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- The Treasure of the Incas - 10/63 -
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, seņors, 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, seņors, 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, seņor, 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 Seņor Pasquez, who received them very cordially.
"So you are going to follow the example of Seņor Barnett and spend some time in exploring the country and doing some shooting. Have you found Dias?"
"Yes, seņor, 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, seņor," 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 Seņor 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 Seņor Barnett."
A STREET FRAY
"Now, seņor," Dias said, "as we have settled the main point, let us talk over the arrangements. What is the weight of your baggage?"
"Not more than a mule could carry. Of course we shall sling our rifles over our shoulders. We have a good stock of ammunition for them and for our pistols. We shall each take two suits of clothes besides those we wear, and a case of spirits in the event of accident or illness. We shall
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