Chapter III. At Lima

Three days later the sky cleared, and the captain, getting an observation, found that they had rounded the southernmost point of the Cape. Another day and the Para's head was turned north, and a week later they were running smoothly along before a gentle breeze, with the coast of Chili twenty miles away. The heavy wraps had all been laid aside, and although the air was still frosty, the crew felt it warm after what they had endured. The upper spars and yards had all been sent up, and she was now carrying a crowd of canvas. The mate had thawed out under the more congenial surroundings. He had worked like a horse during the storm, setting an example, whether in going aloft or in the work of clearing off the ice from the bows, and even when his watch was relieved he seldom went below.

"Well, I hope, Mr. Johnson, we shall sail together until you get your next step," the captain said. "I could not wish for a better first officer."

"I want nothing better, sir. She is a fine ship, well manned and well commanded. I begin to feel at home in her now; at first I didn't. I hate changes; and though the last captain I sailed with was a surly fellow, we got on very well together. I would rather sail with a man like that than with a skipper who is always talking. I am a silent man myself, and am quite content to eat my meal and enjoy it, without having to stop every time I am putting my fork into my mouth to answer some question or other. I was once six months up in the north without ever speaking to a soul. I was whaling then, and a snow-storm came on when we were fast on to a fish. It was twenty-four hours before it cleared off, and when it did there was no ship to be seen. We were in an inlet at the time in Baffin's Bay. We thought that the ship would come back, and we landed and hauled up the boat. The ship didn't come back, and, as I learned long afterwards, was never heard of again. I suppose she got nipped between two icebergs.

"Winter was coming on fast, and the men all agreed that they would rather try and make their way south overland than stay there. I told them that they were fools, but I admit that the prospect of a winter there was enough to frighten any man. I did not like it myself, but I thought it was wiser to remain there than to move. Some of the men went along the shore, or out in the boat, and managed to kill several sea-cows. They made a sledge, piled the meat on it, and started.

"Meanwhile I had been busy building a sort of hut. I piled great stones against the foot of the cliffs, and turned the boat upside down to form a roof. The men helped me to do that job the last thing before they started. Then I blocked up the entrance, leaving only just room for me to crawl in and out. The snow began to fall steadily three days after the others had gone, and very soon covered my hut two feet deep. I melted the blubber of the whale in the boat's baler, for we had towed the fish ashore. The first potful or two I boiled over a few bits of drift-wood. After that it was easy enough, as I unravelled some of the boat's rope, dipped it in the hot blubber, and made a store of big candles. There was a lot of meat left on the sea-cows, so I cut that up, froze it, and stowed as much as I could in the hut. I was bothered about the rest, as I knew the bears were likely to come down; but I found a ledge on the face of the perpendicular rock, and by putting the boat's mast against it I was able to get up to it. Here I piled, I should say, a ton of meat and blubber. Then I set to work and collected some dried grass, and soon I had enough to serve as bed and covers. It took me a month to do all this, and by that time winter was down on me in earnest. I had spent my evenings in making myself, out of the skins of the three cows, breeches, high boots, and a coat with a hood over the head, and in order to make these soft I rubbed them with hot oil. They were rough things, but I hoped that I might get a bear later on. Fortunately the boat had two balers, for I required one in which to melt the snow over the lamp.

"Well, sir, I lived there during that winter. I did not find it altogether dull, for I had several bits of excitement. For a month or so bears and wolves came down and fought over the carcass of the whale. When that was eaten up they turned their attention to me, and over and over again they tried to break in. They had better have left me alone, for though they were strong enough to have pulled away the rocks that blocked the entrance, they could not stand fire. As I had any amount of rope, I used to soak it in rock-oil, set it on fire, and shove it out of the entrance. Twice small bears managed to wriggle up the passage, but I had sharpened the boat-hook and managed to kill them both. One skin made me a whole suit, and the other a first-rate blanket. Not that it was ever unpleasantly cold, for a couple of my big candles, and the thick coating of snow over it, kept the place as warm as I cared for. Occasionally, when the bears had cleared off, I went out, climbed the mast, and got fresh supplies down. They had made desperate efforts to get at the meat, but the face of the rock was luckily too smooth for them to get any hold. When spring came and the ice broke up, I planted the mast on the top of the cliff with the sail fastened as a flag, and a month after the sea was clear a whaler came in and took me off. That was how I pretty well lost the use of my tongue, and though I am better than I was, I don't use it much now except on duty."

"That certainly accounts for it," Harry said; "you must have had an awful time."

"I don't think I minded it very much, sir. Except when I was bothered by the bears I slept a good lot. I think at first I used to talk out loud a good deal. But I soon dropped that, though I used to whistle sometimes when I was cooking the food. I don't think I should have held on so long if I had only had the sea-cow flesh, but the bears made a nice change, and I only wished that one or two more had managed to crawl in."

"I wonder you were able to kill them with a boat-hook."

"I didn't, sir. You know every whaler carries an axe to cut the line if necessary, and I was able to split their skulls as they crawled in before they could get fairly on to their feet and use their paws. I was getting very weak with scurvy towards the end; but as soon as the snow melted plants began to shoot, and I was able to collect green stuff, so that I was nearly well by the time I was picked up."

The weather continued fine all the time they were coasting up the Chilian coast. They were a week at Valparaiso getting out the cargo they had brought for that town, and did some trading at smaller ports; but at last, just four months after leaving England, they dropped anchor off Callao. "Well, it has been a jolly voyage, Harry," his brother said as they were rowed ashore, after a hearty farewell from the captain and the first officer.

"I am glad you enjoyed it, Bertie. I was sorry all the time I hadn't taken a passage for you aft."

"I am better pleased to have been at work; it would have been awfully slow otherwise. The mates were both good fellows, and I got on well with the other apprentices. I tried at first not to turn out on night watch, as I was not obliged to do so, but I soon gave it up; it seemed disgusting to be lying there when the others had to turn out. It has been a jolly voyage, but I am glad that we are here at last, and are going to set to work in search of treasures."

"I had begun to think that we should not get on shore to-day," Harry said as they neared the landing-place. "What with three hours' waiting for the medical officer, and another three for that bumptious official whom they call the port officer, and without whose permission no one is allowed to land, I think everyone on board was so disgusted that we should have liked nothing better than to pitch the fellow overboard. It was rather amusing to watch all those boatmen crowding round shouting the praises of their own craft and running down the others. But a little of it goes a long way. It is the same pretty nearly at every port I have entered. Boatmen are harpies of the worst kind. It is lucky that we had so little baggage; a tip of a couple of dollars was enough to render the custom-house officer not only civil but servile."

As they mounted the steps they were assailed by a motley crowd, half of whom struggled to get near them to hold out their hands for alms, while the other half struggled and fought for the right of carrying their baggage. Accustomed to such scenes, Harry at once seized upon two of them, gave them the portmanteaux, and, keeping behind them, pushed them through the crowd, telling them to lead the way to the hotel that the captain had recommended as being the least filthy in the place. They crossed a square covered with goods of all kinds. There were long rows of great jars filled with native spirit, bales of cinchona bark, piles of wheat from Chili, white and rose-coloured blocks of salt, pyramids of unrefined sugar, and a block of great bars of silver; among these again were bales and boxes landed from foreign countries, logs of timber, and old anchors and chains. Numbers of people who appeared to have nothing to do sauntered about or sat on logs. In odd corners were native women engaged in making the picanties upon which the poor largely exist; these were composed of fresh and salt meat, potatoes, crabs, the juice of bitter oranges, lard, salt, and an abundance of pepper pods.

"That is the sort of thing we shall have to eat, Bertie."

"Well, I should not mind if I had not got to look on at the making; they smell uncommonly good."

The hotel was larger and even more dirty than the captain's description had led them to expect. However, the dinner that was served to them was better than they had looked for, and being very hungry after their long wait, they did full justice to it.

"It might have been a good deal worse, Bertie."

"I should think so; after four months of salt junk it is splendid!"

A cup of really good coffee, followed by a little glass of native spirits, added to their satisfaction. They had hesitated before whether to push on at once to Lima or wait there till next morning. Their meal decided them-- they would start at daybreak, so as to get to Lima before the sun became really hot. Harry asked the landlord to bargain for two riding mules and one for baggage to be ready at that hour, and they then strolled out to view the place, although Bertie assured his brother that there was nothing whatever to see in it.

"That may be, Bertie; but we are not going to begin by being lazy. There is always something to see in foreign lands by those who keep their eyes open."

After an hour's walk Harry was inclined to think that his brother was right. The houses were generally constructed of canes, plastered with mud, and painted yellow. As the result of earthquakes, scarce a house stood upright--some leaned sideways, and looked as if they were going to topple over into the road; while others leaned back, as if, were you to push against them, they would collapse and crush the inmates.

Their night was not a pleasant one. The beds were simple, consisting only of hides stretched across wooden frames, but, as they very speedily found, there were numerous other inhabitants. They therefore slept but little, and were heartily glad when the first gleam of dawn appeared.

Slipping on their clothes, they ran down to the shore and had a bath. By the time they returned breakfast was ready--coffee, fish, and eggs. The mules did not appear for another hour, by which time their patience was all but exhausted. The portmanteaux were speedily strapped on to the back of the baggage mule, and they mounted the two others. The muleteer had brought one for himself, and, fastening the baggage animal behind it, they started.

It was six miles to Lima, but as the city is five hundred and twelve feet above the sea, the ascent was steady and somewhat steep. The road was desperately bad, and the country uninteresting, being for the most part dried up. Occasionally they saw great mounds of adobe bricks, the remains of the ancient habitations. As they neared the town vegetation became general, small canals irrigating the country. Here were fruit and vegetable gardens, with oranges, plantains, vines, and flowers.

Passing through a gate in the walls they entered the town, which afforded a pleasant contrast to the squalid misery of Callao. The city, however, could not be called imposing; the houses were low and irregular, fantastically painted in squares or stripes, and almost all had great balconies shut in with trellis-work.

Few of the houses had any windows towards the street, the larger ones being constructed with a central courtyard, into which the rooms all opened. The streets were all built at right angles, the principal ones leading from the grand square, in which stood the cathedral and the palace of the Spanish viceroys, the other sides consisting of private houses, with shops and arcades below them. The hotel to which they had been recommended was a large building with a courtyard, with dining and other rooms opening from it, and above them the bedrooms. In comparison with the inn at Callao it was magnificent, but in point of cleanliness it left a great deal to be desired. After settling themselves in their room they went out. The change in temperature since they had left Callao had been very great.

"The first thing to do, Bertie, is to buy ourselves a couple of good ponchos. You see all the natives are wearing them."

"We certainly want something of the sort, Harry. I thought it was heat that we were going to suffer from, but it seems just the other way. To judge from the temperature we might be in Scotland, and this damp mist chills one to the bone."

"I am not much surprised, for of course I got the subject up as much as I could before starting; and Barnett told me that Lima was altogether an exceptional place, and that while it was bright and warm during the winter months, from May till November on the plains only a few miles away, even in the summer months there was almost always a clammy mist at Lima, and that inside the house as well as outside everything streamed with moisture. He said that this had never been satisfactorily accounted for. Some say that it is due to the coldness of the river here--the Rimac-- which comes down from the snowy mountains. Others think that the cold wind that always blows down the valley of the river meets the winds from the sea here, and the moisture contained in them is thus precipitated. I believe that a few miles higher up we shall get out of this atmosphere altogether. Still, the ponchos will be very useful, for it will be really cold up in the mountains. They serve for cloaks in the daytime and blankets at night. The best are made of the wool of the guanacos, a sort of llama. Their wool is very fine, and before we start we will get two of coarser wool to use as blankets to sleep on, while we have the finer ones to cover us."

There was no difficulty in finding a shop with the goods they wanted, and the prices, even of the best, were very moderate. They next bought two soft felt hats with broad brims.

"That is ever so much more comfortable. We will wait until to-morrow before we begin what we may call business, Bertie. Of course I shall deliver the other letters of introduction that Mr. Barnett gave me; but the principal one--that to his former muleteer--is more important than all put together. If anything has happened to him, there is an end of any chance whatever of finding treasure. Of course he may have moved away, or be absent on a journey with his mules, in which case we shall have either to follow him or wait for his return."

"That would be a frightful nuisance."

"Yes; still, it is one of the things that we foresaw might happen."

"I vote we go at once, Harry, and see if he is here."

"I don't think we shall find him here; for Barnett said that he lived in the village of Miraflores, five miles away on the north, and that if he is not there, Senor Pasquez, to whom I have a letter, will be likely to tell me where he is to be found, for he is often employed by him. However, I am as anxious as you to see him. As it is only eleven o'clock yet, there is no reason why we should not go to Miraflores. They will get mules for us at the hotel, and tell us which road to take."

It was not necessary, however, to go into the hotel, for when they returned, two or three men with mules were waiting to be hired. They engaged two animals, and as the man of whom they hired them had a third, and he was ready to accompany them for a small fee, they agreed to take him with them.

Before they were a mile out of the town the mist cleared off and the sun shone brightly. The heat, however, was by no means too great to be pleasant. Miraflores was a charming village, or rather small town, nestling among gardens and orchards.

"I want to find a muleteer named Dias Otero," Harry said to their guide as they rode into the place.

"I know him well," he said. "Everyone about here knows Dias. His wife was a cousin of my mother's."

"Do you know whether he is at home now?"

"Yes, senor; I saw him in Lima three days ago. He had just come down from the mountains. He had been away two months, and certainly will not have started again so soon. Shall I lead you to his house at once?"

"Do so; it is to see him that I have come to this town. He worked for a long time with a friend of mine some years ago, and I have brought a message from him. I may be some time talking with him, so when I go in you can tie up your mules for a while."

"That is his house," the man said presently.

It lay in the outskirts of the town, and was neater than the generality of houses, and the garden was a mass of flowers. They dismounted, handed over the mules to their owner, and walked to the door. An Indian of some five- and-forty years came out as they did so.

"Are you Dias Otero?" Harry asked.

"The same, senor."

"I have just arrived from England, and bring a letter to you from Senor Barnett, with whom you travelled for two or three years some time ago."

The man's face lit up with pleasure. "Will you enter, senor. Friends of Senor Barnett may command my services in any way. It is a delight to hear from him. He writes to me sometimes, but in these troubles letters do not always come. I love the senor; there never was a kinder master. He once saved my life at the risk of his own. Is there any hope of his coming out again?"

"I do not think so, Dias. He is strong and well, but I do not think he is likely to start again on a journey of exploration. He is my greatest friend. My brother and I were left under his charge when we were young, and he has been almost a father to us. It is he who has sent us out to you. Here is his letter."

"Will you read it to me, senor. I cannot read; I am always obliged to get somebody to read my letters, and write answers for me."

The letter was of course in Spanish, and Harry read:

"Dear friend Dias,

"I am sending out to you a gentleman, Mr. Prendergast, an officer of the British Navy, in whom I am deeply interested. His brother accompanies him. I beg that you will treat them as you would me, and every service you can render him consider as rendered to myself. From a reason which he will no doubt explain to you in time, it is of the deepest importance to him that he should grow rich in the course of the next two years. He asked my advice, and I said to him, 'There is no one I know of who could possibly put you in the way of so doing better than my friend Dias Otero. I believe it is in his power to do so if he is willing.' I also believe that for my sake you will aid him. He will place himself wholly in your hands. He does not care what danger he runs, or what hardships he has to go through in order to attain his purpose. I know that I need not say more to you. He has two years before him; long before that I am sure you will be as interested in him as you were in me. He has sufficient means to pay all expenses of travel for the time he will be out there. I know that you are descended from nobles of high rank at the court of the Incas when the Spaniards arrived, and that secrets known to but few were passed down from father to son in your family. If you can use any of those secrets to the advantage of my friend, I pray you most earnestly to do so. I trust that this letter will find you and your good wife in health. Had I been ten years younger I would have come out with my friends to aid them in their adventure, but I know that in putting them into your hands I shall be doing them a vastly greater service than I could do were I able to come in person."

When Harry ceased, the Indian sat for some time without speaking, then he said:

"It is a matter that I must think over, senor. It is a very grave one, and had any other man than Senor Barnett asked this service of me no money could have tempted me to assent to it. It is not only that my life would be in danger, but that my name would be held up to execration by all my people were I to divulge the secret that even the tortures of the Spaniards could not wring from us. I must think it over before I answer. I suppose you are staying at the Hotel Morin; I will call and see you when I have thought the matter over. It is a grave question, and it may be three or four days before I can decide."

"I thank you, Dias; but there is no occasion for you to give a final decision now. Whether or no, we shall travel for a while, and I trust that you will go with us with your mules and be our guide, as you did to Mr. Barnett. It will be time enough when you know us better to give us a final answer; it is not to be expected that even for Senor Barnett's sake you would do this immense service for strangers, therefore I pray you to leave the matter open. Make arrangements for your mules and yourself for a three months' journey in the mountains, show us what there is to see of the gold and silver placers, and the quicksilver mines at Huanuco. At the end of that time you will know us and can say whether you are ready to aid us in our search."

The native bowed his head gravely.

"I will think it over," he said; "and now, senors, let us put that aside. My wife has been busy since you entered in preparing a simple meal, and I ask you to honour me by partaking of it."

"With pleasure, Dias."

It consisted of puchero, a stew consisting of a piece of beef, cabbage, sweet-potatoes, salt pork, sausage-meat, pigs' feet, yuccas, bananas, quinces, peas, rice, salt, and an abundance of Chili peppers. This had been cooked for six hours and was now warmed up. Two bottles of excellent native wine, a flask of spirits, and some water were also put on the table. The Indian declined to sit down with them, saying that he had taken a meal an hour before.

While they ate he chatted with them, asking questions of their voyage and telling them of the state of things in the country.

"It is always the same, senors, there is a revolution and two or three battles; then either the president or the one who wants to be president escapes from the country or is taken and shot, and in a day or two there is a fresh pronunciamiento. We thought that when the Spaniards had been driven out we should have had peace, but it is not so; we have had San Martin, and Bolivar, and Aguero, and Santa Cruz, and Sucre. Bolivar again finally defeated the Spaniards at Ayacucho. Rodil held possession of Callao castle, and defended it until January of this year. We in the villages have not suffered--those who liked fighting went out with one or other of the generals; some have returned, others have been killed--but Lima has suffered greatly. Sometimes the people have taken one side, sometimes the other, and though the general they supported was sometimes victorious for a short time, in the end they suffered. Most of the old Spanish families perished; numbers died in the castle of Callao, where many thousands of the best blood of Lima took refuge, and of these well- nigh half died of hunger and misery before Rodil surrendered."

"But does not this make travelling very unsafe?"

The Indian shrugged his shoulders.

"Peru is a large country, senor, and those who want to keep out of the way of the armies and lighting can do so; I myself have continued my occupation and have never fallen in with the armies. That is because the fighting is principally in the plains, or round Cuzco; for the men do not go into the mountains except as fugitives, as they could not find food there for an army. It is these fugitives who render the road somewhat unsafe; starving men must take what they can get. They do not interfere with the great silver convoys from Potosi or other mines--a loaf of bread is worth more than a bar of silver in the mountains--but they will plunder persons coming down with goods to the town or going up with their purchases. Once or twice I have had to give up the food I carried with me, but I have had little to grumble at, and I do not think you need trouble yourself about them; we will take care to avoid them as far as possible."

After chatting for an hour they left the cottage, and, mounting their mules, returned to Lima.

"I think he will help us, Harry," Bertie said as soon as they set out.

"I think so too, but we must not press him to begin with. Of course there is a question too as to how far he can help us. He may know vaguely where the rich mines once existed; but you must remember that they have been lost for three hundred years, and it may be impossible for even a man who has received the traditions as to their positions to hit upon the precise spot. The mountains, you see, are tremendous; there must be innumerable ravines and gorges among them. It is certain that nothing approaching an accurate map can ever have been made of the mountains, and I should say that in most cases the indications that may have been given are very vague. They would no doubt have been sufficient for those who lived soon after the money was hidden, and were natives of that part of the country and thoroughly acquainted with all the surroundings, but when the information came to be handed down from mouth to mouth during many generations, the local knowledge would be lost, and what were at first detailed instructions would become little better than vague legends. You know how three hundred years will alter the face of a country--rocks roll down the hills, torrents wash away the soil, forests grow or are cleared away. I believe with you that the Indian will do his best, but I have grave doubts whether he will be able to locate any big thing."

"Well, you don't take a very cheerful view of things, Harry; you certainly seemed more hopeful when we first started."

"Yes. I don't say I am not hopeful still, but it is one thing to plan out an enterprise at a distance and quite another when you are face to face with its execution. As we have come down the coast, and seen that great range of mountains stretching along for hundreds of miles, and we know that there is another quite as big lying behind it, I have begun to realize the difficulties of the adventures that we are undertaking. However, we shall hear, when Dias comes over to see us, what he thinks of the matter. I fancy he will say that he is willing to go with us and help us as far as he can, but that although he will do his best he cannot promise that he will be able to point out, with anything like certainty, the position of any of the old mines."

Next day they called on Senor Pasquez, who received them very cordially.

"So you are going to follow the example of Senor Barnett and spend some time in exploring the country and doing some shooting. Have you found Dias?"

"Yes, senor, and I think he will go with us, though he has not given a positive answer."

"You will be fortunate if you get him; he is one of the best-known muleteers in the country, and if anyone comes here and wants a guide Dias is sure to be the first to be recommended. If he goes with you he can give you much useful advice; he knows exactly what you will have to take with you, the best districts to visit for your purpose, and the best way of getting there. For the rest, I shall be very happy to take charge of any money you may wish to leave behind, and to act as your banker and cash any orders you may draw upon me. I will also receive and place to your account any sums that may be sent you from England."

"That, sir, is a matter which Mr. Barnett advised me to place in your hands. After making what few purchases we require, and taking fifty pounds in silver, I shall have two hundred and fifty pounds to place in your hands. Mr. Barnett will manage my affairs in my absence, and will send to you fifty pounds quarterly."

"You will find difficulty in spending it all in two years," the merchant said with a smile. "If you are content to live on what can be bought in the country, it costs very little; and as for the mules, they can generally pick up enough at their halting-places to serve them, with a small allowance of grain. You can hire them cheaply, or you can buy them. The latter is cheaper in the end, but you cannot be sure of getting mules accustomed to mountains, and you would therefore run the risk of their losing their foothold, and not only being dashed to pieces but destroying their saddles and loads. However, if you secure the services of Dias Otero, you will get mules that know every path in the mountains. He is famous for his animals, and he himself is considered the most trusty muleteer here; men think themselves lucky in obtaining his services. I would send him with loads of uncounted gold and should be sure that there would not be a piece missing."

Next day Dias came to the hotel.

"I have thought it over, senor," he said. "I need not say that were it only ordinary service, instead of exploring the mountains, I should be glad indeed to do my best for a friend of Senor Barnett; but as to the real purpose of your journey I wish, before making any arrangement, that the matter should be thoroughly understood. I have no certain knowledge whatever as to any of the lost mines, still less of any hidden treasures; but I know all the traditions that have passed down concerning them. I doubt whether any Indians now possess a certain knowledge of these things. For generations, no doubt, the secrets were handed down from father to son, and it is possible that some few may still know of these places; but I doubt it. Think of the hundreds and thousands of our people who have been killed in battle, or died as slaves in the mines, and you will see that numbers of those to whom the secrets were entrusted must have taken their knowledge to the grave with them.

"In each generation the number of those who knew the particulars of these hiding-places must have diminished. Few now can know more than I do, yet I am sure of nothing. I know generally where the mines were situated and where some treasures were concealed, and what knowledge I have I will place at your service; but so great a care was used in the concealment of the entrances to the mines, so carefully were the hiding-places of the treasures chosen, and so cunningly concealed, that, without the surest indications and the most minute instructions, we might search for years, as men indeed have done ever since the Spanish came here, without finding them. I am glad that I can lay my hand upon my heart and say, that whatever may have been possessed by ancestors of mine, no actual details have ever come down to me; for, had it been so, I could not have revealed them to you. We know that all who were instructed in these were bound by the most terrible oaths not to reveal them. Numbers have died under the torture rather than break those oaths; and even now, were one of us to betray the secrets that had come down to him, he would be regarded as accursed. No one would break bread with him, every door would be closed against him, and if he died his body would rot where it fell. But my knowledge is merely general, gathered not only from the traditions known to all our people, but from confidences made by one member of our family to another. Full knowledge was undoubtedly given to some of them; but all these must have died without initiating others into the full particulars. Such knowledge as I have is at your disposal. I can take you to the localities, I can say to you, 'Near this place was a great mine,' but unless chance favours you you may search in vain."

"That is quite as much as I had hoped for, Dias, and I am grateful for your willingness to do what you can for us, just as you did for Senor Barnett."