Chapter XVI. The Search Begins
 

In a few minutes all were ready to go on again. Harry had asked Maria if she would like to go down the ladder and wait till they returned.

"No, senor, I should not like it at all. I don't care how full of bats the rooms are, now that I know what they are. As for Dias, I have no doubt that the first time he heard them he was just as frightened."

"No, I was not; but I dare say I should have been if the man I was with--I was then only about Jose's age--had not told me that the cavern was full of bats. There was a great storm coming on, and he proposed that we should take shelter there. We brought the mules into the mouth of the cave, and he said, 'Now, we will light a torch and go in a bit farther, and then you will be astonished. It is a bat cavern, and I have no doubt there are thousands of them here. They won't hurt us, though they may knock out our torch, and the noise they make is enough to scare one out of one's senses, if one does not know what it is.' Though I did know, I own I was frightened a bit; but since then I have been into several such caves, so I knew in a moment what it was. I ought to have warned the senors, for an old house like this, where there is very little light, is just the place for them."

"But there were birds too, Dias."

"Yes, I expect they were nearer. Perhaps some of them were in the other rooms, where they would be close to the openings. But they were probably scared too by the noise of the bats, and as the windows behind were too small for them all to fly out together, they made for the light instead."

"Well, now, let us start," Harry said, getting up. They again lit their torches, and this time found everything perfectly quiet in the passage. Two or three yards beyond the spot at which they had before arrived they saw a staircase to the left. It was faintly lighted from above, and, mounting it, they found themselves in a room extending over the whole width and depth of the house. The roof at the eastern end was not supported by pillars, but by walls three feet wide and seven or eight feet apart. The first line of these was evidently over the wall of the room they had left. There were four lines of similar supports erected, they had no doubt, over the walls of rooms below. The light from the four windows in front, and from an irregular opening at the other end some three feet high and six inches wide, afforded sufficient light for them to move about without difficulty. There were many signs of human habitation here. Along the sides were the remains of mats, which had apparently divided spaces six feet wide into small apartments. Turning these over they found many trifles--arrow-heads, bead-necklaces, fragments of pots, and even a child's doll.

"I expect this is the room where the married troops lived and slept," Harry said; "there is not much to see here."

The two stories above were exactly similar, except that there were no remains of dividing mats nor of female ornaments. They walked to the narrow end. Here the opening for light was of a different shape from those in the rooms below. It had apparently been originally of the same shape, but had been altered. In the middle it was, like the others, three feet high and six inches wide, but a foot from the bottom there was a wide cut, a foot high and three feet wide. As they approached it Dias gave an exclamation of surprise. Two skeletons lay below it. "They must have been on watch here, senor, when they died," he said as they came up to them.

"It is a rum place to watch," Bertie said, "for you cannot see out."

"You are right, Bertie, it is a curious hole."

The wall was over two feet thick; all the other openings had been driven straight through it, and, as they had noticed, were doubtless made in the stones before they were placed there, for inside they were cleanly cut, and it was only within three inches of the outer face that the edges had been left rough. This opening was of quite a different character. It sloped at a sharp angle, and no view of the open sea could be obtained, but only one of the line of rocks at the foot of the cliffs. It was roughly made, and by the marks of tools, probably of hardened copper, it had evidently been cut from the inside.

Harry stood looking for some time. "I cannot understand their cutting the hole like this. It could not be noticed from the sea that there was an opening at all; that is plain enough. But why make the hole at all when you can see nothing from it? And yet a watch has been placed here, while there was none at the other places where they could make out any passing ship."

"Perhaps," Bertie said, "it was done in order that if from the other places boats were seen approaching, they could chuck big stones down from here and sink any boat that might row inside the rocks into the entrance to the passage, which, as this is in the middle of the room, must be just under us."

"In that case they would have kept a supply of big stones here. I have no doubt whatever that it was made some time after the castle was built, and I should say, judging by its unfinished state, the work was done in haste. But what for, goodness only knows. Well now, having made no discoveries whatever on the upper floor, we will go down. It is certain that there can be no great treasure hidden under any of these floors, there is not depth enough for hiding-places. I counted the steps as we came upstairs, and there cannot be much more than two feet between the floor of one room and the ceiling in the next. I fancy that this is of single stones, each the flooring length of the space between the half-walls. You see that there is a long beam of stone running on the top of the dividing wall, and the ends of these stones appear to rest on it. It is below that we must look for hiding-places."

They descended to the first floor. They found that the space behind the great room was divided into a number of chambers. All of these, with the exception of the small one on the sea-face, were necessarily in absolute darkness, and in all were brackets for torches, similar to those in the principal chamber. Bertie counted them, and found that, including those first met with, they numbered one hundred and twenty-three.

"How much do you think they weigh apiece?" he asked Harry when the tour was finished.

"I have not the slightest idea, Bertie. I should think about fifteen pounds, but it may be five pounds less than that. They would certainly give a very nasty knock on the head."

"Oh, I was not thinking of knocks on the head. If there are a hundred bars at fifteen pounds apiece, it is a big amount of silver; if they are only ten pounds each--and really I think that is nearer the mark--they weigh a thousand pounds. What is silver worth a pound?"

"It varies. You can put it at five shillings an ounce; that would be three pounds sterling for one of silver--three thousand pounds in a rough calculation for the lot."

"Well, that is not a bad beginning, Harry; it would pay all the expenses and leave a couple of thousand over."

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "A drop in the ocean as far as I am concerned, Bertie. Still, it is a beginning; and you may be sure that they did not take all this trouble to guard this castle for the sake of three thousand pounds' worth of silver."

They now went down to the next floor. Here there were two staircases, and the space was divided into two parts by a wall along the centre. There were no openings whatever for light. One half had evidently been devoted to arms. Here still lay hundreds of spear-shafts, tens of thousands of arrows, piles of hide shields, and caps of the same material.

"This store must have been larger than was required for the garrison of the place," Harry said, "it must have been a reserve for re-arming a whole tribe."

Besides the arms there were great bales of rough cloth and piles of skins, all in a marvellous state of preservation owing to the dryness of the air. After thoroughly examining the room they went up the stairs leading into it and descended those into the adjoining chamber. This was divided into compartments by transverse walls four feet shorter than the width, thereby leaving a passage through from end to end. Here in confusion--for the most part turned inside out--were sacks of matting and bags of leather. One of the compartments was filled with great jars arranged in tiers. Some of the compartments were quite empty.

"I think, senor, that these were stores of loose grain, probably maize. I do not see a single grain left."

They looked carefully round with the torches. "This carries out our idea, Dias, that the people upstairs died of hunger. I have no doubt, as you say, that the sacks did contain grain. If these had been cleared in the ordinary way there would certainly remain a good deal loosely scattered about. They might have been full or half-full at the time the place was left as we found it. Possibly, instead of ten men, the garrison may have been ten times as strong at first, but in the fifty or hundred years before the last survivors died they may have dwindled to a tenth of that number. However, it is plain that, as you say, the store of food was not carried away, but was consumed to the last grain. In the same way you can see, by the way the sacks and bags are tumbled about and turned inside out, how careful was the search for any remnant that might have been overlooked when they were first emptied. It all points to starvation."

Three of the largest divisions bore evident traces that at some time or other, animals, probably llamas or vicunas, had been closely penned there. Another had been occupied by a store of hay, some of which still remained. When they had thoroughly examined this room, Harry looked at his watch and said, "It is late in the afternoon--our torches are nearly finished; however, there is time for a casual look round at the cellars below. To- morrow we will begin a regular search there."

They descended by the staircase to the basement.

"How narrow this place is!" Bertie exclaimed. "It is not much more than half the width of the room above."

"Of course it is not; the two rooms above occupied the whole width of the house, these only occupy the width between the passage and the rock-wall on each side. You see, the tunnel is twelve feet wide, and we may take it that these walls are at least three feet thick--it is not as if they had been built of brick, or even of stones cut to shape. They knew nothing of the arch, and, as you saw outside, this came up nearly to a point. The stones were longer and longer with each course, each projecting over the one below it, until, when they were within two feet of joining, a very long slab was laid across them. The stones may be three feet wide at the bottom and ten feet at the top, and you see the wall extends over here in the same way--as of course it must have done, otherwise the whole thing would have overbalanced and fallen in before that slab at the top was added. So, you see, there is the width of the tunnel, twelve feet, and the two walls, say six feet more, to be taken off the fifty feet. So the cellars by the side of the passage can only be about sixteen feet and a half at this end, which is what they seem to be, and will go away to nothing at the other end, as we shall see presently."

The first thing they saw was a sunken tank in the floor. This was full of water. It was about four feet square, and on sounding it with one of the ramrods, they found it was about the same in depth, the water coming to within a foot of the top. It was against the wall facing the ravine.

"This must have some connection with the stream. Otherwise it would have been dry long ago."

"We did not see any hole when we went down the passage," Bertie said.

"No. Most likely a hole something like this was cut in the rock outside, and a pipe driven to the bottom of this cistern. They would only have to fill the one in the tunnel with cut blocks to within a foot of the surface, and with smaller stones to the same level as the bed of the stream; then the water in the cistern would always be level with that outside. They put it in this end so as to be well out of reach of the salt water farther in. They were no fools who built this place. However closely they were besieged, and even if the enemy occupied the space in front of the house, their water-supply was secure."

"But in time of floods, Harry, if the water rose a foot in the passage-- and we saw it did more than that--it would flood the whole of this basement."

"That is so, Bertie; but you may be sure that there was some provision against that. They would have some valve that they could shut, or possibly there was a block of wood covered with leather that they could push into the pipe at the bottom of this cistern."

Beyond a considerable store of firewood, in large and small blocks, nothing could be seen in the chamber.

"I expect these two places were used as prisons," Harry said, "though in case a very large force were assembled some may have slept here. At ordinary times the upper rooms would be quite sufficient. But you see they had to build the whole height of the rocky arch, and they wanted the entrance to the place to be so far above the ground-level that it would be extremely difficult for an enemy to climb into it. A hostile force could only have come in at that entrance, and a small body of determined men might have held it against a host. These lower chambers were simply cellars; the store-rooms were above them, and the habitable part of the castle. Now let us look at the chamber on the other side; no doubt we shall find it just like this."

This proved to be the case. There were another cistern and more piles of firewood, otherwise it was empty. After a short survey they returned to the main chamber, bringing up with them two of the empty leather bags. In these they placed the bones of the dead, the remains all crumbling when touched, as the first skeleton had done. The bags were lowered to the ground, and the four searchers descended and carried them to the mouth of the ravine. In a spare bag which they brought with them they placed the bones of the two skeletons on the steps, and then carried them all out to the open valley.

"We will bury them when we move the camp down here to-morrow morning," Harry said. "We forgot the two up at that window. That is no matter, we can throw them out to-morrow; they will lie as well at the bottom of the sea as in the earth here."

Not much was said as they returned to the castle. They had been a very silent party all day. The gloom and darkness, the way in which their voices echoed in the empty hall, had exercised a depressing effect on them; and Donna Maria, generally the most talkative of the party, had not quite recovered from the shock which the exit of the bats had given her. It was not until she had cooked a meal, and they all sat down to it, that they quite recovered their spirits. They had found Jose awaiting their return. He had a blazing fire, having brought down as much firewood as he could carry, and Dias had briefly told him the result of their explorations.

"Well, Harry, what do you think altogether?" Bertie asked after the meal was over.

"I think we ought to be very well satisfied," he replied. "Everything has borne out the ideas we had. The castle may have been built as a fortress by some great chief, certainly before the time of the Incas, or it may have been used for a prison. The ornaments and things we found showed that it was known to the Incas. They would have had no occasion to use it when they were undisputed masters of the country, but when the troubles came with the Spaniards a garrison was placed here, and possibly some of their chiefs took refuge in the place. Then came the time when all opposition to the invaders ceased, and only a small body of men were left here to guard the secret, and the treasure if there were any. Generations may have passed before the last of the garrison died of hunger, and probably all others who were in the secret fell in some insurrection or died in the mines. All this seems plain enough, except that possibly there was no treasure. That left by the Chimoos may have been discovered by the Incas. I should think it extremely likely that the ship Dias mentioned as setting out with a large amount of treasure was intended to land its stores here.

"It may have done so, or it may have sunk at sea. I am inclined to think that it was lost, because the traditions concerning these hidden treasures seem to be extremely accurate; and yet, as Dias says, none tell of any Inca treasure being concealed here. However, it is quite possible that the treasure did come here and was landed, and that the ship was then broken up, so that it might be supposed she was lost at sea, and that this was kept so profound a secret by the men here, that the news was never generally known even among the natives. So far our search to-day has been successful, but I see that a hunt for the treasure will be a very difficult one. Certainly in the upper chambers there doesn't appear any possibility of such a hiding-place existing. The whole space is accounted for. The walls are all of solid stone, and have no special thickness. If the roofs had been arched there might be empty spaces on each side of the spring of the arch, but they are supported by pillars or walls, with only just space between the floors for the beams of solid stone. Of course it is in the lowest room that one would expect to find hiding-places like those we saw at Pachacamac." He paused.

"Well, why should they not be there, Harry?"

"Because, as we saw, the floor is at most twelve inches above the water- level. How is it possible that they could have constructed chambers below that level, that is in the bed of a torrent? It is probable that the solid rock lies many feet below the bed of the stream. A portion of that great arch must from time to time have fallen into it; and it may be that the river once ran forty or fifty feet below its present level. In all the places that we have seen these treasure chambers were formed in solid adobe foundations, as the temples always stood on artificial terraces. With all our appliances at the present time it would be next to impossible to sink in a stratum of great rock fragments below the water level, and I do not believe that the old people here could have done so even had it been a solid rock. The difficulties of excavating chambers in it would have been enormous. They could split rocks with the grain, and all the stone walls we have seen were made of regular pieces, and evidently formed of stone so split. They were able to give them a sort of facing with great labour, but the tools they had were not made of material hard enough to work in solid rock, and the labour of excavating such chambers would have been stupendous. Therefore I am at a loss to imagine where any such chambers can be in that castle."

Dias nodded gravely. He had been with travellers who had done a great deal of excavation, and he was able to understand Harry's argument. Maria, who was listening attentively, also understood it. Jose simply rolled cigarettes and smoked them. It was a matter for his elders, and he did not even try to follow what Harry was saying. There was some minutes' silence, and then Bertie said, "But the floors are all even."

"What do you mean, Bertie?" Harry asked in a puzzled tone.

"I mean, Harry, that they run straight along. There is no dip in them."

"Of course there isn't. Who ever heard of building floors on the slope?"

"Yes, that is what I mean. We know that the tunnel slopes down its own height. It is twelve feet high at the entrance, and at the lower end it is some inches below the level, so it falls twelve feet at least. At the end where the cistern is, the floor of the basement is only a few inches above the bottom of the passage; therefore at the other end it must be twelve feet above the water-level."

"You are right, Bertie!" Harry exclaimed. "What a fool I was not to think of it! There must be a space underneath it a hundred feet long, sloping from nothing down to twelve feet. There is room for a dozen chambers such as those we saw on each side of the tunnel. Well done, Bertie! you have given me fresh hope. It would be a splendid hiding-place, for any searchers who came down and saw the water in the cistern would believe at once that, as neither the Chimoos nor the Incas could have known how to build under water, there was no use in searching for hidden chambers under this floor. You see, neither of them had any knowledge of cement or mortar. All their bricks and stones are laid without anything of the sort; and whatever amount of labour was available no chamber could be made under water, for as fast as holes were dug the water would come in, and even if they could line it with stone-work the water would penetrate through the cracks. Now, Dias, that we see with certainty where we have to dig, we can make our preparations. I will write down a list of the things we decided the other day we should want:--Six kegs of powder, two hundred feet of fuse, four boring-tools, six steel wedges, the smallest smith's fire you can buy--for we shall have to sharpen the tools,--six borers, a large bundle of torches, four sledge-hammers--we have enough pickaxes and shovels,--and another fifty fathoms, that is a hundred yards, of rope. I don't know anything else that we shall want in the mining way.

"You and your wife had better settle what provisions you must get. We shall certainly need a good supply of flour--a couple of sacks, I should think--tea, coffee, and sugar, dried or salted meat. And you might get a supply of smoked fish. I have no doubt that we shall catch fresh fish here in the sea, but we shall all be too busy to spend much time on that. You had better get three or four gallons of pulque; one cannot be always drinking coffee. We have still got a good stock of whisky and brandy. Your wife will certainly want a good supply of red pepper and other things for her stews. It would not be a bad thing to have a couple of crates of poultry. Don't pack them too closely, or half of them will be smothered before you get them here. Dead meat would be of no use, for it won't keep in this heat. We can turn them all out in the courtyard in front of the castle, and they can pick up their living there among the lower slopes of the cliffs. We can give them a few handfuls of grain a day. Don't get too many cocks, and let the hens be young ones. They ought to supply us with plenty of eggs and some broods of chickens. You must calculate what the weight will be, and take the mules accordingly."

"Very well, senor. I need not be away more than three days at most. It is only about twenty miles to Ancon."

"You might take the two llamas down with you and sell them there. They have done good work, and I should not like to kill and eat them. So mind you sell them to someone who wants them for carriage work. We shall not require them any more for that purpose. Will you want to take Jose with you?"

"I think not, senor, for I should say that four baggage mules will be ample, and I can lead them myself; and certainly you will find Jose useful here."

Dias and his wife then withdrew a short distance from the fire, and engaged in an animated conversation as to the things she required.

"Don't stint matters," Harry said, raising his voice. "We may be here for the next two or three months, and the less frequently you have to go down to buy things the better. It would be easy to account for your first purchases by saying that you were going on an expedition to the mountains, but you could not go to the place with the same story again."

"There are other places I can go to, senor; but I will get a good store of everything this time."

Dias started at daybreak with four mules and the two llamas. The others rolled up the tent-beds and the remaining stores, loaded up the other mules, and moved down to the mouth of the ravine. Here they pitched the little tents again.

"They will form a central point for the mules to come to," Harry said. "We will leave the sacks of maize here, but give the animals a good feed now. They will be sure to keep close to the spot. All the other things we will carry into the castle; but before we start we will bury these bags of bones."

When this was done, and the saddles taken off and piled together against the rocks, the other things were made up in portable packets, and they started up the ravine. They made three journeys before everything was brought to the foot of the ladder leading up to the window. Then the two brothers mounted, and hauled the things up with a rope which Jose, who remained below, fastened to them. When the last was up he went to the foot of the rock and brought several armfuls of the wood he had thrown down on the previous day. This was also hauled up.

"You had better fetch some more, Jose. We mean to keep a big fire burning here night and day; it will make the place cheerful. I will have a fire also burning where we are at work below. Now, senora, we will rig up some blankets on a line between the pillars at the end of the room opposite to that in which we found the skeletons, so as to make a special apartment for you and Dias. We will spread our beds at night near the fire."

The screen was soon made. A cord was run from the wall to the pillar next to it, some five feet above the floor, and three blankets were sufficient to fill the space.

Harry was about to make another line from the pillar, when Maria said:

"I would rather not, senor; I am not a bit afraid. This screen is quite large enough, and it will be more cheerful not to be shut up altogether, as then, when I am lying down, I can see the reflection of the fire on the walls, and it will be much more cheerful."

Then a blazing fire was lit. The wood was almost as dry as tinder, and burnt without smoke. It was built almost touching the back wall, in which, some five feet above the fire, Harry with a pick made a hole four inches deep.

While he was doing this, Jose went down and cut a sapling four inches in diameter, growing in a cleft on the rock, and from this cut off two six- foot lengths and brought them up. One end of the thickest of these was driven into the hole and tightly wedged in there, the other end was lashed securely to an upright beam.

"There, Maria," he said when it was finished, "you will be able to hang your pots and kettles from that at any height you like above the fire. Now, you can set to work as soon as you like, to get breakfast for us. We have been at work for four or five hours, and have good appetites."

"I have the cakes ready to bake, senor, and I sha'n't be long before I get an olla ready for you."

"Well, Jose, what do you think of the place?" Harry asked.

"I should like it better if it were not so big," the lad said. "I shall want a broom, senor, to sweep out the dust."

"It is three inches deep," Maria said.

"I should not bother about that, Maria; it would be a tremendous job to sweep such a big room, and the dust is so fine that it would settle again and cover everything. Besides, it will be a good deal softer to lay our beds on than the stones would be, so I think you had better let it remain as it is, especially as you are fond of going about without your shoes. I think I will rig up a blanket against the doorway. It will make the place look a good deal more snug, and will keep the bats from returning."

"I am not afraid of the bats, now I know what they are; but I should be constantly expecting them to rush out again."

"I expect a good many went back last night," Harry said. "We won't put the blankets up till after dark. They are sure to come out again; then, as soon as they have gone, we will close it, and they won't be able to get in when they come back before daybreak."

Harry's expectations were fulfilled. At dusk a stream of bats rushed out again, but this time quite noiselessly. The rush lasted for three or four minutes. As soon as they had gone, the blankets were hung up, and fastened across the doorway.

"They will be puzzled when they come back."

"Yes, senor," Maria said; "but when they find that they can't get in here, they will come in through the openings above."

"So they will; I did not think of that. But when they once find that they cannot get out here in the evening, they will go out where they came in, and we shall have no more trouble with them. I don't know whether they are good to eat?"

Maria gave a little cry of horror.

"Oh, senor! I could not eat such horrible things!"

"Their appearance is against them, Maria; but when people eat alligators, frogs, snakes, and even rats, I don't see why a bat should be bad. However, we won't touch them unless we are threatened by starvation."

"I should indeed be starving before I could touch bats' flesh, senor."

"Well," Harry said, "if people eat monkeys, rats, and squirrels--and it seems to me that a bat is something of a mixture of the three--one might certainly eat bats, and if we are driven to it I should not mind trying; but I promise you that I won't ask you to cook them."

They chatted for another hour, and then Maria went off to her corner. The brothers spread their beds by the fire, and Jose had his blanket and poncho, and it was arranged that any of them who woke should put fresh logs on the fire.

They were all roused just before dawn by a squeaking and twittering noise. They threw on fresh logs, and as these blazed up they could see a cloud of bats flying overhead. They kept on going to the doorway, and when they found they could not get through they retired with angry squeaks. The light was gradually breaking, and in a few minutes all had flown out through the opening. Harry and his brother followed them, and could see them flitting about the upper windows. Presently, as if by a common impulse, they poured in through the various openings.

"I don't suppose we shall see any more of them," Harry said, "and I own that I shall be glad. There is something very weird in their noiseless flitting about, and in the shadows the fire casts on the ceiling."

"They are a great deal larger than any bats I have seen," Bertie said.

"I have seen as large, or larger, at Bombay and some of the towns on the coast."

"They bite people's toes when they are asleep, don't they?"

"Yes, the great vampire bat does, but I have never heard of any others doing so. They live on insects, and some of them are, I believe, vegetarian."

"Are vampire bats found here?"

"I do not think so; I fancy that they inhabit Java and other islands in the Malay Archipelago. However, they are certainly rare, wherever they come from, and you can dismiss them altogether from your mind."

"I was glad when I heard your voices, senors," Maria said when she appeared a quarter of an hour later. "I knew they would not hurt me; but I was horribly frightened, and wrapped myself up in my blanket and lay there till I heard you talking, and I heard the logs thrown on the fire; then I felt that it was all right."

"I don't suppose they will come again, Maria."

After drinking a cup of coffee, with a small piece of maize cake, Bertie said:

"What is the programme for to-day?"

"We can't do much till Dias comes back. We may as well go down and have a look at the lower rooms. I don't think there is much dust on the floor there, but while Jose is away looking after the mules we will cut enough bushes to make a couple of brooms. We shall want the place swept as clean as possible, so that we can look about, but I don't think there is the least chance of our being able to move the stones. Before we do anything we will go down to the pool and have a swim, and dive out through the entrance and have a look at those rocks."

"That is right," Bertie said. "I was longing for one yesterday morning, but of course the first thing to be done was to examine this place."

"Would it be safe for me to bathe, senor?"

"Quite safe, Maria; the slope is very gradual, and you need have no fear of getting out of your depth suddenly. We will be off at once, Bertie."