The Treasure of the Incas by G. A. Henty
Chapter VI. A Tropical Forest
It took them over three weeks to reach Cuzco. They did not hurry, for they wished to keep the mules in good condition for the serious work before them. They were travelling across a plateau thickly dotted with villages and small towns, and everywhere richly cultivated. Near the summit of the mountains large flocks of alpacas were grazing, and lower down herds of cattle and sheep, while near the plain were patches of wheat, barley, and potatoes, which in turn were succeeded by fields of maize, apple and peach trees, and prickly-pears. At the foot were fields of sugar-cane, oranges, citron, pine-apples, cacao, and many other tropical fruits; while in the deeper ravines cotton was grown in abundance for the wants of the population. Here, in fact, were all varieties of climate, from the perpetual snow on the summits of the lofty mountains to a tropical heat in the valleys.
"If the Incas had been contented with this glorious plateau, which for centuries constituted their kingdom, and had passed a law against the gathering of gold and the mining for silver, they might still have been lords here," Harry said one day. "There would have been nothing to tempt the avarice of the Spaniards, for owing to the distance of the mines from the coast, the cost of carriage would have been immense, and the long sea journey would have rendered the exportation of the natural products of the country impossible. Some of the more sober-minded of the Dons might have settled down here and taken wives from among the daughters of the nobles, and, bringing with them the civilization of Spain, become valuable colonists. The Incas, before they extended their conquest over the whole of the west of South America, must have been a comparatively simple people, and would have had none of the habits of luxury and magnificence that tempted the Spaniards. The gold of South America was the ruin of the Incas, as it was afterwards the chief cause of the ruin of Spain."
"Well, Harry, then I should very strongly advise you to give up treasure- hunting and to remain poor, for the curse of the gold may not have worked itself out yet."
"I must risk that, Bertie. I have no desire for luxury or magnificence; it is for a laudable purpose that I seek the gold. However, if you have any scruples on the subject there is no occasion for you to have any share in what I may discover."
"No, I think I will agree with you and risk it; though certainly at present I don't see what advantage any amount of money would be to me."
The houses of the peasants were for the most part comfortable, although small, for since the expulsion of the Spaniards, the people had had no reason to make a pretence of poverty. During the Spanish rule no one dared, by the size of his house or by his mode of living, to show signs of wealth above his fellows, for to do so would be to expose himself to the cruel exactions of the tax-collectors and local officials; and even now they had hardly recognized the change that had taken place, and remained wedded to the habits that had become rooted in them by centuries of oppression.
The travellers had no difficulty whatever in purchasing food and forage on the way. They always slept in their tents now, and preferred Donna Maria's cooking to that which they could obtain in the small and generally dirty inns in the towns.
By the time they reached Cuzco, Bertie was able to converse in Spanish with some fluency. On the way he rode either beside Dias and his wife, or with Jose; in either case an animated conversation was kept up, sometimes on the stirring events of the war of independence and the subsequent struggles, sometimes about life in England, its ways and customs, concerning which neither Maria nor Jose had any knowledge whatever. Bertie also endeavoured to gain some information concerning the history of Peru prior to the rising against Spain; but neither the woman nor boy knew anything of the subject beyond the fact that the Incas were great people, and that the natives still mourned for them.
"You see that black apron most of the women wear over one hip, as a sign of mourning; it is still worn for the Incas. They must have been good people, and not cruel like the Spanish, or they would not be so much regretted," Maria said. "I don't wear the apron, because both Dias and I are of mixed blood, descendants on one side of natives, and on the other of Creoles, that is of Spaniards whose families were settled here, and who hated their countrymen just as much as we do. Well, there is Cuzco in sight. I have never seen it, and am glad that we shall stay there for a few days."
The old capital of the Incas lay at the end of a valley about two miles in length, and about a mile in width. To the north of the city rose an abrupt hill, crowned by the great citadel with its three lines of walls, the hill being divided from those forming the side of the valley by two deep ravines, in which flowed little streams that ran through the city. The appearance of the town was striking. There were numerous churches, its streets ran at right angles to each other, and the massive stone houses dated from the early Spanish days, though they were surmounted for the most part by modern brickwork additions. Where the great Temple of the Sun once stood, the church of Santo Domingo had been built, a portion of the splendid building of the old faith being incorporated in it.
"What is the use of staying here?" Bertie asked his brother impatiently, two days after they had arrived at Cuzco. "I dare say these old ruins and fortresses, and so on, are very interesting to people who understand all about the Incas; but as I know nothing about them, I don't see how you can expect me to get up any interest in an old wall because you tell me that it is one of the remains of a palace belonging to some old chap I never heard of. I shall be very glad when Dias says that the mules have had enough rest and that we can set out on our business."
"I am afraid you are a Goth, Bert," Harry said, looking at him with an expression of pity. "Here you are in one of the most interesting cities of the world, a place that thousands and thousands of people would travel any distance to investigate, and in forty-eight hours you are tired of it. You have no romance in your nature, no respect for the past; you are a Goth and a Philistine."
"I am afraid you are mixing up localities, Harry. I may be a Goth or a Philistine, but perhaps you are not aware that these peoples or tribes had no connection with each other. Your education in matters unconnected with the Royal Navy seems to have been even more deplorably neglected than my own."
"Shut up, youngster!" "No, Lieutenant Prendergast, you are not on the quarter-deck of one of Her Majesty's ships at present. You are not even the leader of a small caravan on the march. We are in this locanda on terms of perfect equality, save and except in any small advantage that you may possess in the matter of years."
"Well, Bertie, I do not altogether disagree with what you say. If I had come here to get up the history of the Incas, and investigate the ruins of their palaces, I should be content to stay here for some weeks; but as it is, I am really just as anxious as you are to be on the move. I was speaking to Dias half an hour ago, and he says that in two more days we shall be able to start again. We have been discussing how much flour and other things it is absolutely necessary to take. Of course the better provided we are the more comfortable we shall be; but on the other hand, as Dias says, it is of great importance that the mules should carry as little weight as possible.
"In crossing the passes we shall have the benefit of the old roads of the Incas, but once we leave these the difficulties will be enormous. Dias said that it might be better to dispose of our mules altogether and get trained llamas in their place, as these can climb over rocks where no mule could obtain a foothold. But then it would be necessary to take with us one or two natives accustomed to their ways, and this would not suit us at all. However, I do think that it would be worth while to take two or three of these animals with us. They can carry a hundred pounds apiece; but as we may be going over extraordinarily rough country, fifty pounds would be sufficient. The advantage would be that we could establish a sort of central camp at the farthest spot to which the mules could go, and then make exploring expeditions with the llamas to carry provisions and tools. The llamas are not bad eating, so that if we found no other use for them they would assist our commissariat."
"How far can they go in a day, Harry?"
"Ten or twelve miles, and you may be sure that that is as much as we can do when we are among the mountains."
"Then I should think they would be very useful. I suppose there will be no difficulty in buying them?"
"None at all. A good many are brought in for sale to the market every day. Of course it would be necessary to get strong animals accustomed to burdens."
Before starting there was another long consultation between Harry and Dias as to which course it would be better to adopt. The most-frequented pass through the mountains was that to Paucartambo, forty miles north-east from Cuzco, at the mouth of the pass that leads down into the plains. Between this town and the Carabaya range, a hundred and fifty miles to the south, was to be found the rich gold deposit to which Dias had referred. So far, however, as the traditions he had received informed him, it was situated near the slopes of the Tinta volcano, and between that and Ayapata. The direct road to this spot was extremely difficult, and he was of opinion that the journey could be more easily performed by going to Paucartambo and then skirting the foot of the mountains.
"You will find no difficulty in obtaining food as you go along," he said; "wild turkeys, pheasants, and other birds are to be met with in that district. Moreover, there are many plantations which have been deserted owing to the depredations of the Chincas, a tribe who live on the tributaries of the Pueros, or as it used to be called, Rio Madre de Dios. Here you will find fields of maize still growing, sugar-cane, cacao, and rice. One after another the estates have been abandoned; at some of them the whole of the people on the farms were massacred, and in all the danger was so great that the proprietors found it impossible to work them. The one drawback to that road is that we may fall in with the Chincas, in which case they will certainly attack us. However, they are widely scattered through the forests, and we may not fall in with them. On the other hand, the track by the Tinta mountain from Sicuani is extremely difficult and dangerous, We might lose several of our animals in traversing it, and should have to depend entirely on what we carried for food."
"Then by all means let us go the other way, Dias. Were we to lose some of our mules it would be impossible to replace them, and it would be useless to find gold if we could not carry it away."
Two days later they started, four llamas having been added to the caravan. Dias explained that it would not be necessary to take any natives to attend to these animals, as, once started, they would follow the mules without difficulty, especially if they were fed with them before starting. Three days' travelling brought them to the little town, which lay very high up in the hills. The cold here was bitter, and the party needed all their wraps, and were glad to get in motion as soon as it was light. Passing over a range of mountains above Paucartambo, where a thin layer of snow crunched under their feet, they began the tremendous descent into the plain. In a short time the morning mist cleared away. The road led through a tropical forest. It took them over three hours to reach the river Chirimayu, a descent of eleven thousand feet in the course of eight miles.
Here they halted by the side of a splendid waterfall. The hills rose up perpendicularly on every side except where the little river made its way through the gorge; they were covered with brushwood, ferns, and creepers, thick with flowers of many colours, while lofty palms and forest trees grew wherever their roots could find a hold. Splendid butterflies of immense size flitted about; birds of many kinds and beautiful plumage flew hither and thither among the trees; humming-birds sucked the honey from the bright flowers; parrots chattered and screamed in the upper branches of the trees, and the foam and spray of the torrent sparkled in the sun. Harry and his brother stood struck with admiration at the loveliness of the scene, even Donna Maria and Jose ceased their chatter as they looked at a scene such as they had never before witnessed.
"It is worth coming all the way from England to see this, Bertie."
"It is, indeed. If it is all like this I sha'n't mind how long Dias takes to find the place he is in search of."
At a word from Dias they all set to work to take the burdens off the animals. A place was cleared for the tents. When these had been erected Jose collected dried sticks. A fire was soon lighted, and Maria began to prepare breakfast.
"Is it unhealthy here, Dias?"
"Not here, senors; we are still many hundred feet above the plain. In the forest there it is unhealthy for whites, the trees grow so thickly that it is difficult to penetrate them, swamps and morasses lie in many places, and the air is thick and heavy. We shall not go down there until we need. When we must descend we shall find an abundance of maize, and fruits of all sorts. The savages kill the people they find on the estates, but do not destroy the crops or devastate the fields. They are wise enough to know that these are useful to them, and though they are too lazy to work themselves they appreciate the good things that others have planted."
"It is rather early to make a halt, Dias."
"We have work to do, senor. In the first place we must find a spot where large trees stand on the bank of the torrent. Two or three of these must be felled so that they fall across it; then we shall have to chop off the branches, lay them flat side by side, and make a bridge over which to take animals. After breakfast we must set about this work, and it will be too late before we finish to think of going farther to-day."
"It is well that we bought four good axes and plenty of rope at Cuzco," Harry said.
"We shall want them very often, senor. Three large torrents come down between this and the Tinta volcano, besides many smaller ones. Some rise from the hills to the north of us. These fall into others, which eventually combine to make the Madre de Dios. So far as is known boats can descend the river to the Amazon without meeting with any obstacle, from a point only a few miles from the head of the Pueros, which we shall presently cross. The fact that there are no cataracts during the whole course from the hills to the junction of the rivers, shows how perfectly flat the great plain is."
"And did either the Incas or the Spaniards ever conquer the Chincas and cultivate these splendid plains?"
"The Incas drove them back some distance, senor, and forced them to pay a tribute, but they never conquered them. Doubtless they cultivated the land for some leagues from the foot of the mountains, as did the Spaniards, and it was considered the most fertile part of the Montana, as their possessions this side of the Cordilleras were called. The Spaniards tried to push farther, but met with such stout opposition by the savages that they were forced to desist."
All were ready when Maria announced breakfast. After the meal they sat smoking for half an hour, reluctant to commence the heavy work before them.
"We had better be moving, senor," Dias said as he rose to his feet, "or we shall not get the bridge made before dark."
A hundred yards from the camp they found three large trees growing close to each other near the edge of the stream. Bertie looked at them with an air of disgust.
"This will be worse for the hands than rowing for twelve hours in a heavy boat."
"I dare say it will," Harry agreed; "but it has got to be done, and the sooner we set about it the better."
"I shall take off my flannel shirt," Bertie said.
"You had better not, senor," Dias said, as he saw what the lad was about to do. "There are many insects here that will sting you, and the bites of some of them swell up and turn into sores. Now, senor, I will take this tree. The next is not quite so large, will you take that? I will help you when I am finished with my own. Your brother and Jose can work by turns at the other."
It was hard work, for the trees were over two feet across near the foot. Dias had felled his before the others had cut half-way through, and he then lent his aid to Harry, who was streaming with perspiration.
"You are not accustomed to it, senor. You will manage better when you have had two or three months' practice at the work."
"I did not bargain for this, Harry," Bertie said as he rested for the twentieth time from his work. "Jaguars and alligators, Indians and bandits, and hard climbing I was prepared for, but I certainly never expected that we should have to turn ourselves into wood-cutters."
"It is hard work, Bertie, but it is useless to grumble, and, as Dias says, we shall become accustomed to it in two or three months."
"Two or three months!" Bertie repeated with a groan; "my hands are regularly blistered already, and my arms and back ache dreadfully."
"Well, fire away! Why, Jose has done twice as much as you have, and he has hardly turned a hair. I don't suppose that he has had much more practice than you have had, and he is nothing like so strong."
"Oh, I dare say! if he has never cut, his ancestors have, and I suppose it is hereditary. Anyhow, I have been doing my best. Well, here goes!"
Harry laughed at his brother's theory for explaining why Jose had done more work than he had. He was himself by no means sorry that Dias had come to his assistance, and that his tree was nearly ready to fall. Jose climbed it with the end of a long rope, which he secured to an upper bough. Dias then took the other end of the rope, crossed the torrent by the tree he had felled, and when Jose had come down and Harry had given a few more cuts with the axe, he was able to guide the tree in its fall almost directly across the stream. Then he took Bertie's tree in hand. In ten minutes this was lying beside the others. It took three hours' more work to cut off the branches and to lay the trees side by side, which was done with the aid of one of the mules. The smaller logs were packed in between them to make a level road, and when this was done the workers went back to the little camp. The sun was already setting, and Donna Maria had the cooking-pots simmering over the fire.
"That has been a hard day's work," Harry said, when he and his brother threw themselves down on the grass near the fire.
"Hard is no name for it, Harry. I have never been sentenced to work on a tread-mill, but I would cheerfully chance it for a month rather than do another day's work like this. The palms of my hands feel as if they had been handling a red-hot iron, my arms and shoulders ache as if I had been on a rack. I seem to be in pain from the tips of my toes to the top of my head."
"It is only what every settler who builds himself a hut in the backwoods must feel, Bert. It is the work of every wood-cutter and charcoal-burner; it is a good deal like the work of every miner. You have been brought up too soft, my boy."
"Soft be hanged!" the lad said indignantly; "it is the first time I have heard that the life of an apprentice on board a ship was a soft one. I have no doubt you feel just as bad as I do."
"But you don't hear me grumbling, Bert; that is all the difference. I expect that, of the two, I am rather the worse, for my bones and muscles are more set than yours, and it is some years now since I pulled at either a rope or an oar."
Bertie was silent for a minute or two, and then said rather apologetically:
"Well, Harry, perhaps I need not have grumbled so much, but you see it is a pretty rough beginning when one is not accustomed to it. We ought to have had a short job to begin with, and got into it gradually, instead of having six hours on end; and I expect that the backwoods settler you were talking about does not work for very long when he first begins. If he did he would be a fool, for he certainly would not be fit for work for a week if he kept on till he had nearly broken his back and taken the whole skin off his hands by working all day the first time he tried it."
"There is something in that, Bertie; and as we are in no extraordinary hurry I do think we might have been satisfied with felling the trees to- day, and cutting off the branches and getting them into place to-morrow. Still, as Dias seemed to make nothing of it, I did not like to knock off at the very start."
"The meal is ready, senor," Maria said, "and I think we had better eat it at once, for the sky looks as if we were going to have rain."
"And thunder too," Dias said. "You had better begin; Jose and I will picket the mules and hobble the llamas. If they were to make off, we should have a lot of trouble in the morning."
The aspect of the sky had indeed changed. Masses of cloud hung on the tops of the hills, and scud was flying overhead.
Maria placed one of the cooking-pots and two tin plates, knives, and forks beside Harry and his brother, with two flat cakes of ground maize.
"Sit down and have your food at once," Harry said to her. "The rain will be down in bucketfuls before many minutes."
They were soon joined by Dias and Jose, the latter bringing up a large can of water from the stream. They had just finished when large drops of rain began to patter on the ground.
"Never mind the things," Harry said as he leapt to his feet. "Crawl under shelter at once; it is no use getting a wetting."
All at once made for the tents; and they were but just in time, for the rain began to fall in torrents, and a peal of thunder crashed out overhead as they got under the canvas.
"This is our first experience of this sort of thing," Harry said, as he and his brother lit their pipes half-sitting and half-reclining on their beds. "I rather wondered why Dias put the tents on this little bit of rising ground, which did not look so soft or tempting as the level; but I see now that he acted very wisely, for we should have been flooded in no time if we had been lower down. As it is, I am by no means sure that we shan't have the water in. Another time we will take the precaution to make trenches round the tents when we pitch them. However, we have got a waterproof sheet underneath the beds, so I expect it will be all right."
"I hope so. Anyhow, we had better see that the edges are turned up all round, so that the water cannot run over them. By Jove! it does come down. We can hardly hear each other speak."
Suddenly the entrance to the tent was thrust aside.
"Here is a candle, senors."
It was thrown in, and Dias ran back into his own tent, which was but a few yards away, before Harry could remonstrate at his coming out.
"The candle will be useful, anyhow," Bertie said. "It is almost pitch-dark now. What with the sun going down and the clouds overhead, it has turned from day into night in the past five minutes."
Striking a match he lit the candle, and stuck it in between his shoes, which he took off for the purpose.
"That is more cheerful, Harry."
"Hullo! what is that?"
A deep sound, which was certainly not thunder, rose from the woods. It was answered again and again from different directions.
"They must be either pumas or jaguars, which are always called here lions and tigers, and I have no doubt Dias will know by the roar which it is. I should not mind if it were daylight, for it is not pleasant to know that there are at least half a dozen of these beasts in the neighbourhood. We may as well drop the cartridges into our rifles and pistols. I believe neither of these beasts often attacks men, but they might certainly attack our mules."
The storm continued, and each clap of thunder was succeeded by roars, snarls, and hissing, and with strange cries and shrieks. During a momentary lull Harry shouted:
"Is there any fear of these beasts attacking us or the mules, Dias?"
"No, senor, they are too frightened by the thunder and lightning to think of doing so."
"What are all those cries we hear?"
"Those are monkeys, senor. They are frightened both by the storm and by the roaring of the lions and tigers."
"Which is the bigger, Harry, the puma or the jaguar?"
"I believe the jaguar is the bigger, but the puma is the more formidable and fiercer. The latter belongs to the same family as the lion, and the former to that of the leopards. The jaguar is more heavily built than the leopard, and stronger, with shorter legs, but it is spotted just as the leopard is. The puma is in build like the lion, but has no mane. Both prey on animals of all kinds. The natives say they catch turtles, turn them over on their backs as a man would do, and tear the shells apart. They will also eat fish; but they are both scourges to the Indians and white planters, as they will kill sheep, horses, and cattle. Of course, if they are attacked by men and wounded, they will fight desperately, as most wild creatures will; but if man does not molest them, they are quite content to leave him alone, unless he chances to pass under a tree among the branches of which they are lying in wait for prey. Both of them can climb trees."
"Well, I thought I should have slept like a log, Harry, after the work that I have done, but what with the thunder and the patter of the rain, and all those noises of beasts, I don't think I am likely to close my eyes."
"We shall get accustomed to the noises after a time, Bert; but at present I feel as if I were in the middle of a travelling menagerie which had been caught in a thunderstorm. It is curious that all animals should be frightened at lightning, for they cannot know that it is really dangerous."
"Yes, I know. We had two dogs on the last ship I was in. A clap of thunder would send them flying down the companion into the cabin, and they would crouch in some dark corner in a state of absolute terror. They would do just the same if cannon were fired in salute, or anything of that sort. I suppose they thought that was thunder."
In spite, however, of the noises, Harry and his brother both dropped off to sleep before long, being thoroughly worn out by the day's work. They were awakened by Dias opening the front of their little tent.
"The sun is up, senors, and it is a fine morning after the storm. Maria has got coffee ready, baked some cakes, and fried some slices of meat."
"All right, Dias! we will be out directly. We will first run up the bank a short distance, and have a dip."
"You won't be able to swim, senor. The bed of the torrent is full, and no swimmer could breast the water."
"All right! we will be careful."
Throwing on their ponchos, they went down to the stream and ran along the bank.
"The water is coming down like a race-horse, Bert, but just ahead it has overflowed its banks. We can have a bath there safely, though it is not deep enough for swimming."
After ten minutes' absence they returned to the camp, completed their dressing, and sat down to breakfast.
"What were all those frightful noises, Dias? Were they pumas or jaguars?"
"They were both, senor. You can easily tell the difference in the sounds they make. The jaguar's is between a roar and a snarl, while the puma's is a sort of a hissing roar."
As soon as breakfast was over, the tents were packed up and the mules and llamas laden. Dias had given them a feed all round an hour before. The course they should take had been already agreed upon; they must descend to the plain, for it would be next to impossible to cross the ravines on the mountain-side.
"Each stream coming down from the hills," Dias said, "must be followed nearly up to its source, but for the next seventy or eighty miles the search need not be so careful as it must be afterwards. The place cannot be far from Tinta, but somewhere this side of it. We need not hurry, for there are two months to spare."
"How do you mean, Dias?"
"On a day that answers to the 21st of March, Coyllur--that is a star--will rise at midnight in a cleft in a peak. It can be seen only in the valley in which the stream that contains the gold runs down. This is what my father taught me; therefore there must be mountains to the south-east, and this can only be where the Cordilleras run east, which is the case at Tinta."
"That is excellent as far as it goes, if we happen to be in the right valley at the time, Dias, but it would not help us in the slightest if we were in any other valley. And we should have to wait a year before trying in another place."
"Yes, senor, but there are marks on the rocks of a particular kind. There are marks on rocks in other valleys, so that these should not be distinguished by Spaniards searching for the place. I should know the marks when I saw them."
"Then in that case, Dias, the star would not be of much use to us."
"I know not how that might be, senor, but as these instructions have been handed down from the time when the Spaniards arrived, it must surely in some way be useful, but in what way I cannot say."
"At any rate, Dias, what with those marks you speak of, and the star, it will be hard if we cannot find it. I suppose you are sure that the place is rich if we do light upon it?"
"Of that there can be no doubt, senor. Tradition says that it was the richest spot in the mountains, and was only worked when the king had need of gold, either for equipping an army or on some special occasion. At such a time it would be worked for one month, and then closed until gold was again required. However, as we go that way we shall explore other valleys. Gold is found more or less in all of them. Possibly we may find some rich spot which we can fall back upon if we fail in our search."
"But I hardly see how we can fail, with the star and those marks on the rocks to aid us."
"The marks may have disappeared, senor, and in that case we may not be in the right spot when the star rises; or again, the Incas may have closed the approach in some way to make the matter sure. I cannot promise that we shall find the gold; but I shall do my best with the knowledge that has come down to me. If I fail, we must try in other directions. When the Spaniards came, forty thousand of the Incas' people left Cuzco and the neighbouring towns, and journeyed away down the mountains and out to the west. Since then no reliable news concerning them has been heard, but rumours have from time to time come from that direction to the effect that there is a great and wealthy city there. I say not that if we failed here we should attempt to find it. The dangers from the savages would be too great. There would be great forests to traverse, many rivers to be crossed. We might travel for years without ever finding their city. When we got there, we might be seized and put to death, and if we were spared we might not be able to make off with the treasure. I mention it to show that gold may be found in many other places besides this valley we are seeking."
"I quite agree with you, Dias, that unless we could get some indication of the position of this city, if it now exists, it would be madness to attempt to search for it. I want gold badly, but I do not propose that we should all throw away our lives in what would be almost a hopeless adventure. Even if I were ready to risk my own life on such a mad enterprise, I would not ask others to do the same."
Crossing the stream, they made their way down through the forest. It was toilsome work, as they often had to clear a way with axes through the undergrowth and tangle of creepers. But at noon they reached level ground. The heat was now intense, even under the trees, and the air close and oppressive. On the way down Harry shot a wild turkey. When they halted, this was cut up and broiled over a fire, and after it had been eaten all lay down and slept for two or three hours.
"Ought we not to set a guard?" Harry had asked.
"No, senor, I do not think it necessary. Jose will lie down by the side of the llamas, and even if the mules should not give us a warning of any man or beast approaching, the llamas will do so. They are the shyest and most timid of creatures, and would detect the slightest movement."
For the next three weeks they continued their way. During this time five or six ravines were investigated as far as they could be ascended. Samples were frequently taken from sand and gravel and washed, but though particles of gold were frequently found, they were not in sufficient quantity to promise good results from washing.
"If we had a band of natives with us," Dias said, "we should no doubt get enough to pay well--that is to say, to cover all expenses and leave an ounce or two of profit to every eight or ten men engaged--but as matters stand we should only be wasting time by remaining here."
They had no difficulty in obtaining sufficient food; turkeys and pheasants were occasionally shot; a tapir was once killed, and, as they had brought hooks and lines with them, fish were frequently caught in the streams. These were of small size, but very good eating. But, as Dias said, they could not hope to find larger species, except far out in the plains, where the rivers were deep and sluggish.
The work was hard, but they were now accustomed to it. They often had to go a considerable distance before they could find trees available for bridging the torrents, but, on the other hand, they sometimes came upon some of much smaller girth than those they had first tackled. The labour in getting these down was comparatively slight. Sometimes these stood a little way from the stream, but after they were felled two mules could easily drag them to the site of the bridge. When on the march, Harry and his brother carried their double-barrelled guns, each with one barrel charged with shot suitable for pheasants or other birds, the other with buck-shot. Dias carried a rifle. Very seldom did they mount their mules, the ground being so rough and broken, and the boughs of the trees so thick, that it was less trouble to walk at the heads of their animals than to ride.