Friday, 3 May 2013
The Incas' Treasure House 2/5
The Incas' Treasure House [Part 2 of 5] (Part1)
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From The Open Road for Boys v13 # 11, November 1931. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, May 2013.
We want you to meet Mr. A. Hyatt Verrill, author of The Incas' Treasure House. Here he is dressed in his Indian costume, as Chief Cuviboranandi of the Guaymi Indians, a wild Panama tribe. When you are reading this story, you may feel sure that the author "knows his stuff," for he is an explorer of wide renown. He has penetrated distant Central and South American jungles, climbed perilous mountain peaks, mingled with wild Indian tribes and won their confidence, to the extent of being adopted into a tribe. He is the only white man who has seen the fabulously rich gold mine of Tisingal, in Costa Rica, and lived to tell of it, since the Indians killed the Spanish miners long ago, and swore death to any white man who should ever seek to lay eyes on the treasure again. And it was all because he cured the chief's young daughter of an illness that this honor was bestowed on him. His own experiences are as interesting as any story that he could write, and that's saying a good deal.
The Story So Far
Bob Stillwell and Pancho McLean, who has lived in Mexico and speaks Spanish, are on their way to La Raya mining camp in Peru, where Bob's father is manager and where they are to spend their summer vacation. On the last lap of their journey they are met by one of the company's cars and are speeding over barren wastes toward their distant goal when the car overturns killing the native chauffeur. Bob and Pancho hike off in what they think is the direction of La Raya, but they soon become hopelessly lost and, following an ancient abandoned road, wander farther and farther into the fastness of the Andes. They manage to find water and kill enough game for their needs. As this installment opens they have just been started by a piercing scream, followed by groans and crashing of brush near at hand.
CHAPTER IV JAGUAR
STARTLED by the piercing scream, the two boys dashed into the thicket toward the sound. Bursting through a dense tangle, they came suddenly upon an open space in which an Indian was battling for his life with a tawny spotted creature—a huge jaguar. His poncho was torn and bloodstained, one arm hung limp at his side, and though he struggled frantically to rise to his feet, an injured leg refused to support him. His only weapon, a heavy club, provided little defense against the great cat. Rearing on its hind legs, striking viciously and with lightning speed, green eyes blazing and gleaming teeth bared in a snarl, the creature seemed to be certain of its prey.
All this Bob and Pancho took in at a single glance. To their terrified eyes the jaguar appeared as huge as a lion, but in their pity for the helpless Indian they gave no thought to their own danger. Springing to within a few feet of the jaguar, Pancho poured four bullets into the spotted hide as fast as he could pull the trigger. With a savage roar the creature turned and leaped toward its new enemy with jaws open and great claws wide-spread. For a moment Pancho's bullets seemed to have no effect and he could almost feel the ripping blow of those terrible claws, the agony of those crushing, gleaming fangs. Bob's excited yells and the snarling growls of the jaguar rang in his ears. He felt certain they were the last sounds he would ever hear. Staggering back, he swung his empty rifle upward, but before he could strike, the spotted fiend half turned in the air, bit savagely at its flank and collapsed in a lifeless heap.
Pancho tripped and fell but was up in an instant, hurrying with Bob to the side of the Indian who was stretched unconscious on the ground. Wide-eyed, the two boys gazed at the man's ghastly wounds. Scarcely an inch of his skin was left un-scored by the jaguar's claws. The left wrist was broken and the flesh torn from the shoulder exposing the bone. One leg had been bitten through. He still breathed, but it seemed as if death would come at any moment. Despite the seeming hopelessness of the task, the boys started at once to do what they could for the injured native.
"I'm mighty glad we brought our first-aid kits along," said Pancho. "Fill your hat with water from the brook, Bob. We'll need lots of it."
WITH shaking hands they bathed the worst wounds, applied antiseptics and exhausted the supply of bandages. Quickly they tore their shirts into strips, sprinkled them with the remaining disinfectants and placed tourniquets about the torn arm and leg to stop the flow of blood. Fortunately the leg bone was not broken, but the fractured wrist was bad.
"We'll never be able to fix that!" declared Pancho, turning white as he examined the injury. "I know you're supposed to pull a broken bone into place, but—I—I'm afraid to pull this. It looks as if the least pull would tear the hand from the arm. It's terrible!"
Bob, too, was pale and his stomach was giving him most uncomfortable sensations. "Maybe if we shut our eyes and felt of it we could tell where the bones belonged, and sort of push 'em back."
Never had they faced a more trying job, but at last it was done and the two breathed sighs of relief. There were still the deep wounds to be attended to. The tourniquets had practically stopped the flow of blood but they could not be left in place indefinitely. So, mustering their courage once more, the boys carefully examined the raw flesh, washing away the blood, and tentatively loosened the ligatures. To their joy they found the bleeding had almost stopped, and feeling sure no arteries had been severed, they removed the tourniquets and bound up the wounds.
As they finished, they suddenly became aware that the Indian had regained consciousness. His eyes were open, but no murmur or groan came from his lips.
"Gee, he is stoical!" exclaimed Bob. "And he must want a drink."
As he spoke Bob placed a water bottle to the man's lips. He drank greedily, and then, mumbling unintelligible words, reached weakly with his uninjured hand toward a small leather wallet at his belt. Wondering what the contents, might be, Bob opened it and guided the trembling fingers to it. Within were a number of dried leaves and a small lump of what looked like gray chalk.
"What do you suppose those are?" asked Bob, as the groping fingers withdrew a few leaves and the little chalky lump.
"I know!" exclaimed Pancho. "It's coca—don't you remember your father writing about the way the Indians chew coca leaves and can go all day without food or rest because of them?"
"Yes, I guess that's it," agreed Bob. "Say, I wouldn't mind having some myself right now, I'm weak as a cat."
"Don't talk about cats being weak," said Pancho. "There's one right over there that was anything but weak."
"What'll we do next," demanded Bob. "Here we are with this half-dead Indian on our hands and nowhere to take him. He won't be able to walk for weeks, even if he gets better."
"I guess we'll have to camp here till he walks—or dies," said Pancho resignedly. "We can't go off and leave him alone. And I guess we can find game. Anyhow, we can eat that jaguar if worse comes to worst."
"Not I," declared Bob. "I'd just as soon eat buzzards."
"It's a shame to lose his skin," observed Pancho with regret. "I may never kill another jaguar. And—"
He was interrupted by the Indian who was trying to speak. They caught the words, "Tonak," "huauki," "uturunku," "kispishkuni," and others, but they meant nothing for the man was speaking in his native Quichua.
The boys shook their heads, and Pancho spoke to him slowly in Spanish, telling him they did not understand. The man nodded, was silent for a moment, apparently puzzling over something, and then in halting, broken Spanish, he mumbled, "You are my brothers. You have killed the great tiger. I, Tonak, am your brother and your slave."
"That's all right," commented Bob. "We'd have done as much for anyone. But I'd rather find a village than have a slave. Ask him where he lives and if it's far."
But the Indian appeared to have lapsed into unconsciousness again.
"He's a queer looking chap," observed Pancho. "Doesn't look like any of the other Indians we've seen."
NOW that they began to notice the man's appearance, the boys discovered a number of strange facts. As Pancho had said, the man was quite different. His skin was a clear golden-yellow in color, his nose large, thin and aquiline, and his long hair was held in place by a narrow band of silver. Even his clothes seemed unlike those of other Indians they had seen. His tunic-like blouse and knee-long trousers were richly decorated with designs in brilliant colors, while about his neck hung a colored cord supporting a carved stone llama and a lapis-lazuli charm.
"I wonder what he was doing here," mused Bob. "Funny he had nothing but a club. I should think—Hello! Look there, Pancho! He had a spear, too."
Not far away lay a broken javelin with the point missing, and the boys also found a powerful bow and two broken arrows.
"Looks as if he was hunting," observed Pancho. "Probably the beast came on him unexpectedly. Say, what do you suppose this is?"
He had picked up a peculiar object, a slender hardwood stick about fifteen inches long, with a curved bone grip at one end and a small silver hook at the other.
"Looks like a magician's wand to me," declared Bob, "but I don't see what the hook and handle are for."
Suddenly Pancho whistled. "I know what 'tis!" he exclaimed. "I remember seeing them—or something like them—in Mexico when I was a kid. The Indian boys at Tlaclan used them. They called them atlatls and they used them for throwing spears."
"I don't see how any one could throw a spear with that thing," Bob interrupted.
"I'll show you," replied Pancho. Picking up one of the arrows he grasped the atlatl in his right hand, rested the arrow on his doubled fingers, holding it in place with the first finger, and with its butt against the silver hook. Then, with a sweep of his right arm, he sent the shaft flying across the clearing.
"Say, that goes all right!" cried Bob. "But—look, the old chap's waked up."
The boys hurried to the side of the wounded Indian. He asked for water and when this had been given him he again closed his eyes.
"He's in bad shape," muttered Pancho. "I don't believe he'll live until morning, but we'll make him as comfortable as we can."
By means of canes and palm leaves they managed to rig up a shelter over the injured man, and gathering a supply of brush and dead limbs they prepared a camp-fire near-by. As the sun sank behind the western ranges, the two boys prepared their evening meal, cutting slices of the partly roasted haunch of vicuna and toasting them over a small fire. As they worked the Indian watched with half closed eyes and expressionless face.
"I wonder if he's hungry," said Bob. "Maybe he could eat a slice of meat."
"I don't know," replied Pancho. "If I were as badly hurt I wouldn't have any appetite. I guess Indians must be tougher than white men, though. If we had a cup or something we might make him a sort of broth."
"Can't we use the tops of the thermos bottles?" suggested Bob.
"Fine!" cried Pancho. "They're small but he probably won't want much."
Shredding some of the juiciest of the meat, the boys simmered it over the coals in the metal covers of the bottles. The result, despite the cinders and bits of ashes it contained, was nourishing, and the Indian gulped it down ravenously and asked for more.
"Poor chap!" muttered Pancho. "I'll bet he's suffering terribly but he's not even groaned since we began fixing him up. I'm beginning to think he may pull through yet."
"I'm sorry for him of course," Bob replied, "but it does seem mighty bad luck that the first man we've met should be torn to pieces and half dead, forcing us to stick here when we might be on our way to La Raya."
"Yet, that's so," Pancho agreed. "Just, the same it's got to be done unless the old chap can tell us how to reach a village and one of us goes there and gets help. Anyhow there's no use worrying over it tonight. Things may be different in the morning."
CHAPTER V THE UNKNOWN TRIBE
NEXT morning, the Indian appeared to be more comfortable and stronger. "He surely is a tough old bird," commented Bob. "Now I suppose we ought to change the dressings on his wounds."
"Yes, I know we should," agreed Pancho, "but we can't. If we tear up any more of our clothes we'll be pretty near naked, and we're just about out of antiseptics anyway. We'll have to let it go for another day and trust to luck."
"We might wash out the bandages and use 'em over again," suggested Bob. "If we boiled them it would sterilize them."
"Yes, I guess that's so," assented Pancho.
"I hadn't thought of that. I—"
The Indian's voice interrupted him. He was speaking Spanish slowly, in almost inaudible tones. "An hour towards the rising sun—village of my people. The way lies down the valley to a great black rock and the trail is clear. That my people may know you are my brothers and that you come from me, take with you this."
As he spoke, he reached uncertain fingers to the charm hanging about his neck.
Pancho stooped and lifted the cord over the Indian's head.
The injured man smiled wanly and after a moment's silence, spoke again. "Fear not to enter my village. Cry aloud these words: 'Ama-Yulya-Ama, Sua-Ama-Kuo-lya.'" (No enemy, no thief. The ancient Incan salutation of the Quichuas.)
"That's easy," declared Pancho as he repeated the six words. "Your people—they know Spanish?"
The Indian nodded. "There are some who do," he replied. "Kespi, Wini, Kenko and others who have dwelt among the white skins."
"One of us must stay here," Bob declared. "If we left this man alone a jaguar or some beast might attack him and— well, there are those vultures up there—" he looked up at the sky where broad winged buzzards swung in great circles.
"I'll go and you stay here," said Pancho. "My Spanish is better. I can talk with the villagers."
"All right," Bob replied. "Hurry all you can."
The trail offered little difficulty to Pancho. At the end of an hour he came to the ruins of a great stone bridge. From there on the jungle had been cleared and the hillsides were covered with small terraced gardens in which grew maize, barley, peas, sweet potatoes, peanuts and various other vegetables, while here and there were fruit trees. Picking up some ripe duraznos (a kind of peach) that had fallen, Pancho almost ran down the winding pathway until suddenly he saw the village just ahead. Evidently, the Indians at once caught sight of him for he heard cries of alarm, and saw hurrying figures vanishing into doorways and children scurrying to cover like frightened partridges.
Not until then did he remember the Indian's six words. He shouted them at the top of his lungs, then moving slowly forward, repeated them. For a time there was no response, but presently the people timidly appeared, ready to turn and run at any moment. The instant he held up the cord with the carved stone llama, however, their manner completely changed. Chattering, exclaiming, they pressed about Pancho as he tried to describe what had happened.
TWO young Indians now stepped forward and the elder spoke to Pancho in fairly good Spanish. "I am Kespi," he said, "the nephew of Tonak, and this is my brother, Kenko. We are your brothers and your slaves, for you have saved the life of our curaca (chief or governor). We will prepare a litter to bring Tonak to his village. But you are weary. Eat and drink that you may be strong for the journey before us."
As the two brothers led him through a narrow street between low stone houses Pancho looked about with intense interest. Everywhere were Indians, but they were not at all as he had imagined they would be. As a youngster, he had seen plenty of wild Indians in Mexico, and somehow he had imagined the Indians of these remote Peruvian mountains as more like the North American redmen—naked, painted, feather-bedecked. Instead he found them far more civilized than the denizens of the smaller Peruvian towns, and their streets, houses, garments and persons all seemed far neater and cleaner than those of the white or cholo villagers. He knew that the Peruvians at the time of the Spanish conquest had been highly civilized under the Incas, but he had never dreamed that any of them had retained their ancient civilization or habits.
Had Pancho been an ethnologist or an archeologist he would have been most amazed and excited, for though he did not realize it, he was among Huancas, so remote from contact with white men that they had retained practically all the customs, the religion, the costumes and the culture of the Incas. Though several of them had visited the outside world, this tribe was unknown even to the Peruvian authorities. It had literally been lost for centuries in its mountain fastnesses. Tonak —and his fathers before him—had taken every care that the people should remain isolated. They had frowned upon the introduction of anything savoring of the white men, the despoilers of their race. No modern inventions were permitted in the village, although steel machetes, axes, knives, needles and similar tools and implements were used.
They lived just as their ancestors had lived before the days of Pizarro. With snares, traps, bows and arrows, throwing spears and slings they secured all the game they needed; there were plenty of fish in the streams; they raised their own cotton, had their llamas, and alpacas, wove the finest of cloths on hand-looms, and were expert potters and basket makers. From the beds of the rivers they washed what gold they required for making ornaments; copper was abundant in the hills as well as pockets of silver.
Of course Pancho did not learn all this at once, but as he ate his breakfast of mote (hulled corn), purutu (beans) and charki (dried meat) and drank the sweet ciderlike aka (corn chicha) and revelled in the luscious duraznos (peaches) and cherimoyas (custard apples), Kespi and Kenko asked innumerable questions and told him something about their village and their people. By the time the litter and the men were ready to start for the distant glade where the wounded curaca lay awaiting them, Pancho had begun to realize that he had suddenly stepped back four centuries or more.
THE litter proved to be a hammocklike affair of llama wool ropes woven into a coarse net and filled with soft woolen robes. Four stalwart men went along as carriers, together with two others armed with heavy spears, slings, bows and arrows and atlatls, and finally Kespi, Kenko and Pancho.
The return journey seemed very short. Almost before Pancho realized it, they came in sight of the little glade and the rude shelter over the wounded chief.
Bob sprang to his feet as the party appeared. "Looks like you've brought a regular army along!" he cried. "Seems as if you'd been gone a week. Say! Do you know who our Indian is? He's—"
"King of the place—" supplied Pancho with a grin. "How is he feeling?"
The Indians had gathered about their chief, prostrating themselves beside him, lifting his uninjured hand to their foreheads and moaning with pity and sorrow at sight of his injuries. Presently one of the warriors hurried to where the dead jaguar lay and began to talk to it.
"Look at him!" exclaimed Bob. "What do you suppose he's doing?"
Pancho shook his head. "I'll ask Kespi and Kenko," he said.
To his questions the Indian boys replied that the man was asking the spirit of the creature to forgive them for having killed it.
"But why?" asked Pancho. "Why should he ask forgiveness when the beast nearly killed your curaca?"
Then, somewhat hesitatingly, Kespi explained that as the Huancas regarded a jaguar as sacred, and as the abiding place of a very powerful divinity, they felt that whenever it was necessary to take a jaguar's life they must try and propitiate the offended spirit.
"Well, if that doesn't beat anything!" said Bob.
Pancho grinned. "You don't know the half of it, Bob. Wait till you get into their village. Talk about the Yankee at the court of King Arthur! Why, that fellow wasn't in it with us. We're at the court of an Inca! What do you know about that?"
Bob laughed derisively. "Go on, you can't kid me that way!" he declared. "The last Inca died over four hundred years ago."
"So they say," admitted Pancho, as the little group with the wounded curaca in his improvised litter left the glade, "but I'm not kidding you, Bob. From what Kespi and Kenko tell me I shouldn't be a bit surprised if their uncle Tonak is an Inca. Inca merely means a king."
CHAPTER VI AMONG THE INCAS
IN DUE time they reached the village. Apparently Tonak was none the worse for his journey, and with a plentiful supply of clean cloths at their disposal the boys dressed his wounds and were relieved to find that there was no infection and that the cuts were beginning to heal.
"Who'll say we're not heap big doctors?" laughed Bob. "Let's hang out a sign and start a hospital! I'll bet we'd get all the patients we could handle, and more too."
Pancho grinned. "I'll bet we would," he agreed. But they soon discovered there was no chance to start a medical career in the village. A wrinkled, bent old woman arrived on the scene with a supply of herbs, roots and powders, and took complete charge of Tonak's case. Though she grumblingly condescended to let the boys attend to the broken wrist and allowed them to do the bandaging, she replaced their antiseptics with bruised leaves and strange looking unguents, then she dosed the curaca with weird brews. To the boys' surprise, the treatment had an almost magical effect.
"No hocus-pocus about her," declared Bob. "She knows her job all right. I wonder what the things are that she uses. If a fellow could find out he could make a fortune putting them on the market. Funny these Indians should know about medicine."
"Why?" demanded Pancho. "These Peruvian Indians used quinine ages before white men ever heard about it. They had sarsaparilla, ipecac, rhubarb, cascara and castor oil, so why shouldn't they know about a lot of medicines?"
"Listen to the professor!" laughed Bob. "Where did you learn all that, Pancho?"
"Out of a book, dumbbell," grinned Pancho. "I read all I could find about Peru before we came down here."
"So did I," replied Bob, "but I've forgotten nearly all I read. Say, why can't we be on our way to La Raya or somewhere, now the chief has a nurse to look after him?"
"I suppose we can," said Pancho. "I'll ask Kespi and Kenko about getting some one to guide us."
To the boys' astonishment, Kespi insisted that there was no one in the village who could guide them to La Raya or even to Palitos. Tonak, he declared, was the only person who knew the route to the northern settlements. Moreover the journey would be most difficult and dangerous. He advised them to wait until Tonak had recovered.
"I'll bet the old chief won't be able to walk for two weeks," lamented Bob. "It'll be twice as long before he'll be strong enough to take such a trip."
"If he ever is," supplemented Pancho. "With that injury to his leg I don't see how he ever will be able to do much. Seems to me there's something queer about the matter. You can't tell me these people don't know the way to every place in Peru. I don't believe we're so awfully far from La Raya at that. Now why don't they want to take us there?"
"How should I know," muttered Bob, "unless they want to hold us for ransom."
Pancho laughed heartily. "If we were in China or Greece or some other wild place where there are brigands, or even in Mexico for that matter, I might think it possible. But not here with these Indians, Bob. In the first place old Tonak owes his life to us and Indians remember a kindness just as much as they remember an injury. No, old timer, it's something else, but—"
"Well, whatever 'tis we're stuck," declared Bob gloomily.
"Not by a long shot!" said Pancho. "We're safe, we have plenty to eat and drink, and if you weren't worrying about your father, you'd think it a swell adventure."
"Maybe you're right—in a way," admitted Bob. "I can't help thinking how Dad must feel, not knowing what's become of us. If I could only let him know, it would be different."
"Being gloomy won't help him any," Pancho said. "I don't believe he does think anything serious has happened to us. Probably he has men trailing us through the mountains right now. Shouldn't be a bit surprised to see them appear any time."
"Well—" Bob sighed—"I guess you're right. Let's see how old Tonak's getting on, and then go fishing or hunting."
TONAK was doing wonderfully well. Thanks to his rugged constitution and the native doctor's medicines, his wounds were healing rapidly. He smiled as the boys approached his doorway where he was basking in the sun and asked if they were comfortable. Again and again he declared that they were his sons and brothers and that he and all his people were their slaves.
"I wish they were," muttered Bob. "Then I'd order them to take us out of here. Why don't we ask him what the trouble is?"
The old chief nodded as Pancho told him of their desires and asked why the men seemed unwilling to guide them to a settlement or the mine. Then for a space he sat silent, apparently deep in thought.
"My people obey the orders of their curaca," he said at last in his slow, halting Spanish. "I have told them not to take you through the mountains. Ill might befall you and then I, Tonak, would be sad. Few know the way, and it is my wish to go with you. That your father may not be worried I have sent a messenger to carry word that you are safe and will return soon. I and my people owe what we can never repay, but white men, my sons, love riches, and riches we can give you. Wait but a little time and all will be well."
"I guess that's final," observed Pancho. "I was wrong about there being some mystery. Tonak's just afraid something might happen to us."
"I like his nerve!" exclaimed Bob angrily. "Why didn't he tell us a messenger was going to La Raya? Then I could have sent a letter to Dad. And what does he mean about giving us riches?"
Pancho shook his head. "Probably some sort of present," he said. "He used the word ricos which is poor Spanish and means rich people. But I suppose he meant riqiiesas. Maybe it's ponchos or robes or some gold and silver. I admit it's queer about his not sending a messenger to La Raya and not letting us know. Well, what's the good of worrying? Let's enjoy ourselves the best we can. Hello, here come our three friends. Now let's see how much Quichua we've learned."
KESPI, Kenko and Wini were returning from their hillside gardens and the two boys hurried to meet them. Ever since they had reached the village Bob and Pancho had been picking up the native language. They had found the words easy to pronounce and could "get along," as Bob put it, with the Indian youths by padding out with Spanish.
"Alli-punchantin!" cried Pancho in greeting. "Maipi—er—"
"Maipita-rinqui?" supplied Bob, "only —" he added, "I don't believe that's right. It means where are you going, and I suppose you wanted to ask where they'd been."
The three Indians were grinning. "Alla-right!" said Wini suddenly. The two boys looked at him in surprise.
"Say," exclaimed Pancho, "Where'd you learn that?"
His question was beyond Wini's comprehension. "Na-macunipac-huasita" (now to my house to eat), he replied in answer to the boys' first question.
"Chanpi-punchau-huasha-chitanipac" (after noon we go for a hunt), added Kespi. "Rini-munani?" (Want to go?)
The boys grinned. "Too much for me," declared Pancho in Spanish. "I get the house and eating part and the 'want to go' but what's the rest?"
"Something about hunting," put in Bob.
Kenko translated. "Kespi says after noon we go to hunt. You like to come?"
"You bet!" replied the boys in chorus.
"Chu-pet!" repeated Wini with a broad grin. "What that mean?"
Unable to explain in Quichua the boys told him in Spanish, and added the words "your life" to the Indian's vocabulary.
Kespi had been mumbling something to himself. "What it mean—Karsh?" he asked.
The boys laughed. "Gosh!" Bob corrected him. It means—well, it means about the same as caramba."
Kespi grinned from ear to ear. "Karsh-chu-petchu-life-alla-right!" he cried delightedly.
Pancho slapped him on the back. "Fine!" he exclaimed.
"Maybe the boys back home wouldn't be surprised if they could look in and see us here!" said Bob, as he helped himself to a calabash of boiled corn and beans, that noon. "Eating lunch with a couple of Incan Indians up here on the back side of the Andes!"
Pancho, who was gnawing at an ear of sweet corn, nodded. "I'll bet if anyone asked them they'd say we'd have to eat monkey or raw fish or bugs or lizards or something," he said. "And here we are eating just as good food as we would back home—corn and beans, baked potatoes, squash and wheat cakes—"
"Barley cakes," Bob corrected.
"Well, barley then, and honey and crawfish and peaches and—"
"If you eat all that you'll die," laughed Bob.
"Well, it's here to eat if we want it," argued Pancho. "Say, it's not so bad being a wild Indian after all. I—"
"Well, cut it out," Bob admonished him. "You've eaten twice as much as any of the rest now, and they're all waiting for you. You forget we're going on a vicuna hunt."
CHAPTER VII HUNTING VICUNA
“I'D LIKE to know how they expect to get vicunas with those things," observed Bob, as the boys watched their Indian friends preparing for the hunt. "From what I saw of the vicunas we met, a fellow needs a good rifle and has to be some shot to get them. These chaps have only spears and clubs."
As they saw Kespi drop two great balls of fine cord into a bag slung over his shoulder they were even more puzzled.
"Now what do you suppose they're going to use that for?" exclaimed Pancho. "It's too fine to use in tying anything and what do they want string for anyway?"
"Look!" cried Bob. "They're taking a drum and one of those flute things they call quenas, and a horn trumpet. Anyone would think we were going to a dance instead of a hunt, and what on earth are they carrying that bundle of sticks for?"
"Maybe they charm the beasts," laughed Pancho. "I know Dad used to tell about attracting antelopes within range by making queer noises or waving a rag or something of the sort. Maybe vicunas can be attracted by Indian music."
"After seeing that chap begging the dead jaguar's pardon because we killed him I can believe most anything," declared Bob. "Anyhow, I'm going to ask about it."
The Indians either would not or could not explain. They grinned, and Kespi declared: "All things for make get vicunas. Pretty soon you see."
It was a long tramp from the village to the puna beyond the mountain summit, and they panted, puffed and perspired as they toiled up the steep, narrow pathway.
As they neared the top of the ridge, the Indians gestured for silence, and crawling forward on hands and knees, cautiously raised their heads and peered over the rocks. Bob and Pancho did the same. Before them appeared a wide, almost level expanse of puna, and about five hundred yards from where the hunting party crouched was a herd of at least fifty of the graceful, slender-limbed, buff and white vicunas. Wholly unaware that enemies were near, they played and gambolled about, while the boys watched them fascinated. Never had they imagined that any living creatures could move so rapidly. Running in circles so swiftly that they appeared but blurs, the creatures would suddenly leap upward as if impelled by springs, and wheeling in mid-air, would resume their mad race in the opposite direction. Others would bound from the earth like rubber balls, and turning complete somersaults, would be off like the wind as their hoofs touched the ground, moving so swiftly that, as Bob put it, you couldn't see anything but their dust.
"It seems a shame to kill them," whispered Pancho.
"Well, I don't see how we're going to get any nearer," said Bob. "The minute they see us they'll be off like a shot." There isn't enough cover to hide a rat between here and where they are.”
THE Indians evidently had no intention of approaching closer to the vicunas. Two of them, crouching, hurried off to the left while Kespi and Kenko, motioning the boys to follow, went to the right.
For fully a quarter of a mile the Indians led the way around the ridge, always keeping below the summit. Then once more they crept up and peered over. The vicunas were now scarcely visible, and their position was betrayed only by the cloud of dust they stirred up in their frolics.
Rising, the Indians climbed over the intervening rocks with Bob and Pancho at their heels. Then to the boys' surprise, Kespi took a stick from the bundle he carried and planted it firmly in the sand. One end of a ball of twine was fastened to the upright stick, and unwinding it as he proceeded, Kenko walked rapidly forward across the desert for several hundred feet. Then another stick was erected, the twine attached, and again Kenko hurried forward.
"Now what do you know about that!" exclaimed Bob. "Are these fellows going to build a fence or are they stringing that twine so we can find our way back? I—"
"Look there!" cried Pancho, pointing to the north. "Those other two are doing the same thing. It's the strangest stunt I've ever seen."
"Even if it were wire it wouldn't make a fence," Bob remarked.
"They must be crazy," Pancho announced when Kespi had replied to his questions. “They say they are preventing the vicunas from getting away!"
"Oh, they're just jollying us," declared Bob. "Hello! Those other fellows are close to us."
For the first time Bob and Pancho realized that the two lines of posts and strings were converging. Presently Kespi and his brother were side by side with the two others. Placing two of the strongest sticks about three feet apart they fastened the strings to them and dropped the remainder of the balls of twine on the ground.
Close to where they stood was a low ridge of outcropping rock, and beckoning to the boys, Kespi and Kenko, armed with spears and clubs, seated themselves behind the little rise while the other Indians, one carrying the drum and quena, the other with the horn trumpet and a brilliant red poncho, turned and started back across the puna, following the lines of string.
"I'd like to know when the hunt's going to begin," said Pancho. He turned and put the query to the Indians.
THE two Huancas looked astonished. Then, with a broad grin, Kenko told them the hunt already had begun. Seeing the white boys were still mystified the Indians began to explain. Vicunas, they said, were strange creatures. Though very wary and fleet of foot they were very stupid beasts and could be easily killed. One way was to find the places where they slept, and while the vicunas were away during the day build little stone shelters or blinds close to the beds. Then at night the hunters could lie behind these and shoot down the creatures when they came to rest.
At such times, Kespi stated, several of the vicunas could be taken before the others ran off, and no matter how many were killed they would return to the spot night after night until all had been destroyed. Another way was much quicker and easier. Vicunas, he informed the boys, would never dare to cross a barrier in the shape of a string. Even if it were a mere thread they would keep clear and follow it along, seeking some place where they might escape through an opening. So, by stretching converging lines of string and then driving the herd between them, the stupid beasts would rush along, until at the narrow opening at the end, they could readily be clubbed or speared. In a few moments, he added, they would see the creatures coming towards them, frightened by the noise of the drum and horn.
"Well, if those vicunas do come running along here as if those strings were twenty foot walls, I'll swallow anything they tell me hereafter," said Bob, "but the queerest thing yet is the way that chap begged the jaguar's forgiveness."
"I don't know about that," stated Pancho. "Isn't it queer to find Indians living just the way their ancestors did five hundred years ago? Isn't it queer to find Indians like these speaking Spanish?"
"Oh rats!" exclaimed Bob. "What's queer about a bunch of Indians living up here and speaking Spanish? And who says they're living the way they did hundreds of years ago? And how do you get that way about old Tonak being an Inca? Be yourself, Pancho, you're too darned romantic and imaginative."
"And you're too blind and stupid to see what's right in front of your nose," Pancho retorted. "These Indians wear just the same sort of clothes and use the same weapons that are shown in the old pictures of the Incas. They don't use anything modern except knives and hatchets and such things, and I heard one of the men talking to Tonak and he addressed him as ‘Inca.' And if you noticed, you'll remember that whenever that old doctor comes in, or anyone else visits Tonak, they always are carrying something on their backs. Well, I read in a book that in the old days they always did that same thing when approaching an Inca. Besides they still worship the sun. You know that half-ruined stone building back of the village?"
Bob nodded. "Yes, I thought of going up there, but Kespi said there was nothing to see."
Pancho grinned. "He would," he declared. "But there's a lot to see. I went over there yesterday when you were off with that little sister of Wini's gathering peaches—and it's all fixed up inside with rugs and hangings and an altar and idols and a big plate with a face on it that looks like gold."
Bob's eyes widened. "Gold!" he exclaimed. "How big is it?"
"It must be as big as an automobile wheel," replied Pancho. "If it is gold it must be worth a fortune. And these people have gold ornaments so why—"
His words were interrupted by the distant sounds of shouts, blasts of a horn and a queer low rumbling noise. The Indians grasped their weapons and rose to a stooping posture, tense, expectant.
(To be continued)
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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.