropped to the hillside.
Oblivious of all else, the boys crept, crawled and stalked the elusive perdiz, until at last Pancho brought it down with a lucky shot.
"Here 'tis!" cried Bob, dashing forward and holding it up in triumph. "Now we'll have a good dinner."
"And here's the end of the valley," exclaimed Pancho. "And not a sign of a house or a human being."
It was true. The valley narrowed into a mere rift in the mountains with almost perpendicular walls.
"How are we going to get out of here?" queried Bob.
For some time they examined the rocks, searching for a way up, but in vain. Then Bob discovered some ancient, crumbling masonry, and the two examined it with intense interest.
"It looks like a regular flight of steps leading out of here," declared Bob.
"No—I don't think so," said Pancho. "It curves the wrong way. Say! I know what it is—look, you can see it sticking to the rocks up there—it's part of an old bridge or viaduct that has fallen to pieces. There must have been a road up there, crossing this ravine."
"Maybe it's the old Inca road that Mr. Griswold told about!" cried Bob. "If so, we can follow it to some place. And I'll bet we can climb up here."
Carefully, for a slip meant a nasty fall and possibly broken bones, the two began clambering up the steep side of the little canyon, aided by the bits of masonry still adhering to the cliff. It was a hard climb, but at last it was accomplished and they stood safely on the summit above the canyon. Then, for the first time, they remembered about water and food.
"Whew!" ejaculated Bob. "We forgot to get water and the bottles are empty!"
"We are a couple of boobs," declared Pancho. "Well, we've simply got to climb down again."
"We might explore around a bit before trying to go down," said Bob hopefully. "Say, look here! We're on a road!"

UNQUESTIONABLY, a shelf of rock on the mountain side had been cut by hand. It was too even and level for a natural formation, and the remains of a stone pavement were visible amid the rocks and sand that had slid down the mountain through long centuries.
"It's a road all right," agreed Pancho. "Maybe the old Inca road. See, there's more of it across the canyon. It must have crossed over by a bridge once. I wonder where it leads."
"That's what we'll find out," said Bob positively. "We'll just hike along till we get somewhere."
Luck this time was with them. A few hundred yards beyond the ravine a stream trickled down the mountain, and the two drank all they could hold and filled the bottles. Then they walked steadily on, gradually ascending, until by the time they began to think of preparing to pass another night in the open they were thousands of feet above the desert where their car had been wrecked. On every side was a wilderness of peaks, ridges and purple canyons. In the distance, snow clad peaks gleamed against the sky.
"We're on top of the world!" cried Bob as they gazed about.
The boys decided to spend the night where they were, and as they searched for dry agave stalks and twigs for fuel they discovered the half ruined walls of a stone building.
"Someone lived here once," declared Pancho. "Let's clean it out and camp inside; it's a lot better than staying out in the open."
Very soon a fire was blazing in the ruins, and the perdiz was broiling over a bed of coals. Outside, the chill mountain wind whistled, but the boys were comfortable and warm. They laughed and chatted as they picked the bones of the big partridge, apparently as light-hearted and free from worry as if they had been on a week-end camping trip instead of lost among the Andes.
The fact that they had come upon the old road, that they were enjoying the shelter of what had once been a building, convinced both that they would soon reach a settlement. That the road had not been in use since the mail-clad soldiers of Pizarro traversed it more than four centuries before, that the stone walls that sheltered them from the biting wind were the remains of an Incan tambo or rest-house and had not been occupied since the days of Atahualpa, never occurred to them. Unaware of these facts, never dreaming that every mile they traveled along the ancient highway was taking them farther from La Raya, Palitos and all other outposts of civilization, the boys slept soundly, to awaken shivering in the chill morning air and with ravenous appetites.
"I wish we'd saved some of that bird for breakfast!" lamented Bob, as he crouched over the smouldering ashes of the fire.
"You're always wishing," Pancho reminded him. "I could wish a lot better than that. I could wish we had a heaping dish of hot buckwheat cakes and maple syrup and fried sausages or—"
"Oh, shut up!" cried Bob. "I wish we had some of that coca that the Indians chew to keep from being hungry."
"No use wishing for anything," said Pancho philosophically. "Come on, let's be on our way. Maybe we'll find something to shoot, even if it's only a buzzard!"

HALF an hour after leaving the ruined tambo they came in sight of a gravelly slope, and instantly dodged back. Less than a hundred yards distant they had seen several animals grazing.
"Deer!" whispered Pancho, cocking his rifle and cautiously wriggling forward.
As his shot rang out he sprang to his feet. "Got him!" he cried. "Golly, Bob! Look at those fellows go!"
"Whee! I've never seen anything step on it so fast!" exclaimed Bob, as the frightened creatures vanished in the distance.
"Well, we got one and now we can have breakfast," Pancho reminded him.
"It's not a deer," Bob said as they approached the dead animal.
"Looks more like llama," said Pancho.
"I know what it is! We saw one in the zoo at Lima. It's a vicuna!"
"Guess you're right. Anyhow, I suppose he's edible so let's find a place where we can build a fire and eat."
"We can't cook him whole," Bob observed. "We've got to skin him and dress him and wait till he's cold, you know."
"Seems to me it would be a lot easier and quicker to cut off his legs and leave the rest," declared Pancho. "We couldn't carry the whole thing along with us anyway."
Even to cut off the vicuna's hind quarters with only their pocket knives was no easy job, and the boys were tired, bloody and heartily sick of their amateur butchering before it was finally accomplished. Each carrying a haunch of the vicuna, they left the carcass to the buzzards and made their way to a little stream where they washed the blood from their hands and the meat. Soon two steaks were sizzling over a fire. Blackened, smoky, half-cooked as it was, the meat tasted delicious. As they were eating, they made a surprising discovery. They had built their fire against a big grayish-green object that Bob had thought was a moss-covered rock. Now as he gnawed at a slice of the meat and glanced at the dying fire, his jaws stopped working and he stared incredulously. The supposed rock was burning!
"Look! Look there!" he cried, seizing his companion's arm. "That rock's on fire!"
Pancho exclaimed in amazement. He picked up a heavy stone and threw it at the glowing mass. A shower of sparks flew up, there was a dull thud, and a piece of the burning object broke off.
"It's not a stone," he declared. "It's some sort of wood. Say, Bob, we're in luck! I've seen lots like it and now we know they'll burn, we won't have any more trouble over fuel."
"Say, that's a lucky break," declared Bob. "Let's build a big fire and roast this meat now. Then it won't spoil and we can eat it any time."
At once the boys began to gather a great pile of the strange woody masses, which were really yaretta plants, the customary fuel of the denizens of the higher Andes. Then, after roasting the vicuna, they started along the road. Back and forth around the mountain sides, along narrow ridges, zigzagging up the precipitous slopes, winding along the edges of mile-deep canyons, the ancient road led, until the boys were hopelessly confused.
Seemingly near at hand, an immense snowcapped peak thrust its dazzling summit far above the surrounding mountains.
"I'll bet we're not far from La Raya," declared Bob. "Dad said the camp was on a mountain within sight of a glacier, and that's the only mountain with a glacier we've seen. My guess is that the mine's right on the other side of it, so all we have to do is to walk half-way around it."
"Sounds easy," Pancho replied, "but there may be canyons and all sorts of obstacles in the way. Anyhow, it's miles to that mountain, and a lot more miles around it. "
"You don't seem very worried over it," commented Bob, "and somehow I can't get terribly scared myself. But I am troubled about Dad. He must be worrying, and wondering what's happened."
"We were fools to have left the car," said Pancho. "If we'd only stayed there they'd have found us. It's too late now. Come on, the sooner we get started the sooner we'll get somewhere."

PRESENTLY, they realized that they were no longer climbing upward. Glancing back, Bob saw that they had already descended several hundred feet.
"We're going down hill!" he cried, "Probably this old road leads into some valley where there are people."
"We're going down, all right," agreed Pancho, "but likely as not we'll be climbing again in ten minutes. The fellows that built this road just went wherever they felt like it. You're right, though, Bob! There's a valley down there and green stuff!"
Far below them opened a deep valley richly green.
Feeling sure they were nearing inhabited country, the boys hurried forward. Sliding and slipping, barking knees and shins, yelping with pain as they bumped into clumps of cacti, they at last reached the bottom of the slope in a cloud of dust and a small avalanche of dislodged gravel and stones.
"Well here we are, but where are we?" remarked Pancho.
"How should I know?" grinned Bob. "There are trees down farther, and water. Let's have a bath and wash some of this mountain off of us."
Refreshed by their bath in the cold water, they started down the valley.
"There's one thing sure," announced Pancho presently. "If we can follow this stream it's bound to lead to a river, and as people nearly always live near rivers we're certain to find someone in time. And if there's any game anywhere it will be where there are water and trees.
"The vicuna wasn't," Bob reminded him.
"No, but we might hunt for a month and not see any more of them," declared Pancho. "I'll—Gosh, Bob! What was that!"
They halted in their tracks, listening intently. From somewhere ahead sounded a piercing scream followed by snarling growls, groans and the crashing of brush!
(To be continued)
For the book version, and complete story see:

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.