The Treasure of the Incas by G. A. Henty
Chapter XI. Brigands
Three months were spent in the journey to the foot of the pass leading up to Cerro. They had good shooting, and found no difficulty in providing themselves with food. Fish were plentiful in the streams, and in some of the long-deserted plantations they found bananas, grapes, and other fruits in abundance, together with sugar-canes, tomatoes, maize growing wild, and potatoes which were reverting to the wild type. They met neither with alligators nor large serpents, for they kept on the lower slopes of the foot-hills, as much as possible avoiding the low forest lands, where they might come in contact with the savages. For the same reason, they had no opportunity of taking any of the great fish found in the sluggish rivers, but had an abundance of smaller fish in the bright mountain streams. They killed two tapirs and several pumas and jaguars. Their two llamas, having one night wandered away from the mules, were killed by these beasts. But as the stores were a good deal lighter than when they started, this was no great misfortune. Occasionally they followed streams up into the hills, and did a little washing for gold when they halted for a day or two there.
"We have had a good time of it," Harry said as they sat round the fire, "and I am almost sorry that it is over, and that this is our last day of wandering where we like, shooting and fishing, and above all, camping in pleasant places. We have been very fortunate in not meeting any of the savages since the fight we had with them four or five months ago. It is a splendid country for sport, and except that we should like it a bit cooler, and could have done without some of the thunder-storms, it is a grand life. For a time now we are going back to a sort of civilization, filthy inns, swarms of fleas, and fifteenth-rate cooking."
"It is not so much the fault of the cooking," Maria said, "as of the meat. Here we get fish fresh out of the stream, and birds shot an hour or two before they are eaten. We pick our fruit from the trees, instead of buying it after it has been carried miles and miles to the market. We have a capital stock of coffee, tea, and sugar. Among the old plantations we pick cocoa and pound it fresh, and boil it. As we brought plenty of pepper and spices, it would be hard indeed if one could not turn out a good meal. And then, senors, you always come to eat it with a good appetite, which is all in favour of the cook."
"Yes, I grant that you have had all those advantages, Maria, but it is not everybody who makes the best of them. I can safely say that since we started we have never sat down to a bad breakfast or dinner. Now, for a bit, we are going to lead a different sort of life. We shall be on beaten tracks. We shall meet lots of people. It is strange to think that, except for those peasant muleteers we met at the foot of the pass by the Tinta volcano, we have not seen a soul except the savages--who have souls, I suppose--since we left Paucartambo more than six months ago; and yet somehow we do not seem to have missed them. I wonder what we shall find when we get up to Cerro, and who will be president then."
"I wonder what they are doing in Europe!" Bertie said. "We have heard no later news than what we had when we went on board a ship sixteen months ago. There may have been great wars all over Europe."
"I don't think there is much chance of that, Bertie. India was the only place where there was any fighting going on, and it seemed as if, since Napoleon was crushed, Europe would become permanently pacific. Still, I do hope that when we are at Lima we shall get hold of a pile of English newspapers. The consul is sure to have them."
"I don't suppose we shall want to stay there many days, Harry, for we shall be eager to start the search for the enchanted castle Dias has told us of. We saw quite enough of Lima during the ten days that we were there."
"Is the pass a bad one up to Cerro, Dias?"
"There are some very bad points, senor. It never was a good one, but as nothing has been done to the roads for at least a hundred years, it must have got into a very bad state. I have been down it twice with travellers, the second time ten years ago, and it was bad enough then. It is likely to be worse now."
"Well, as the road is used so little, Dias," Harry said, "there is no fear of brigands."
"I hope not, senor; but there may be some, though they would not be there in the hope of plundering travellers. But desperate men are always to be found in the mountains--men who have committed murders and fled from justice. They are able to live on what they can shoot, and of course they can get fish in the streams, and when they are tired of that can come down here, where they will find plenty of turkeys, and pheasants, and other game, besides the maize, and fruits, and other things in the old plantations. Sometimes they will take a little plunder from the small villages. Anyhow, they do not fare altogether badly. Therefore one can never feel certain that one is safe from them, even when travelling over tracks where travellers seldom pass. Still, we may very well hope that we shall not have the bad luck to fall in with them."
"I hope so, Dias. We did not come out here to fight. So far we have been very fortunate, and have not had to fire a shot, except at those wretched savages."
The next day's journey took them far up into the hills, and they camped that night at the upper end of a deep ravine. It had been a hard day's work, for at several points the mules had to be unloaded and taken up singly, and the loads then carried up. Fortunately, the packs were now very light, and were carried or hauled up without much difficulty.
In the morning they again started. They were just issuing from the ravine when a party of ten armed men made their appearance from amongst some rocks, and shouted to them to halt. Dias rode in front.
"You speak to them, Dias. Keep them for a minute in talk if you can, and then take shelter behind that boulder."
Then Harry ran back to Jose, who was walking with a leading mule twenty paces behind.
"Turn them back again, Jose. Halt a little way down, and then come up; there are some brigands ahead. Bertie, bring up your rifle and the two shot-guns. Tell Maria to remain with the mules."
Then he ran back again just as a shot rang out, and, dodging among the fallen rocks, he took shelter behind one abreast with Dias. "Was it you who fired?" he asked.
"No, one of the brigands. The ball went through the brim of my sombrero. I think they are talking to each other, they know there is no hurry."
"Hail them again, Dias, but don't show yourself above the rock."
"What do you want? Why did you fire at me?"
"We want everything you have got," a voice came back--"your mules and their burdens, and your arms. If you will give them up without resistance, we will let you up the pass without hindering you."
"Tell them that you must talk it over with the others, Dias."
"Well, we will give you five minutes," the man called back. "If you do not accept our terms, we will cut your throats."
Dias stood up, and walked quietly down the rugged pass. At the point where the mules stopped, the rock rose almost perpendicularly on each side.
"Maria," he said, "do you and Jose take off the saddles and bags and fill up the spaces between these rocks on each side. Get the animals in behind them. You stop with them, Maria. I have got five minutes, and will help you."
"You had better go up at once, senor," he went on to Bertie, "and help your brother, so that they may not get sight of you. However, I am afraid they know how many we are. It was foolish to light that fire yesterday evening, I expect they were somewhere near and caught sight of us, and no doubt one of them crept quietly down to find out what our force was. Seeing there were but four of us, they thought they could take us all easily here in the morning without firing a shot. But as your brother and I happened to be going on first, they thought they would parley. They would be sure that if they attacked us, we should kill two or three of them at least before we had finished with them. And as they reckoned that we should gladly accept their terms, they would get all they wanted without trouble, and could shoot us afterwards if they felt inclined."
Bertie had by this time got the guns unstrapped, and had filled his pockets with cartridges. He now went forward, and as he kept among the rocks he was able to get within four or five yards of his brother without being seen, as the mouth of the pass was almost blocked with great boulders.
"I cannot get any nearer without running the risk of being seen. I have loaded the double-barrelled guns."
"Stay where you are then, Bertie. I don't think they will make a rush, and if they do, you can use them as well as your rifle. Of course I have my pistols and you have yours. I don't believe they will venture to attack in daylight, our trouble will be after dark."
"Now, then, the five minutes are up!" the brigand shouted.
"I am coming!" Dias shouted back.
As he approached, Harry said: "Stand by the side of a rock, Dias, so as to be able to shelter as soon as you have given them the answer; they are likely enough to fire a volley."
"We will give you nothing," Dias shouted. "Anything you want you had better come and take."
Three men raised their heads above the rocks and fired. Almost at the same instant Harry's rifle and Bertie's cracked out, the heads disappeared, and a fierce yell of rage showed that one, if not both of the shots had found their mark.
"You had better clear off," Harry shouted. "There are four of us, and we have eight barrels between us, to say nothing of two brace of pistols."
A volley of curses was hurled back in reply.
"Now, Dias, what do you think is our best move?"
"I don't know, senor. I fancy there are only eight of them now. You and your brother could hardly miss marks like their heads at thirty paces." "If I were quite sure that there are no more of them I should say that, as soon as it becomes dark, we had better creep forward and fight them. It would be better to do that than wait for them to attack us. But there may be, and very likely are, more of these bands among the hills. Besides, Dias, we don't want to lose one of our number, and we could hardly hope to get through unscathed, for if we were to try to push on they would have us at a tremendous advantage. They would hide among the rocks and shoot us down before we had time to level a gun at them. Now that we have killed one, if not two of their number, they will certainly try to get their revenge, and will harass us all the way up the pass."
"It is not only that, senor; it is the booty they expect to take."
"They could not expect much booty," Harry said, "for our baggage animals only carry small loads."
"Gold does not take up a large bulk, senor; and I have not the least doubt that they believe we have been gold-hunting, and have probably a big amount of gold dust among the baggage."
"I did not think of that, Dias. If they believe we have gold we will take it as granted that they will do their best to get it. Well, do you think it would be a good thing to make a rush?"
"No, senor, it would be throwing away our lives. They will guess that we shall probably attempt such a thing, and I have no doubt that they will move away, if they haven't done so already, and hide themselves among other rocks. Then if we dashed forward to the place where they had been, they would pour a volley into us and finish us at once; for if they were lying twenty yards away they ought certainly to hit every one of us, as they have eight shots to fire. At present I have no doubt they are talking, and I think we can safely get back to where we piled up the saddles and bales. We can defend ourselves better there than here. We can then talk matters over quietly."
"That will be the best plan, Dias, certainly."
Keeping under cover as well as they could they retired to the barricade, thirty yards lower. Jose, aided by Maria, had completed the defence. They had not, however, attempted to block the passage between two great rocks. It was but three feet wide; the rocks lay about six feet from the cliffs on either side, and these spaces were partly filled by smaller fragments. Wherever there were open spaces the blankets had been thrust in from behind. Dias had done the greater part of the work before he went up to answer the demands of the bandits, but the others had laboured very hard to finish it.
"Well done!" Harry said as they passed through the entrance.
"I told them not to close the path," Dias said. "We can do that now we are all together. Most of the rocks are too heavy for Jose and Maria to lift. Shall we build it up now, senor? I am sure they cannot force their way through while we four are holding the barricade."
"Certainly not, Dias, and I have no fear of their attempting it. But I think it would be as well for us to close it, otherwise we could not cross from one side to the other without exposing ourselves."
It took them two hours' hard work--the harder because the stones had to be thrown into the passage from the sides, as the brigands might be crouching among the rocks higher up waiting for an opportunity to get a shot. At the end of the two hours the gap was filled up to the height of six feet.
"Now we can talk matters over quietly, Dias," Harry said. "We may take it that, whether they attack by day or by night, we can beat them off. There is a little rill of water that trickles down along the centre, so we need not fear being driven out by thirst, and we have food enough to last us a fortnight. That is settled; but they may stay there for any time, and without exposing ourselves to sudden death we cannot find out whether they are still hanging about or not. Of course one very important question is, are they going to be joined by others?"
"I think they certainly will be, senor. As many of these fellows are hiding among the hills as would make a good-sized regiment, and they have only to send off two or three of their number with the news that a party of gold-diggers with five laden mules are shut up in this ravine to gather any number of them. They would come as quickly as vultures to a dead horse. It must be a long time since they had any really valuable plunder, and the fact that we have five baggage mules besides the three riding ones would show that we had probably been a very long time away, and might therefore possess a lot of gold."
"Are there any other passes near?"
"The nearest, senor, is on the other branch of the Palcazu--the river we followed till we entered the passes--and is about thirty miles to the north. The pass starts from a spot about fifteen miles above the junction, and goes up to Huaca, a place that is little more than ten miles south of Huanuco. From Huaca we could either follow the road to Cerro, or strike across the Western Cordilleras to Aguamiro."
"Then I think, Dias, that our best plan will be to go down again into the valley we left yesterday morning, and then strike across for the mouth of this pass you speak of. You know the direction?"
"I know the general direction, although I have never been along there."
"Well, Dias, you must be the guide. I should say the sooner we start the better. My idea is this: If you with your wife and Jose will start at once, so as to be down the pass before it gets dark, my brother and I will remain here. You will leave our riding mules at the point where the track is good enough for us to gallop on."
"We should not like to leave you, senor," Maria said.
"I have not the least fear of their attacking us, and with our rifles and double-barrelled guns and pistols we could beat them off if they did. I can't see any better way of getting out of this scrape, and am quite willing to adopt this plan."
"I don't see any other way, senor," Dias said. "The plan is a good one; but I wish I could stay here with you."
"But that would be impossible, Dias, for there would be no chance of our finding the mouth of this pass by ourselves."
"Why could we not all go together?" Maria asked.
"Because if there were no one here the brigands might discover that we had gone, within an hour or so of our starting. They might fire a shot or two, and, finding that we did not answer, crawl gradually down till they got here, for it must seem possible to them that we should return down the pass; and as there is no getting the baggage mules to go fast, we might very well be overtaken--I don't mean by those eight men, but by a considerable number."
"But how are you to find your way, senor?" Dias said.
"We shall follow the valley down till we come to the spot where you have struck off. You can fasten a white handkerchief to a stick and put it in some bare place where we are sure to see it. I want you to halt when you get to the river somewhere opposite the mouth of the pass. We will ride nearly due north, and when we strike the river will follow it down till we reach you."
"We can't halt opposite the mouth of the pass, for the river there is already some size, and we could not cross it. I shall keep along near the foot of the hills--the water there is shallow enough to ford. Then I will follow it down until, as you say, near the entrance to the pass, and there stop on the bank till you come."
"That will do very well. In that case it won't matter much where we strike the stream, as our mules can swim across easily enough--they have had plenty of practice during the past six months. However, we will turn off north where we can see your signal."
"When will you leave, senor?"
"To-morrow morning. I have no fear of their attacking during the night, for they can hardly bring other bands down here before morning. As soon as it gets dark we will light two torches and put them down at the foot of the barricade, so that we shall be in the shadow. These will show them that we are still here, and they won't care to venture down into the circle of light. We have let them know what a formidable amount of firearms we have, and have given them a lesson that we can shoot straight."
"They certainly would not come, senor, as long as your torches are burning, but three hours are as much as you can reckon upon their burning."
"Well, we have a dozen left now, Dias, and when they burn out we must light two more and throw them over and trust to their burning as they lie among the stones. Of course we should not think of going down to stick them upright, for the scoundrels will probably be watching us as closely as we are watching them. However, I shall manage to keep the lights going till daybreak, and shall start a good hour before that. We shall have to go down cautiously, and I should like to be well away with the mules before they discover that we have left. Now, the sooner you are off the better. Breakfast has been ready for the past hour. You had better eat it and get under weigh as soon as you can. After you have gone one of us will keep watch while the other eats. I have no doubt there will be plenty left for our supper."
"Yes, senor, and enough cakes to carry you on till you join us."
Half an hour later the party started, Dias having muffled the mules' hoofs, so that the clatter, as they passed over the rocks, might not be heard above.
"Now, Bertie, you go down to breakfast. When you have done come up and relieve me. You have no occasion to hurry, for it is absolutely certain that they won't dare to attack till they get reinforcements."
When Bertie returned he said, "Here is a lot of food, Harry, they have hardly eaten anything. There is plenty for us to-day and to-morrow."
"That is just like them, Bertie; but I daresay they will camp in five or six hours. It feels quite lonely without them."
"That it does. It is really the first time we have been alone since we left Lima, except, of course, when we were out shooting together."
"Be sure you don't show your head above the barricade, Bertie. You must do as I have been doing, sit down here and look out through this peep-hole between these rocks Shove your rifle through it, so that, if you see a head looking out from between the rocks up there, you can fire at once."
In half an hour Harry came back and sat down by his brother, and, lighting their pipes, they chatted over the events of their journey and the prospect before them.
"I am afraid, Harry, the journey will be a failure, except that we have had a very jolly time."
"Well, so far it has not turned out much; but, somehow or other, I have great faith in this haunted castle. Of course the demons Dias is so afraid of are probably Indians, who are placed there to frighten intruders away, and they would not keep watch unless they had something to guard. I cannot understand how it has escaped the notice of the Spaniards all these years. I had not much faith in their stories until we found how true they were in all particulars as to what they call the golden river. There is one satisfaction, however: if the place is really a castle, it can hardly have disappeared under the lake. Of course if it is in ruins we may have a lot of difficulty in getting at the vaults, or wherever else treasure may have been buried; but unless it is a very big place, which is hardly probable, the work would be nothing compared with the draining of the lake."
"We have got nearly a year in hand, Harry, and can do a lot of work in that time, especially if we use powder."
"Yes; but, you see, we ought to allow at least five months for getting home. Still, no doubt if I felt justified in writing to ask for another three or four months, saying I had great hopes of finding something very good in a short time, she would stand out against her father a little longer. I shall write directly we get to Lima to say that, although I have so far failed, I do not give up hope, and am just starting on another enterprise that promises well." Bertie held up his finger. "I think I heard somebody move. It sounded like a stone being turned over." For two or three minutes he lay motionless, with his finger on the trigger. Then he fired.
"What was it, Bertie?"
"It was a man's leg. I suddenly saw it below that rift behind the rock. I expect he had no idea that his foot showed there. I am pretty sure I hit it, for I had time to take a steady aim, and the foot disappeared the instant I fired. If he did not know it was exposed, there was no reason why he should have moved at all if he hadn't been hit."
"It was better to hit his foot than his head, Bertie. It is equally good as a lesson, if not better, for though we don't mean to let them kill us, I don't want to take life unless it is absolutely necessary. Well, after that proof of the sharpness of our watch they are not likely to make any fresh move."
The day passed slowly. They took it by turns to keep watch, and just before dusk Harry said, "I think, Bertie, that we might pull out the leaves and bush that Dias shoved into one of these gaps when he took the blankets and things out. I could push the torch through and fix it there, that would save having to cross the barricade. It is quite possible that one of those fellows may be keeping as sharp a look-out as we are doing, and it is as well not to set one's self up as a mark. If I put it through now it won't show much, while if I wait till darkness falls it will be an easy object to fire at. You keep a sharp lookout while I am doing this, and if you see either a head or a gun try to hit it."
Harry accomplished the operation without drawing a shot, and as soon as he had fixed the torch he again stopped the hole up behind it.
"It is evident that they are not watching us very closely," he said. "If they have not sent for help, they have gone off. With two of their men killed and two disabled, the fight must have been taken out of them. We will watch by turns to-night. It is six o'clock now; will you sit up till eleven, or shall I?"
"I don't care a bit. Which would you rather take?"
"I don't care;--however, I may as well take the first watch. We will start at five, so rouse me at four. If they come at all, which is possible, but not probable, it will be between four and five."
At ten o'clock Harry could see a glow of light at some distance from the mouth of the ravine, and in the stillness could occasionally catch the sound of voices. When he woke Bertie at twelve the lad looked at his watch and said, "You are an hour late in calling me, Harry."
"Yes, I had no inclination for sleep. The fellows have been reinforced. Of course I don't know to what extent, but I should say pretty strongly. They have lit a big fire some distance from the ravine. They would not have dared to light one if they had not felt themselves strong enough to fight us. No doubt they have half a dozen men on watch where we first saw them, and these would give notice if we were coming. I think we may as well fire a couple of shots, it will show them that we are here and on guard. They will suppose we thought we heard someone coming down to reconnoitre our position."
They both fired over the top of the barricade.
"I see you have renewed the torch, Harry," Bertie said as they reloaded.
"Yes, I have done so twice. I was very careful, however, as I feared they might be watching. I did not wait for the lighted one to burn out, but passed the other one out, putting the end of my poncho round my hand and arm, so that they could hardly be noticed even by anyone within ten yards, and certainly could not be seen from up there. As I pushed it through I lighted it at the stump of the old torch and then withdrew my hand like a shot. I did the same thing again an hour ago with equal success, so it is evident that they are not keeping a very sharp look-out above, and have no fear of our making a sortie, hampered as we are by our animals."
The torch was changed again at four o'clock, and a little later Bertie heard a slight noise.
"I think they are coming, Harry," he said quietly.
Harry was at once on his feet. "Use your rifle first, Bertie, and sling it over your shoulder before you give them the two barrels of buck-shot, so that you can start to run at once if we don't stop them."
"Yes, I am certain they are coming," he said, after listening for two or three minutes. "We have got two or three torches left, and I will give them the benefit of them."
He went back to the embers of the fire, lighted the torches, and, returning to the barrier, threw them twenty or thirty yards up the ravine. There was a hoarse shout of anger, and then a dozen shots were fired. Bertie's rifle cracked out in return, and Harry's followed almost immediately. A dark group of some twenty or thirty men were rushing forward, and had just reached the line where the torches were burning, when four barrels of buck-shot were poured into them. Three or four fell, the rest fled at once, and the cries and oaths showed that many of them were wounded.
"They won't venture again for the present," Harry said. "You may be sure they will hold a council of war, so load again and then we will be off."
Two minutes later they were making their way carefully down the rocky passage, Harry carrying the bundle they had made up of the unconsumed provisions. As they had to exercise great care in climbing over the rocks, the day was just breaking when they came upon two mules that had been left behind for them. They rode cautiously until they were quite out of the ravine, and then started down the valley at a gallop. In an hour Bertie exclaimed, "There is the flag!" They rode to it and then turned off to the north, slackening their pace to a trot. The animals were in good condition, as they had of late been making short marches, and at eleven o'clock they came upon the river. Here they waited for an hour, gave a couple of cakes to each animal, and ate the rest themselves. The river was some fifty yards across, but the mules only needed to swim about half this distance. The brothers kept beside them, placing one elbow on the saddles and holding their rifles and ammunition well above the water. They were soon across, and, mounting, followed the river down, letting the animals go their own pace, and sometimes walking beside them, as they wished to keep them fresh for the next day's work. At five in the afternoon they saw smoke ahead of them, and, riding faster now, soon joined their companions, who hailed their arrival with shouts of joy.
"We have been terribly anxious about you, senors," Dias said, "and regretted deeply that we deserted you."
"It was not desertion, Dias; you were obeying orders, and were on duty guarding the baggage. There was really no cause for uneasiness; we were certain that we could beat them off if they ventured to attack us."
"And did they do so?"
"They made a feeble attack this morning at four o'clock, but we were ready for them. They might have carried the barricade had we only had our rifles, but buck-shot was too much for them. Of course we brought down two with our rifles; but there must have been over a score of them, and the four barrels of buck-shot did heavy execution. Some of them fell, and I fancy most of the others got a dose of shot, as they were all in a close body. I will tell you all about it after we have had supper."
"I have got it ready," Maria said. "We have been expecting you for the past hour, and I was sure you would have good appetites when you arrived."
After the story had been told Dias said: "That was a capital plan of keeping the torches burning all night, and especially of throwing two of them up the ravine when you heard the fellows coming. Of course they calculated on getting within fifteen yards or so before you saw them. Well, there is no fear of our hearing any more of them. I expect you must have been gone hours before they found out that you had left,
"I should not be surprised if, after they had recovered from their defeat, half of them made a big circuit over the hills--no doubt they know every foot of them--and, coming down at the bottom of the ravine, built a strong barricade, making up their minds to guard both ends until we were obliged to surrender from want of food. Having suffered so heavily, they would do everything in their power to prevent any of us from getting out alive."
"In that case they must have been prepared to wait for some time, Dias, for they knew we had eight animals to eat."
"They would not have lasted long, senor, for we have only a few handfuls of grain left, and there is not enough forage in the ravine to last them a couple of days."
"I expect they would have tried to get us to surrender, by offering to let us pass if we would give them half of the gold they thought we had with us. There is no chance of our being followed, I suppose, Dias?"
"Not the slightest. When at last they discover that we have gone, they will come down the pass and find where the mules were left standing. They will then see that only two of us had remained at the barricade, and will guess at once that the rest left hours before. They will therefore conclude that, being on foot, they have no chance of overtaking us, even if they could find the track."
"No, I expect by this time they are dancing with rage, and as likely as not quarrelling furiously among themselves. How far do you think we have ridden to-day?"
"Nearer sixty miles than fifty, senor."
"Yes, I suppose we have. And if we had come straight here?"
"It would have been nearly fifteen miles shorter. But if they pursued they would not come that way, because they would not be able to get across. I think they would have to go round and ford the river some miles higher than you did. They could never swim across with their guns and ammunition to carry."
"I should not count on that, Dias. They might come straight here, as they would guess that we had made for this pass, and they might make bundles of reeds to carry their guns and ammunition across, and swim over."
"That would be possible," Dias admitted reluctantly, "and if they knew that the five mules were all loaded with gold they might be tempted to follow; but that they could only guess. I have no doubt, too, that many of them had been walking for hours across the mountains before the attack, and as you fired into the thick of them, a fair share must have been too much wounded to start on a forty-miles' tramp.
"No, senor. I do not think there is any chance whatever of their pursuing us. Besides, I chose a spot where the ground was hard and rocky to plant that flag. And they would have a good deal of difficulty in ascertaining in what direction we went from there."
"We pulled up the flag-staff and threw it away among the bushes a mile and a half farther, and of course brought the handkerchief with us."
"I don't think we need give another thought to them, senor. At the same time, it would be as well to keep one on watch all night. Jose and I will be on guard by turns. Neither of you slept a wink last night, so you must not keep watch this time."
"I sha'n't be sorry for a good sleep, for the meal we have eaten has made me drowsy. However, if you hear the least noise, wake us at once."
"That I will do, senor. It is a great deal more likely to be made by a wild beast than by a brigand."
The brothers were sound asleep in a few minutes, and did not wake till Dias called them, and said that Maria had coffee ready.
"What sort of a pass is it to-day, Dias?"
"Not a very bad one, senor. The one we tried yesterday hadn't been used for very many years, there is regular traffic up and down this; not valuable traffic, for Pozuco is a small place. They send up fruit and dried fish, and the oil they get from the fish; and bring back cloth, and such things as are required in the village."
"So there is nothing to tempt brigands to infest the pass and rob travellers!"
"No, senor. When I last went through it I heard no talk of them at all. They are more likely to infest the hills beyond Cerro, for near that place really valuable captures can be made."
"That accounts for their being able to gather so many men to attack us."
The journey up the pass occupied two days. They met three or four small parties of men with donkeys or mules, but all these when questioned said that the pass was perfectly open, and that it was a very rare thing indeed for anyone to be robbed on the way. Late in the evening of the second day they arrived at Huaca, and were advised to go to the priest's house, as the accommodation at the inn was so bad. The man who directed them there was the head man of the place, and they gladly accepted his offer to guide them to the priest's house.
"It would be the best way, senor," Dias said. "I know a man here who would willingly put us up, and who has a yard where the mules could pass the night."
"Very well, Dias. Be sure you buy a good stock of grain. They have scarce had any for the last three days."
The priest--a cheery, hearty man--received Harry and Bertie cordially when they were introduced as English travellers, especially when he found that they could both speak Spanish fluently.
"It is a pleasure to receive British travellers," he said. "Cochrane and Miller have done more for us than any of our own countrymen. It is not often that travellers come this way. I have heard of two or three going to Cuzco, but they never come farther north than Cerro. I shall be delighted if you will stay two or three days here, senors. We get so little news of the world that it would be a great pleasure to us to hear what is going on outside this unfortunate country."
"We can give you but little news, for it is more than a year since we left England, and we have heard nothing of what is doing in Europe, as we have been travelling and shooting at the foot of the mountains between the bottom of this pass and Tinta volcano."
"And gold seeking?" the priest asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"We have occasionally washed the sands in the streams, but have not found enough to repay our work. The amount we have gathered is only about twenty ounces."
"Well, gentlemen, I shall be delighted to have you as my guests as long as you are willing to stay." "We are greatly obliged to you," Harry said, "and will gladly be your guests. To-morrow the animals need a rest, and we shall enjoy one too. Next morning we must be going on, as we have been away longer than we ought, and want to get down to Lima quickly."
They had great difficulty in getting away from Huaca, where the good priest made them extremely comfortable, and was very loath to let them go. However, at dawn on the second day they started for Cerro, and arrived there forty-eight hours later after a rough journey through the Mils.
"We never know in Peru, when we go to bed, who will be president when we wake," Dias said that evening. "There have been a dozen of them in the past five years. Lamar, Gamarra, La Fuente, Orbegozo, Bermudes, and Salaverry succeeded one another; then Santa Cruz became master. Nieto had the upper hand for a bit, and at that time there was no travelling on the roads, they were so infested by robbers; one band was master of Lima for some time. Then the Chilians occupied Lima; Santa Cruz was defeated, and Gamarra came in again. None of these men was ever supreme over the whole country. Generals mutinied with the troops under them, other leaders sprang up, and altogether there has been trouble and civil war ever since the Spaniards left. That is why the country is so full of robbers. When an army was defeated, those who escaped took to the hills and lived by plunder until some other chief revolted, then they would go down and join him; and so it has gone on."
"Who composed those armies? because the fields seem to have been well cultivated, and the peasants are quiet enough."
"Yes, senor, for the most part they take no part in these affairs. The men who compose the armies were in the first place the remains of those who fought against the Spaniards. When the Spaniards left the country these men had nothing to do, and were ready to enlist under anyone who raised a flag and promised them pay. Of bourse there are many men in the towns who are too lazy to work, and who help to keep up the supply of armed men. The good God only knows when these things will come to an end. A few of those who have come into power really loved their country, and hoped to establish order and do away with all the abuses caused by the men who were appointed to offices by one or another of those tyrants; but most of them were ambitious soldiers, who led mutineers against the chief of the moment. If Heaven would but destroy or strike with blindness the soldiers --and above all, every official in Peru--the country might hope for peace and good government. The best man who has ever fought out here since Lord Cochrane left the place was General Miller, your countryman, who was splendidly brave. He was always true to his word, never allowed his soldiers to plunder, and never ill-treated those captured in battle. Ah! they should have made him president, but it would never have done. As the Chilians were jealous of Lord Cochrane, the Peruvians were jealous of Miller, first because he was a foreigner, secondly because his uprightness and fidelity were a reproach to their ambition and treachery, their greed, and their cruelty. Besides, he understood them too well, and if all Peru had asked him to be president, he knew well enough that conspiracies against him would begin the next morning. Ah, he was a great man!
"Well, senor, I think that before we start it will be well that I at least should go on to Ayapata and find out what is doing. That would only delay us two days, and we might be better able to judge as to which route to take. They may be fighting in the north, and we do not want to get mixed up in any way in their quarrels."
"I think that would be a very good plan, Dias. You start in the morning, and we will stay quietly here till you come back with the news. If many brigands are in the pass they might get to hear of us from someone going over from this side, and take it into their heads to come down. I would certainly rather not have to fight with you away."
Accordingly next morning Dias went on ahead. On the following evening he rejoined them.
"There is fresh trouble in the south, senor. Colonel Vivancohidas has declared himself Regenerator of Peru, and is now marching against Gamarra, and General Castilla is advancing against him. The fighting will be somewhere near Arequipa. Whichever wins will presently cross the mountains and make for Cuzco."
"Then that settles it, Dias. Certainly I have heard nothing in Gamarra's favour, but a great deal against him, since I landed, and I care nothing about either side; but I hope the new man will win, because I think that any change from Gamarra will be an improvement."