The Treasure of the Incas by G. A. Henty
Chapter IX. The Signal Star
During the afternoon Dias, who had been keeping a careful look-out at the cliffs, said to Harry: "I think, senor, that the savages are leaving the hills. An hour ago I saw a man walking along where we generally see them; he was going straight along as if for some fixed purpose, and I thought at once that he might be bringing them some message from the people below us. I lost sight of him after a bit, but presently I could make out some men moving in the other direction. They were keeping back from the edge, but I several times caught sight of their heads against the sky-line when there happened to be some little irregularity in the ground. They were not running, but seemed to me to be going at a steady pace. Since then I have been watching carefully, and have seen no one on the other side. I think they have all been sent for, and will be assembled this afternoon at the mouth of the torrent."
"I am very glad to hear it, Dias; that is just what we wanted."
"In one way--yes," Dias said. "It would be a great thing for us to catch them all together, for I have no fear that they will stand when these fireworks begin to go off among them."
"What is the drawback, then?"
"It is, senor, that they have either been collected because they have given up the hope of catching us at present, and are going to scatter and hunt till we venture out, which would be the worst thing possible; or they have made up their minds to make a rush upon us."
"Don't you think that we can beat them back?"
"Not if they are determined, senor. You see, we can't make them out till they are within twenty or thirty yards of us. At most you and your brother could fire four shots, then you would take up your rifles. We shall have then only four shots left. If they continue their rush where shall we be? There would be two of us on one wall and two on the other. There would be four shots to fire from one side and four from the other. Then the end would come. Two on each side would not be able to keep back the rush of two or three score. In two minutes it would be all over."
"Yes, Dias, I see that if they were determined to storm the place and take us alive they could do it; but we have the fireworks."
"I did not think of that. Yes; but having once worked themselves up and being mad with excitement, even that might not stop them, though I should think it would. Yes, I believe we might feel assured that we should beat them back, and if so, we should hear no more of them."
"If I knew that they would come," Harry said, "I would certainly say we had best stay and defend ourselves; but we can't be sure that that is their motive for assembling. They may, as you say, be going to move off, leaving perhaps half a dozen men to watch the entrance and report if we attempt to escape. That would be fatal, and our only chance would be to leave everything behind and endeavour to climb up one side or the other; and even that might not avail us, as there may be one or two men up there to see if we make off that way. I am more inclined to think that this is the course that they will take rather than risk a heavy loss of life. They must have a good idea of what it would cost them to take the place."
"What do you think we had better do, then, senor?"
"I think we had better attack them as soon as possible after nightfall. It is likely that they will do nothing before morning; as you say, they do not like moving at night, and if they attack it will not be until shortly before daybreak. There is sure to be a palaver when the men who have been on the hills come down. It will be too late then for them to go back before night, so that I think we are pretty sure to find them all in the ravine this evening. If, when we get there, we find the place empty, we must come to a decision as to what our best course will be. In that case I think we ought to climb the hills and make our way up the mountains as rapidly as possible. We could calculate on eight or ten hours' start, and by keeping as much as possible on the rocks, might hope to get so high among the mountains that they would not be able to follow our traces and overtake us before we reach a point where they would not dare follow us. In that case, of course we should have to give up all hope of finding the gold valley, and lose the mules with all our belongings, which would cripple us terribly."
"Very well, senor; I think that is the best plan."
"Then we will settle to start at nine o'clock, Dias."
They then discussed the arrangements for the attack. Each was to carry a glowing brand, and when he got there, was to sling his gun behind him and hold twelve squibs in one hand and the brand in the other. When they approached within throwing distance of the savages, they were to lay their guns down beside them, and then Harry was to put the ends of his squibs against his brand, and hurl the whole of them among the Indians. A few seconds later Bertie was to do the same, while Harry fired one barrel of buck-shot. Bertie was to fire as Dias threw a dozen crackers, and then Jose was to throw his squibs. Then all were to throw squibs and crackers as far as they could go; and the other two barrels of buck-shot and Jose's musket were to be poured in. By this time they calculated the savages would be in full flight, and the three rifles could then be used.
Harry was to hand his rifle to Dias before the firing began, and he and Bertie were to slip fresh cartridges into these guns and recap them before sending off the last batch of their fireworks, so as to have them in readiness either to empty their contents into the flying Indians, or to cover their retreat should the fireworks fail to effect the panic they hoped for. Their pistols were also to be reserved until the Indians fled. Donna Maria was to stay by the water, and start at once on her way back if Dias shouted to her to do so. Every step of the plan settled upon was repeated again and again, until there was no possibility of any mistake being made. Maria had not attended the council; her confidence in her two white friends was unbounded, and Bertie's invention of the fireworks had placed him on a level with his brother in her estimation. She therefore quietly went on with her preparations for dinner without concerning herself as to the details of the affair.
As soon as it was dark and the meal eaten, the tents were struck, the baggage all rolled up and packed on the animals, and the fireworks divided. When everything was in readiness they went together and made a breach in the breast-work wide enough for the mules to pass. At nine o'clock Maria was seated in the carrying-chair, and strapped on to her husband's back; then four brands were taken from the fire and the party started. When within fifty yards of the lower end of the ravine Jose went forward, and, returning in a few minutes, reported that no savages were on guard. A fire was burning outside the mouth of the ravine where he had seen them on the evening before, and from the reflection on the rock he believed that another fire was alight inside. His report caused a general feeling of relief, for their great fear had been that the natives might have made off before their arrival.
When they stepped out from the water Dias set Maria down. "You understand, Maria," he said: "the moment I call, you are to start up the river."
"I understand," she said. "I have my knife, and if you do not rejoin me I shall know how to use it."
"We shall rejoin you, Maria," Dias said confidently. "I believe that at the first volley of fireworks they will be off. They must be more than human if they are not scared, as they never can have heard of such things before."
Keeping close to the rock wall, they went along in single file until within forty or fifty yards of the fire; then, going down on their hands and knees, they crawled up a slight rise, from the top of which they could see a hundred or more natives gathered round a fire. One was addressing the others, who were seated listening attentively. Laying the guns down to be ready for instant action, and keeping themselves concealed in the herbage, Harry took his bundle of squibs from his pocket. They were but lightly tied together; slipping off the string he applied the ends to the brand. There was a sudden roar of fire, and waving them once round his head he hurled them into the midst of the assembly. There was a yell of astonishment as the missiles flew hither and thither, exploding with loud reports. The last had not exploded when Bertie's handful flew among them; then came the parcel from Dias, and at the same moment Harry poured a barrel of buck-shot among them, followed by a volley of crackers, while almost simultaneously Harry threw his squibs and Bertie fired a volley of buck-shot. For a moment the savages were paralysed, then many of them threw themselves on their faces in terror of these fiery demons, while others started in headlong flight.
"Send them off as quick as you can!" Harry shouted, as he discharged his second barrel into the flying natives. Bertie followed suit, and then both paused to reload while Dias and Jose hurled their remaining fireworks. By this time the last of the natives had leapt up and fled. Jose's musket and the three rifles cracked out, and then the little party rose to their feet and joined in a wild "Hip, hip, hurrah!"
"You can come up, Maria; they have all gone!" Dias cried out; and Maria joined them a minute later. More than a score of natives lay dead or badly wounded round their fire.
"What are we to do with the wounded?" Bertie asked.
"We can only leave them where they are," Harry said. "Some of the savages may have wandered away, or not have come down from the hills, and will return here unaware of what has happened, or one or two of the boldest may venture back again to look after their comrades. At any rate, we can do nothing for them."
"It would be better to shoot them, senor," Dias said.
"No, I could not bring myself to do that," Harry said. "Buck-shot, unless they strike in a body, are not likely to kill. I expect they are more frightened than hurt. After we have gone many of them will be able to crawl down to the river. Savages frequently recover from wounds that would kill white men; and even if no others come down, those who are but slightly wounded will help the more incapable. We have cleared the way for ourselves, which was all we wanted, and have taught them a lesson they are not likely to forget for many years to come. Let us go back at once and bring down the mules. I suppose you will sit down by the stream, and wait till we come back, Maria?"
"Yes," she said, "there is nothing to be afraid of now; but you can leave me one of your pistols in case one of these savages may be shamming dead."
"Jose will wait with her," Dias said. "Now, Jose, you strike up a song. You are generally at it, and as long as they hear you they will know that some of us are still here, and will not venture to move."
"You take my gun, Jose; it is loaded," Harry said. "If any of them should move and try to crawl away, don't fire at them; but if they look about and seem inclined to make mischief, shoot at once."
Coming down with the animals the three men carried torches in each hand. The mules reached the mouth of the torrent without accident, and the llamas were then lifted off the baggage mules which had carried them, and all were turned loose to graze on the rich grass near the edge of the river. Jose and Dias went to the fire in the ravine, and returned laden with burning brands, and a fire was soon blazing near the water. Two of them kept watch by turns at the spot from which they had fired, lest any of the wounded Indians should, on recovering, try to avenge their loss by sending arrows down amongst the party. During the night four of the fallen Indians, after first looking round cautiously, crawled away, and the watchers could hear them running fast through the bushes till they were beyond the light of the fire.
At dawn a start was made. The river was crossed at the pool where Jose had swum over. Dias, on examination, found that the water, even in the deepest part, was not more than breast-high. Accordingly he returned; Maria, kneeling on one of his shoulders and one of Harry's, was carried across without being wetted. Then they joined the animals, which were grazing a short distance away, and set off without delay. Although they kept a sharp look-out they saw no more of the Indians. They ascended several more streams unobserved. Rough carvings on the face of several of the rocks led them to carry their excursions farther than usual, but beyond a few ounces of gold, washed from the stream, they found nothing.
"They must have been put here for some purpose," said Dias.
"I have been thinking it over, Dias, and I should not be surprised if, as you thought, they were done to deceive searchers. You told me there were some marks by which you would be directed in the gold valley; it is quite likely that other marks might have been placed in the valleys so that the real ones would not be particularly noticed."
"That is possible, senor; they would certainly do everything they could to prevent anyone not in the secret from knowing. The mark I have to look for first is a serpent. It is carved on a rock at the end of a valley."
"In that case the indication of the star would not be necessary, Dias."
"That may be, senor; but the valley may be a large one, and the hiding- place very difficult to find, so that even when the valley was known, it would need the guidance of the star to take us to the right place."
"That might be so, Dias, if it were a hidden treasure that we were looking for; but as, according to your account, it is simply an extraordinarily rich deposit in the river, I hardly see why the guidance of the star should be necessary when once the valley was known."
"That I cannot tell you, senor; but I am sure that it must be difficult to find, for the Spaniards searched everywhere for gold, and although the records of most of their discoveries still exist, there is no mention of such a find, nor is there is any word of it among the Indian traditions."
A week before the appointed date they found themselves in the neighbourhood where they felt sure the cleft must lie. Mount Tinta was twenty miles in front of them, and from that point a range of mountains trended off almost at right angles to that which they were following. One lofty peak some thirty miles to the south-east rose above another.
"I believe that that is the peak," Bias said.
"I don't see any signs of a cleft in it, Dias."
"No, senor; it is a very narrow one."
The next day they halted at the mouth of another valley, and as they unloaded the mules, Harry exclaimed: "See, Dias, there is a cleft in that peak! From here it looks as if it were a mere thread, and as if some giant had struck a mighty sword-cut into it."
"That is right. Sure enough, senor, this must be the valley. Now, let us look about for the serpent."
The search did not take them long. An isolated rock rose a quarter of a mile from the mouth, and on this was a rude representation of a serpent. The next morning they explored the valley thoroughly to a point where, five miles higher, it ceased abruptly, the rocks closing in on either side, and the stream coming down in a perpendicular fall from a point some eighty feet above them. Going down the river, they washed the gravel again and again, but without obtaining even as much gold as they had found several times before.
"I cannot understand it," Harry said, as they sat down to their meal at dusk. "Your tradition says nothing about hidden treasure, and yet there does not seem to be gold in the stream."
"It may be higher up, senor. We must ascend the hills on each side of the valley, and come down upon the river higher up."
Harry was on watch that night, and at one o'clock he roused the others up. "See!" he exclaimed later on; "there is a bright star apparently about a foot above the peak. I should think that must be the star. No doubt that will rise in exact line behind the cleft on the 21st, that is four days from now; probably it can only be seen when we are exactly in the line with the cleft and the position of the gold. This cleft is undoubtedly very narrow--no doubt the result of an earthquake. It certainly goes straight through, and very likely it is some hundred yards across, so that unless we are exactly in the line we sha'n't see it. As soon as it is dark on the 21st we will all go some distance up the valley, where it is only about four or five hundred yards across. We will station ourselves fifty yards apart across it, then one of us is sure to see the star through the cleft. We had each better take two sticks with us. Whoever sees the star will fix one in the ground and then go backwards for a hundred yards, keeping the star in sight, and plant the other; then the line between those two sticks ought to lead us to the spot."
Each night the star rose nearer to the cleft. "There is no doubt we shall see it in the proper position to-morrow night," Harry said on the 20th of the month. "That certainly is strong proof that the tradition handed down to you, Dias, is correct."
They employed the next day in again searching for some indication that might assist them, but in vain. Dias and Jose both asserted that the tiny rift in the rocky peak looked wider from the middle of the valley than at any other point, and even Harry and his brother admitted that it could scarcely be seen from the foot of the hills on either side, and therefore it was agreed that Dias, Harry, and Jose should take their places only some forty yards apart across the centre; Maria and Bertie going farther, near the sides of the hills. When midnight approached they took their stations. Suddenly Harry, who was standing by the side of the rivulet, exclaimed, "I see it!" It was more than a minute later before Dias saw it, while it was three or four minutes before Jose spoke, by which time Harry had crossed the streamlet and fixed his second rod some distance on the other side. Dias and Jose did the same. Bertie did not catch sight of it for some time after Jose, and Maria did not see it at all. Then they went back to their camping place.
"It is curious that I should have seen it before either of you, when you were standing so close to me," Harry said. "It was lower than I expected, and it is evident that the cleft must continue much farther down than we thought, and that it must be extremely narrow at the bottom. It is certainly a splendid guide, and there can be no mistaking it. Unless I had been standing on the exact line, I should not have noticed the star till later, and the crack is so much wider towards the top that it could probably be seen on a line half a mile across. It will be strange if we cannot find the place in the morning. Certainly we searched in the stream just where I was standing, and found nothing. But, of course, it is possible that in all this time it may have changed its course considerably."
Dias shook his head. "It can hardly be that, senor, because, in that case, anyone who had examined the valley could have found it. I begin to think that it must have been a mistake about its being merely a rich place in the river, and that it must be some vast treasure, perhaps hidden by the people before the Incas, and kept by them as a certain resource when needed. We shall have to search, I think, for some walled-up cave in the rocks. We have already looked for it, but not seriously; and besides, there are many boulders that have fallen, and formed a bank at the foot of the cliff."
"Well, we shall know in a few hours. I feel absolutely certain that the line between those two sticks will lead us to it."
None attempted to sleep, and as soon as it became light they took picks and shovels and started up the valley. Harry gave an exclamation of surprise as, standing behind the first stick, he looked towards the second. "The line goes to the middle of that waterfall," he said.
This was so; for the stream made two or three sharp bends between the spot where he had crossed it and the foot of the falls.
"'Tis strange!" Dias said; "we have examined that spot more than once. There are great stones and boulders at the foot of the fall, and a large deep pool. Can a treasure be buried in that? If so, it will be hard indeed to get it."
Harry did not reply; his face was white with excitement. He walked forward slowly till he reached the edge of the pool. It was some fifteen yards across, and the colour of the water showed that it was very deep.
"I will dive, Harry," Bertie said; "I have gone down more than once in five fathoms of water to pick up an egg that has been thrown overboard." He stripped and swam out to the middle of the pool and dived. He was down about a minute, and on coming up swam to the shore. "I could find no bottom, Harry," he panted. "I am sure I must have gone down seven fathoms."
"Thank you, Bertie," Harry said quietly; "we will make up our minds that if it is there, we sha'n't get it at present. The foot of the valley is so flat that it would need a cut at least a mile long to let the water off, and we should therefore require either an army of men or a regular diving apparatus, which there would be no getting this side of England. However, it may not be there. Let us search now behind the fall."
There were some four or five feet clear between the sheet of water and the rock. At times, as Harry pointed out, there would be an even wider space, for the weather had been dry for the past two months, and the quantity of water coming down was but small, while in the wet season a mighty flood would shoot far out from the rock. The width of the stream in the wet season was shown by the broad bed of what was now but a rivulet. Looking upwards as they stood, the wall actually overhung them, and they could see the edge where the water poured over unbroken.
"There may be a cave here," Harry went on, "and it may be covered by these rocks piled up for the purpose. On the other hand, they may have fallen. I think that is the most likely explanation, for as the top projects beyond the bottom it is possible that some time or other there was a big fall."
They searched every foot of the rock within reach, but there were no signs of any man's handiwork. The rock was solid, thickly covered with dripping moss and ferns which had flourished in the mist and spray that rose from the foot of the fall. This they had ruthlessly scraped off with their picks. Silently they went out again at the end, and stood hopelessly looking at the fall. It was some time before Harry said, "We must move some of those stones now. Let us go at once and cut down some young trees, for we can do nothing with our hands alone, but must use levers. For that purpose we shall want straight wood, and strong. We had better get half a dozen, in case some of them break; make them about ten feet long, and from four to six inches thick, and sharpened slightly at the lower end."
In an hour the levers were ready.
"We had better breakfast before we begin, Dias. Your wife went off to prepare it when we came out from the waterfall. I dare say it is ready by this time."
In half an hour they were back again. They chose the central spot behind the fall, and then set to work. Some of the rocks were dislodged without much difficulty, but to move others, it was necessary to first get out the smaller ones, on which they rested. So they toiled on, stopping for half an hour in the middle of the day for food, and then renewing their work. By evening they had made an opening four or five feet wide at the top, and six feet deep, close to the wall. It was now getting dark, and all were fagged and weary with their work, the light was fading, and they were glad to return to camp. Maria came out to meet them. She asked no questions, but said cheerfully, "I have a good olla ready, I am sure you must want it."
"I feel almost too tired to eat," Bertie said.
"You will feel better when you have had some coffee. I have fed the mules, Jose, and taken them down to water."
"I think," Bertie said, when they had finished their meal, "that we might splice the main brace."
"I do think we might," Harry laughed. "We have not opened a bottle since we started, and certainly we have worked like niggers since seven o'clock this morning. I will open the case; it is screwed down, and I have a screwdriver in the handle of my knife;" and he rose to his feet.
"What does Don Bertie want?" Dias said. "I will get it, senor. I do not understand what he said."
"It is a sea expression, Dias. After a hard day's work the captain orders that the main brace shall be spliced, which means that the crew shall have a glass of grog--that is, a glass of spirits and water--to cheer and warm them after their exertions. Jose, will you bring a blazing brand with you? I shall want it to see the screws."
In a few minutes he returned.
"This is brandy, Dias. I don't suppose you have ever tasted a glass of good brandy. Is your kettle boiling still, senora? We shall want hot water, sugar, and five of the tin mugs. Have you any of those limes we picked the other day?"
"That is good. Just a slice each will be an improvement." Harry mixed four mugs, and a half one for Maria. "There, Dias!" he said. "You will allow that that is a considerable improvement on pulque."
He and his brother had already lighted their pipes. The other three had made cigarettes. Dias and Jose were loud in their commendations of the new beverage. Donna Maria had at first protested that she never touched pulque, and this must be the same sort of thing. However, after sipping daintily, she finished her portion with evident satisfaction. They did not sit up long, and as soon as they had finished their first smoke all retired to bed, leaving for once the llamas and mules to act as sentries. As soon as it was fairly daylight, they drank a cup of coffee and started again to work. Harry went first into the hole they had made, and, kneeling down, struck a match to enable him to see the rock more thoroughly. He gave a slight exclamation, then said: "Open your knife, Bertie, and come in here and strike another match. I want both my hands."
"I have a torch here, senor,"
"That is best; then light it, Bertie."
There was just room at the bottom for Bertie to stand by the side of his brother, who was lying down.
"Hold the torches as low as you can, Bertie."
Harry picked away with the point of his knife for a minute or two and then sat up.
"That is the top of a cave," he said. "Do you see, this crack along here is a straight one. That, I fancy, was the top of the entrance to the cave. That stone under it has a rough face, but on the top and sides it is straight. It is fitted in with cement, or something of that sort, and is soft for some distance in, and then becomes quite hard. I can just see that there are two stones underneath, also regularly cut."
He made room for Bertie to lie down, and held the torch for him. "I think you are right, Harry. Those three stones would never fit together so closely if they had not been cut by hand, though, looking at the face, no one could tell them from the rock above them."
Dias next examined the stones.
"There is no doubt that that is the entrance to a cave, senor," he said as he joined them; and the three went out beyond the fall, for the noise of the water was too great for them to converse without difficulty behind the veil of water. Jose stayed behind to examine.
"Well, Dias, we have found the place where the treasure is hidden, but I don't think that we are much nearer. Certainly we have not strength sufficient to clear away those fallen stones, and probably the cave is blocked by a wall several feet thick. We should want tools and blasting- powder to get through it. No doubt it is a natural cave, and it seems to me probable that they altered the course of the stream above, so that it should fall directly over the entrance. I think before we talk further about it we will go up there and take a look at it. If we find that the course has been changed that will settle the matter."
It took them an hour to climb the hill and make their way down to the gorge through which the river ran. They examined it carefully.
"It must always have come along here," Dias said. "There is no other possible channel; but there are marks of tools on the rocks on each side of the fall, and the water goes over so regularly that I think the rock must have been cut away at the bottom."
"It certainly looks like it, Dias. The rocks widen out too, so that however strong the rush of water may be it will always go over in a regular sheet. Let us follow it along a little way."
Fifty yards farther on, the gorge widened out suddenly, and they paused with an exclamation of astonishment. Before them was a wide valley, filled to the spot where they were standing with a placid sheet of water four or five hundred yards wide, and extending to another gorge fully a mile away. Bertie was the first to find his voice.
"Here's a go! Who would have thought of finding a lake up in the hills here?"
"I did not know there was one," Dias said. "I have never heard of it. But that is not strange, for no one who came up the valley would dream that there was anything beyond that fall."
Harry had sat down and thought for some minutes, looking over the lake without speaking.
"I am afraid, Dias," he said at last, "that your tradition was a true one after all, and that the gold lay in the bed of a stream in the valley we now see filled up."
"But it must always have been a lake, senor," Dias said after thinking for a minute, "and could not have been shallower, for there is no other escape than the waterfall; and however heavy the rains it could not have risen higher, except a few feet, as one can see by the face of the rock."
"It may have had some other way out," Harry said.
Dias looked carefully round the side of the valley. "There is no break in the hills that I can see, senor."
"No; but my firm conviction is that the top of that cave that we found behind the fall is really the top of a natural tunnel through which the stream originally flowed. There are two or three reasons for this. In the first place, it is certainly remarkable that there should be a cave immediately behind that fall. I thought at first that the stream above might have been diverted to hide it, but the ravine is so narrow that that could not be possible. In the next place, your tradition has proved absolutely true in the matter of the star, and in the hour of its appearance in the exact line to the mouth of that cave. How correctly the details have been handed down from generation to generation! If they are right on that point it is hardly likely that they can be inaccurate on other points, and that the tale of an extraordinarily rich treasure could have been converted into one of an exceptional deposit of gold in the bed of a river.
"I think that the passage was probably closed by the old people when they were first threatened by the invasion of the Incas. No doubt they would choose a season when the stream was almost dry. They had, as the remains of their vast buildings will show, an unlimited supply of labour. They would first partially block up the tunnel, perhaps for the first fifty yards in, leaving only a small passage for the water to run through. They might then close the farther end with sacks of sand, and having the other stones all cut, and any number of hands, build it up behind the sacks, and then go on with the work till it was solid; then no doubt they would heap stones and boulders against the face of the wall. By the time the Incas had conquered the country the valley would be a lake many feet deep. The Incas, having gained an abundant supply of treasure elsewhere, would take no steps towards opening the tunnel, which in any case would have been a terrible business, for the pressure of water would drive everything before it. Having plenty of slave labour at their disposal, they knew that it could be done at any time in case of great necessity, when the loss of the lives of those concerned in it would be nothing to them. When the valley became full the water began to pour out through this gap, which perhaps happened to be immediately over the mouth of the tunnel, or it may have been altered by a few yards to suit, for they were, as we know from some of their buildings, such good workmen that they could fit slabs of the hardest stone so perfectly together that it is hardly possible to see the joints. Therefore they would only have to widen the mouth of the gorge a little, and fit rocks in on either side so that they would seem to have been there for all time; and indeed the natural growth of ferns and mosses would soon hide the joints, even if they had been roughly done."
"And that all means, Harry--?" Bertie asked.
"That all means that we have no more chance of getting at the gold than if it were lying in the deepest soundings in the Pacific."
Bertie sat down with a gasp.
"There is no way of getting that water out," Harry went on quietly, "except by either cutting a channel here as deep as the bottom of the lake, or by blasting the stone in the tunnel. The one would require years of work, with two or three hundred experienced miners, and ten times as many labourers. The other would need twenty or thirty miners, and a hundred or two labourers. There is possibly another way; but as that would require an immense iron siphon going down to the bottom of the lake, along one side of this ravine, and down into the bottom of the pool, with a powerful engine to exhaust the air in the first place and set it going, it is as impracticable, as far as we are concerned, as the other two.
"In the same way I have no doubt that, with a thousand-horse-power engine, the lake could be pumped dry in time; but to transport the plant for such an engine and its boiler across the mountains would be an enormous undertaking; and even were it here, and put up and going, the difficulty of supplying it with fuel would be enormous. Certainly one could not get up a company with capital enough to carry out any one of the schemes merely on the strength of an Indian tradition; and with the uncertainty, even if they believed the tradition, whether the amount of gold recovered would be sufficient to repay the cost incurred.
"Well, we may as well go down to dinner."
He shouldered his pick and led the way back. Scarce a word was spoken on the way. Bertie tried to follow the example of his brother, and take the matter coolly. Dias walked with his head down and the air of a criminal going to execution. The disappointment to him was terrible. He had all along felt so confident that they should be successful, and that he should be enabled to enrich those he considered as the preservers of his life, that he was utterly broken down with the total failure of his hopes.