Chapter V. Among the Mountain

Two days later the mules were brought round to the door at sunrise, and Harry and his brother sallied out from the hotel, dressed for the first time in the Peruvian costume. They were both warmly clothed. On their heads were felt hats with broad brims, which could be pulled down and tied over the ears, both for warmth and to prevent their being blown away by the fierce winds that sweep down the gorges. A thick poncho of llama wool fell from their shoulders to their knees, and loosely tied round their necks were thick and brightly-coloured scarves. They wore high boots, and carried large knives stuck in a strap below the knee. The rifles were fastened at the bow of their saddles, and their wallets, with provisions for the day, were strapped behind. By the advice of Dias each had in his pocket a large pair of green goggles, to protect their eyes from the glare of sun and snow. They tied these on before coming downstairs, and both agreed that had they met unexpectedly in the street they would have passed each other without the slightest recognition.

"It is a pity, Harry," Bertie said seriously, "that you did not have your portrait taken to send home to a certain young lady. You see, she would then have been able to hang it up in her room and worship it privately, without anyone having the slightest idea that it was her absent lover."

"You young scamp," Harry said, "I will pull your ears for you."

"If you attempt anything of the sort, I shall tie the brim of my hat tightly over them. I really think it is very ungrateful of you not to take my advice in the spirit in which I gave it."

"If you intend to go on like this, Bert, I shall leave you behind."

"You can't do it."

"Oh, yes, I can! I might give you in charge for some crime or other; and in lack of evidence, the expenditure of a few dollars would, I have no doubt, be sufficient to induce the judge, magistrate, or whatever they call him, to give you six months' imprisonment."

"Then you are an unnatural brother, and I will make no more suggestions for your good."

So they had come downstairs laughing, though feeling a little shy at their appearance as they issued out of the courtyard. Speedily, however, they gained courage as they saw that passers-by paid no attention to them.

They had spent the previous afternoon in packing the bundles, in which every item was put away so that it could be got at readily, and in making sure that nothing had been omitted. The five baggage mules were fastened one behind another, and Jose stood at the head of the leading one. As they came out Dias swung his wife on to a cushion strapped behind his saddle, and mounted himself before her. Harry and his brother climbed into theirs. They had both refused to put on the heavy and cruel spurs worn by the Peruvians, but had, at the earnest request of the Indian, put them in their saddle-bags.

"You will want them," he said. "You need not use them cruelly, but you must give your mules an occasional prick to let them know that you have spurs."

On leaving the town the road ran up the valley of the Rimac, a small river, but of vital importance to the country through which it passes, as small canals branching from it irrigate the land.

"The Spaniards have done some good here at least," Harry said to Dias, who was riding beside him.

"Some of these canals were constructed in their time, but the rest existed long before they came here, and, indeed, long before the Incas came. The Incas' work lies chiefly beyond the mountains; on this side almost all the great ruins are of cities and fortresses built by the old people. Cuzco was the Incas' capital, and almost all the towns between the two ranges of the Andes were their work. It is true that they conquered the people down to the sea, but they do not seem to have cared to live here. The treasures of Pachacamac and the other places on the plains were those of the old people and the old religion. The inhabitants of the plains are for the most part descendants of those people. The Incas were strong and powerful, but they were not numerous. That was why the Spaniards conquered them so easily. The old people, who regarded them as their masters, did not care to fight for them, just as the Peruvians did not care to fight for the Spaniards."

"I expect it was a good deal like the Normans in England," Bertie put in. "They conquered the Saxons because they were better armed and better disciplined, but they were few in number in comparison with the number they governed, and in their quarrels with each other the bulk of the people stood aloof; and it was only when the Normans began their wars in France and Scotland, and were obliged to enlist Saxon archers and soldiers, that the two began to unite and to become one people."

"I have no doubt that was so, Bertie; but you are breaking our agreement that you should speak in Spanish only."

"Oh, bother! you know very well that I cannot talk in it yet, and you surely do not expect that I am going to ride along without opening my lips."

"I know you too well to expect that," Harry laughed, "and will allow an occasional outbreak. Still, do try to talk Spanish, however bad it may be. You have got cheek enough in other things, and cheek goes a long way in learning to talk a foreign language. You have been four months at your Spanish books, and should certainly begin to put simple sentences together."

"But that is just what one does not learn from books," the lad said. "At any rate, not from such books as I have been working at. I could do a high-flown sentence, and offer to kiss your hand and to declare that all I have is at your disposal. But if I wanted to say, 'When are we going to halt for dinner? I am feeling very peckish,' I should be stumped altogether."

"Well, you must get as near as you can, Bertie. I dare say you cannot turn slang into Spanish; but you can find other words to express your meaning, and when you cannot hit on a word you must use an English one. Your best plan is to move along on the other side of Dias, and chat to his wife." "What have I got to say to her?"

"Anything you like. You can begin by asking her if she has ever gone a long journey with her husband before, how far we shall go to-day--things of that sort."

"Well, I will try anyhow. I suppose I must. But you go on talking to Dias, else I shall think that you are both laughing at me."

Five miles from Lima they passed through the little village of Quiraz. Beyond this they came upon many cotton plantations, and in the ravines by the side of the valley or among the ruins of Indian towns were several large fortresses. They also passed the remains of an old Spanish town and several haciendas, where many cattle and horses were grazing. They were ascending steadily, and after passing Santa Clara, eleven miles from Lima, the valley narrowed and became little more than a ravine. On either side were rents made in the hills by earthquakes, and immense boulders and stones were scattered about at the bottom of the narrow gorge. Four hours' travelling brought them to Chosica, where the valley widened again near the foot of the hills.

Here they halted for the day. There was an inn here which Dias assured them was clean and comfortable, and they therefore took a couple of rooms for the night in preference to unpacking their tents.

"It is just as well not to begin that till we get farther away," Harry said. "We have met any number of laden mules coming down, and if we were to camp here we should cause general curiosity."

He accordingly ordered dinner for himself and his brother, Dias preferring to take his meal in a large room used by passing muleteers. The fare was as good as they had had at the hotel at Lima.

"I am not sorry that we halted here," Bertie said; "I feel as stiff as a poker."

"I think you got on very well, Bertie, with Mrs. Dias. I did not hear what you were saying, but you seemed to be doing stunningly."

"She did most of the talking. I asked her to speak slowly, as I did not manage to catch the sense of what she said. She seems full of fun, and a jolly little woman altogether. She generally understood what I meant, and though she could not help laughing sometimes, she did it so good- temperedly that one did not feel put out. Each time I spoke she corrected me, told me what I ought to have said, and made me say it after her. I think I shall get on fairly well at the end of a few weeks."

"I am sure you will, Bertie; the trouble is only at the beginning, and now that you have once broken the ice, you will progress like a house on fire."

There were still four hours of daylight after they had finished their meal, so they went out with Dias to explore one of the numerous burying- grounds round the village. It consisted of sunken chambers. In these were bones, with remains of the mats in which the bodies had been clothed. These wrappings resembled small sacks, and they remarked that the people must have been of very small size, or they could never have been packed away in them. With them had been buried many of the implements of their trade. One or two had apparently not been opened. Here were knitting utensils, toilet articles, implements for weaving, spools of thread, needles of bone and bronze. With the body of a girl had been placed a kind of work-box, containing the articles that she had used, and the mummy of a parrot, some beads, and fragments of an ornament of silver. Dias told them that all these tombs were made long before the coming of the Incas. He said that round the heads of the men and boys were wound the slings they had used in life, while a piece of cotton flock was wrapped round the heads of the women. Many of the graves communicated with each other by very narrow passages; the purpose of these was not clear, but probably they were made to enable the spirits of the dead to meet and hold communion with each other.

"I don't want to see any more of them," Bertie said after they had spent three hours in their investigations; "this sort of thing is enough to give one a fit of the blues."

Beyond Chosica civilization almost ceased. The road became little more than a mule track, and was in many places almost impassable by vehicles of any kind. Nothing could be wilder than the scenery they passed. At times rivers ran through perpendicular gorges, and the track wound up and down steep ravines. Sometimes they would all dismount, though Dias assured them it was not necessary; still, it made a change from the monotonous pace of little over two miles an hour at which the mules breasted the steep incline.

Jose rode on the first of the baggage mules, which was very lightly loaded; he generally sang the whole time. When on foot, Donna Maria stepped gaily along and Bertie had hard work to keep pace with her. He was making rapid progress with the language, though occasionally a peal of laughter from his companion told of some egregious error.

There were villages every few miles, but now when they halted they did so as a rule a mile before they got to one of these. Dinner was cooked over a fire of dead sticks, and after the meal Harry's tent was erected and the bed spread in it. The Indians went on to the village for the night, while Harry and his brother sat and smoked for a time by the fire and then turned in. At daybreak Dias rode back leading their riding mules and a baggage animal; the tent, beds, and the cooking utensils were packed up, and they rode in to the village and passed on at a trot until they overtook Maria and Jose, who had started with the other four mules when Dias rode away. At last they reached the head of the pass, and two days' journey took them to Oroya, standing on an elevated plateau some ten thousand feet above the sea, and five thousand below the highest point of the road.

The scenery had now completely changed. Villages were scattered thickly over the plain, cultivation was general. The hillsides were lined by artificial terraces, on which were perched chalets and small hamlets--they had seen similar terraces on the way up. These were as the Spaniards found them, and must at one time have been inhabited by a thriving population. Even now gardens and orchards flourished upon them up to the highest points on the hills. Oroya was a large place, and, avoiding the busy part of the town, they hired rooms, as it was necessary to give the mules two days' rest. On the first evening after their arrival they gathered round a fire, for the nights were cold, and even in the daytime they did not find their numerous wraps too hot for them.

"Now, Dias," Harry said, "we must talk over our plans. You said that we would not decide upon anything till we got here."

"In the first place, senor, I think it would be well to go to the north to see the Cerro de Pasco silver mine, they say it is the richest in the world. It is well that you should see the formation of the rocks and the nature of the ore; we may in our journeyings come across similar rock."

"It is gold rather than silver that one wants to find, Dias. I do not say that a silver mine would not be worth a very large sum of money, but it would be necessary to open it and go to a large expense to prove it. Then one would have to go to England and get up a company to work it, which would be a long and difficult matter. Still, I am quite ready to go and see the place."

Dias nodded.

"What you say is true, senor. I could take you to a dozen places where there is silver. They may be good or may not, but even if they were as rich as Potosi the silver would have to be carried to Lima, so great a distance on mules' backs that it would swallow up the profits. And it would be almost impossible to convey the necessary machinery there, indeed to do so would involve the making of roads for a great distance."

"At the same time, Dias, should you know of any silver lodes that might turn out well, I would certainly take some samples, and send two or three mule-loads of the stuff home. They might be of no good for the purpose for which I have come out here, but in time I might do something with them; the law here is that anyone who finds a mine can obtain a concession for it."

"That is so, senor, but he must proceed to work it."

"I suppose it would be sufficient to put two or three men on for that purpose."

"But if you were away for a year difficulties might arise. It would be better for you only to determine the course of the lode, its thickness and value, to trace it as far as possible, and then hide all signs of the work, and not to make your claim until you return here."

"Very well, I will take your advice, Dias. And now about the real object of our journey."

"I have been thinking it over deeply," Dias said. "First as to mines; at present almost all the gold that is obtained is acquired by washing the sands of rivers. Here and there gold has been found in rocks, but not in sufficient quantities to make mining pay. The rivers whose sands are richest in gold are in the mountains that lie behind Lake Titicaca, which lies to the south of Cuzco and on the border of Bolivia. No one doubts that in the time of the Incas there existed gold mines, and very rich ones; for if it had not been so it is impossible to account for the enormous amount of gold obtained by the Spanish conquerors, and no one doubts that they got but a small portion of the gold in existence when they arrived. It is of no use whatever for us to search the old ruins of the Incas in Cuzco, or their other great towns; all that can be found there has already been carried away.

"Now you see, senor, Huanuco, Jauja, Cuzco, and Puno all lie near the eastern range of the Andes, and when the alarm caused by the arrogant conduct of the Spaniards began, it was natural that the treasures should be sent away into the heart of those mountains. The towns on the western sides of this plateau, Challhuanca, Tanibobamba, Huancavelica, would as naturally send theirs for safety into the gorges of the western Andes, but all traditions point to the fact that this was not done by the Incas. As soon as the Spaniards arrived and struck the first blow, the great chiefs would naturally call together a band of their followers on whose fidelity they could rely, load the treasures on llamas, of which they possessed great numbers, and hurry them off to the mountains.

"It is among the mountains, therefore, that our search must be made. All our traditions point to the fact that it was along the eastern range of the Cordilleras, and the country beyond, that by far the greater portion of the treasures were taken for concealment. At any rate, as we have but eighteen months for the search it is on that side that we must try, and ten times that length of time would be insufficient for us to do it thoroughly. As to the gold mines, it is certain that they lie in that portion of the range between Cuzco and Lake Titicaca. It was near Puno, a short distance from the lake, that the Spaniards, owing to the folly of an Indian, found great treasures in a cave. They would probably have found much more had not a stream suddenly burst out which flooded the whole valley and converted it into a lake. Which do you think we had better look for first, gold mines or hidden treasures?"

"Of course that must depend on you, Dias, and how much you know about these matters. I need not say that a hidden treasure would be of vastly more use to me than the richest gold mine in the world. To obtain the gold from a mine an abundance of labour is required, besides machinery for crushing quartz and separating the gold from it. In the bed of a river, if it is rich and abounding in nuggets, three or four men, with rough machinery, could wash out a large quantity of gold in a short time, and a place of that sort would be far better than a rich mine, which could not be worked without a large amount of capital."

"I have heard tales of such places on the other side of the mountains to the south. From time to time gold-seekers have returned with as much as they could carry, but not one in a hundred of those that go ever come back; some doubtless die from hunger and hardship, but more are killed by the Indians. Most of the tribes there are extremely savage, and are constantly at war with each other, and they slay every white man who ventures into their country."

"Then is it not probable, Dias, that the gold could have come from their country?"

"Not from the plains, but from the streams running down into them; and although the Incas never attempted to subdue the tribes beyond the mountains, they may have had bodies of troops to protect the workers from incursions by these savages."

"Are there many wild beasts there?"

"In some parts of the mountains pumas and jaguars abound."

"That is not altogether satisfactory, though I should not mind if we fell in with one occasionally. But how about game, Dias?"

"The chief game are the wild vicunas, which are very numerous in some parts; but they are very shy and difficult to hunt. Deer are plentiful, and there are foxes, bears, and hogs; but the great article of food is fish. On the plains the manatee, which is very like the seal, is caught; turtles are found in great numbers, and the people make oil from their eggs; and the buffo, a sort of porpoise, also abounds. The natives do not eat these, except when very pressed for food; they catch them for the sake of their oil. There are many kinds of fish: the sunaro, which I heard an English traveller say are like the fish the English call the pike; these grow to the length of seven or eight feet. And many smaller kinds of fish are caught by throwing the juice of the root of the barbasto into small streams. This makes the fish stupid, and they float on the surface so that they may easily be caught by hand. There are also many sorts of fruit." "Well, then, we ought to do fairly well, Dias."

"Yes, senor; but many of these creatures are only found in the forests and in the rivers of the plains, and they are so much hunted by the savages there that they are very shy. But there are some creatures with which we certainly do not wish to meet, and unfortunately these are not uncommon. I mean the alligators and the great serpents. The natives fear the alligators much, for their weapons are of no avail against them, and they would never venture to attack a great snake."

"And besides these, what other disagreeables are there, Dias?" Bertie asked cheerfully.

"There is one other disagreeable," Dias replied, "and it is a serious one. There are in the mountains many desperate men. Some have slain an enemy who had friends influential enough to set the law in motion against them, or have escaped from prison; some have resisted the tax-collectors; many have been suspected of plotting against the government; and others are too lazy to work."

"And how do they live?" Harry asked.

"They live partly on game and partly on plunder. They steal from cultivators; they are paid a small sum by all muleteers passing through the mountains; they rob travellers who are worth robbing; and sometimes they carry off a proprietor of land, and get a ransom for him. Occasionally they will wash the sand, and get gold enough to send one of their number into a town to buy articles they require."

"And do they go in large bands?"

"No, senor; as a rule some ten or twelve keep together under the one they have chosen as their chief. Sometimes, if people make complaints and troops are sent against them, they will join to resist them; but this is not often. The authorities know well enough that they have no chance of catching these men among the mountains they are so well acquainted with, and content themselves with stationing a few troops in the villages."

"And is it through the robbers or the savages that so few of the gold explorers ever return?"

"It is chiefly, I think, from hardship," Dias said; "but undoubtedly many who venture down near the Indians' country are killed by them. Some who have done well, and are returning with the gold they have accumulated, fall victims to these robbers. You must not, of course, suppose that there are great numbers of them, senor. There may be some hundreds, but from Huancabamba--the northern frontier of the western Cordilleras, where the Maranon crosses the eastern range--down to Lake Titicaca on the one side, and Tacna on the other, is nigh a thousand miles, and the two ranges cover more square leagues than can be reckoned, and even a thousand men scattered over these would be but so many grains of sand on a stretch of the sea-shore."

"It certainly sounds like it, Dias; but perhaps those worthy people congregate chiefly in the neighbourhood of the passes."

"That is so, senor; but even through these a traveller might pass many times without being troubled by them."

"Have you fallen in with them often, Dias?"

"Yes; but, as you see, they have done me no harm. Sometimes, when I get to the end of my journey, the mules are not so heavily laden as when I started; but generally the people for whom I work say to me, 'Here are so many dollars, Dias; they are for toll.' There are places in the villages at the foot of the most-frequented passes where it is understood that a payment of so many dollars per mule will enable you to pass without molestation. In return for your money, you receive a ribbon, or a rosette, or a feather, and this you place in your hat as a passport. You may meet a few men with guns as you pass along, but when they see the sign they salute you civilly, ask for a drink of wine if you are carrying it, then wish you good-day. It is only in little-frequented passes that you have to take your chance. I may say that though these men may plunder, they never kill a muleteer. They know that if they did, all traffic on that road would cease, and the soldiers would find guides who knew every path and hiding-place in the mountains."

"Anyhow, I think it is well, Dias, that I took your advice, and handed over my gold to Senor Pasquez, for if we do fall into the hands of any of these gentry, we can lose practically nothing."

"No money, senor, but we might lose everything else, except perhaps the mules, which they could not use in the mountains. But if they were to take our blankets, and tents, and provisions, and your firearms, we should be in a bad way if we happened to be a couple of hundred miles in the heart of the mountains."

"Well, I don't think they will take them," Harry said grimly, "without paying pretty dearly for them. With your gun and our rifles, and that old fowling-piece which you got for Jose, which will throw a fairly heavy charge of buck-shot, I think we can make a very good fight against any band of eight men, or even one or two more."

"I think so," Dias said gravely. "It is seldom I miss my mark. Still, I hope we shall not be troubled with them, or with the Indians. You see, it is not so much an attack by day that we have to fear, as a surprise at night. Of course, when we are once on the hills, Jose and I will keep watch by turns. He is as sharp as a needle. I should have no fear of any of these robbers creeping up to us without his hearing them. But I can't say so much for him in the case of the Indians, who can move so noiselessly that even a vicuna would not hear them until they were within a spear's-throw."

"The spear is their weapon then, Dias?"

"Some tribes carry bows and arrows, others only spears, and sometimes they poison the points of both these weapons."

"That is unpleasant. Are there remedies for the poisons?"

"None that I know of, nor do I think the savages themselves know of any. The only chance is to pour ammonia at once into the hole that is made by an arrow, and to cut out all the flesh round a spear-wound, and then to pour in ammonia or sear it with a hot iron."

"That accounts for your buying that large bottle of ammonia at Lima. I wondered what you wanted it for. When we get into the country these unpleasant people inhabit, I will fill my spirit-flask with it, so that it will always be handy if required. Now we understand things generally, Dias. It only remains for you to decide where we had best leave the plain and take to the mountains."

Dias was silent for a minute. "I should say, senor, that first we had better journey down to Cuzco and then down to Sicuani, where the western Cordilleras, after making a bend, join the eastern branch, and there cross the Tinta volcano. On the other side are many gorges. In one of these I know there is some very rich gold sand. Explorers have sought for this spot in vain, but the secret has been well kept by the few who know it. It has been handed down in my father's family from father to son ever since the Spaniards came. He told it to me, and I swore to reveal it to none but my son. I have no son, and the secret therefore will die with me. Whether it has been passed down in any other family I cannot say. It may be, or it may not be; but as I owe you my life, and also the debt of gratitude to Senor Barnett, I feel that you are more to me than a son. Moreover, the secret was to be kept lest it should come to the knowledge of the Spaniards. The Spaniards have gone, and with them the reason for concealment, so I feel now that I am justified in taking you there."

"I am glad of that, Dias. Assuredly the gold can be of service to no man as long as it lies there, and it would be better to utilize it than allow it to waste. I need not say how grateful I shall feel if you can put me in the way of obtaining it."

"That I cannot absolutely promise," he said. "I have the indications, but they will be difficult to find. Three hundred years bring great changes-- rocks on which there are marks may be carried away by torrents, figures cut in the cliffs may be overgrown by mosses or creepers. However, if but a few remain, I hope to be able to find my way. If I fail we must try elsewhere; but this is the only one of which I have been told all the marks. I know generally several places where great treasure was hidden, but not the marks by which they could be discovered, and as we may be sure that every measure was taken to hide the entrances to the caves, the chances would be all against our lighting upon them. I may say, senor, that, great as was the treasure of the Incas, that of the Chimoos or Chincas, a powerful people who inhabited part of this country, was fully as large; and traditions say that most of the treasures hidden were not those of the Incas, but of the Chimoos, who buried them when their country was invaded by the Incas.

"This is certainly the case with most of the treasures hidden to the west of the mountains. It was so at Pachacamac; it was so at Truxillo, where the Spaniards found three million and a half dollars of gold; and it is known that this was but a small hoard, and that the great one, many times larger, has never been discovered. Probably the secret has long been lost; for if there are but few who know where the Incas buried their gold, it may well be believed that the exact locality of the Chimoo treasures, which were buried more than eight hundred years ago, is now unknown, and that nothing but vague traditions have been handed down."

"That one can quite understand," Harry agreed, "when we consider how many of the Chimoos must have fallen in the struggle with the Incas, and how more than half the population were swept away by the Spaniards, to say nothing of those who have died in the wars of the last thirty years. It seems strange, however, that the treasures in the temple of Pachacamac were left untouched by the Incas and allowed to accumulate afterwards."

"It was so generally regarded as the sacred city," Dias said, "that, powerful as they were, the Incas did not attempt to interfere with it, as to do so would certainly have stirred up a formidable insurrection of the natives throughout the whole of their territory; and instead, therefore, of taking possession of the temple and dedicating it to their own god, they allowed it to remain untouched and the worship of the old gods to be carried on there, contenting themselves with building a temple of their own to the Sun-god close at hand."

"Whether any treasure we find belonged to the Incas or to the Chimoos is of no consequence whatever. I certainly think that before entering upon what would seem to be almost a hopeless search for such stores, we should try this place that you know of. In that case it seems to me, Dias, that if we had gone down the coast to Islay, and up through Arequipa to Cuzco, our journey would have been considerably shorter."

"That is true, senor, but we should have found it difficult to take a passage for our mules; the steamers are but small craft, with poor accommodation even for passengers. And besides, until we had made all our arrangements for the journey from Lima, I could hardly say that I had made up my mind to bring you to this place. Only when you and your brother saved my life did I feel that I was bound to aid you, even to the point of divulging the secret. It is different now from what it was when it was first handed down. At that time the Spaniards were mercilessly slaying all known to be in the possession of any secret connected with gold, and every discovery of gold entailed the forced labour of thousands more of the natives. Well, senor, all that is changed; we are our own masters, and those who find mines are allowed to work them on payment of certain royalties. There is, therefore, no good in keeping a secret that has been useless for hundreds of years."

"Certainly, Dias, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are injuring no one by the act, and are besides doing a very good action to my brother and myself.

"Well, Bertie," Harry said when Dias had left the room, "I think we may congratulate ourselves. For the first time I really think there is a chance of the expedition turning out a success."

"It certainly looks like it," Bertie agreed. "For your sake I hope it will be so. As for me, I am quite content; what with Indians and brigands, wild beasts, alligators, and snakes, the journey is likely to be an exciting one."