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- The Treasure of the Incas - 3/63 -

"I told you," the other went on, "that Mr. Fortescue said that he had no personal objection to me, but that if I was in a position to give his daughter a home equal to that which I wanted her to leave, he would be content."

Bertie nodded.

"This seemed to me hopeless," Harry went on. "I told you that she was willing to wait for two years, but that she couldn't promise much longer than that, for her father had set his mind on her making a good match; he has certainly put a tremendous pressure upon her. When I was talking at the club this evening to Mr. Barnett--you know that he is our oldest friend and is one of our trustees--I told him about it, and said that though I was ready to do anything and go anywhere I could not see my way at all to making a big fortune straight away. He agreed with me. After talking it over he said he knew of but one way by which such a thing would be at all possible, but the betting would be twenty thousand to one against it. Of course I said that if there was even a possibility I would try it. Well, you know he was in Peru for some years. He says that the natives have all sorts of legends about rich mines that were hidden when the Spaniards came first, and that it is certain that, tremendous as was the amount of loot they got, a great part of the Incas' treasure was hidden away. Once or twice there had been great finds-in one case two million and a half dollars. It is believed that the secret is still known to certain Indians. When he went out there he had a muleteer, whose life he saved when he was attacked by some beast or other, and this man as much as hinted that he knew of a place where treasure might be concealed; but as Barnett was interested in beasts and plants and that sort of thing, and had a comfortable fortune, he never troubled himself about it one way or another. Well, he offered to give me a letter to this man, and he regarded it as just possible that the fellow, who seems to be a descendant of some of the people who were members of the Incas' court at the time the Spaniards came, may have some knowledge of the rich mines that were then closed down, and that he may be able to show them to me, from his feeling of gratitude to Barnett. It is but one chance in a million, and as I can see no other possibility of making a fortune in two years, I am going to try it."

"Of course you will," the lad said excitedly, "and I should think that you would take me with you."

"I certainly had not dreamt of doing so, Bertie. But if I have to keep on getting fresh outfits for you, the idea has come into my mind during the last half-hour that I could not do better."

"Harry, you are sure to be disappointed lots of times before you hit on a treasure, and then if you were all by yourself you would get down in the mouth. Now, I should be able to keep you going, pat you on the back when you felt sick, help you to fight Indians and wild beasts, and be useful in all sorts of ways."

"That is like your impudence, Bertie," the other laughed. "Seriously, I know I shall be a fool to take you, and if I really thought I had any chance to speak of I should not do so; but though I am going to try, I don't expect for a moment that I shall succeed. I feel that really it would be a comfort to have someone with me upon whom I could rely in such a life as I should have to lead. It certainly would be lonely work for one man. The only doubt in my mind is whether it will be fair to you--you have got your profession."

"But I can go back to it if nothing good turns up, Harry. I can visit the firm and tell them that I am going to travel with you for a bit, and hope that on my return they will take me back again and let me finish my apprenticeship. I should think they would be rather glad, for they always build and never buy ships, and it will take them six months to replace the _Stella_. Besides, it will do me a lot of good. I shall pick up Spanish-- at least, I suppose that is the language they speak out there--and shall learn no end of things. As you know, we trade with the west coast of America, so I should be a lot more useful to the firm when I come back than I am now."

"Well, I will think it over, and let you know in the morning. I must certainly consult Mr. Barnett, for he is your trustee as well as mine. If we go I shall work my way out. It will be a big expense, anyhow, and I don't mean, if possible, to draw upon my capital beyond three or four hundred pounds. I believe living is cheap out there, and if I buy three or four mules I shall then have to pay only the wages for the muleteers, and the expenses of living. Of course I shall arrange for my income and half- pay to be sent out to some firm at Lima. Now, you had better go off to bed, and don't buoy yourself up with the belief that you are going, for I have by no means decided upon taking you yet."

"You will decide to take me, Harry," the lad said confidently, and then added with a laugh: "the fact that you should have adopted a plan like this is quite sufficient to show that you want somebody to look after you."

Harry Prendergast did not get much sleep that night He blamed himself for having mentioned the matter at all to Bertie, and yet the more he thought over it the more he felt that it would be very pleasant to have his brother with him. The lad was full of fun and mischief, but he knew that he had plenty of sound sense, and would be a capital companion, and the fact that he had been three years at sea, and was accustomed to turn his hand to anything, was all in his favour. If nothing came of it he would only have lost a couple of years, and, as the boy himself had said, the time would not have been altogether wasted. Bertie was down before him in the morning. He looked anxiously at his brother as he came in.

"Well, Harry?"

"Well, I have thought it over in every light. But in the first place, Bertie, if you go with me you will have to remember that I am your commanding officer. I am ten years older than you, and besides I am a lieutenant in the King's Navy, while you are only a midshipman in the merchant service. Now, I shall expect as ready obedience from you as if I were captain of my own ship and you one of my men; that is absolutely essential."

"Of course, Harry, it could not be otherwise."

"Very well, then; in the next place I shall abide by what Mr. Barnett says. He is your guardian as well as trustee, and has a perfect right to put a veto upon any wild expedition of this sort. Lastly, I should hope, although I don't say that this is absolutely necessary, that you may get your employer's promise to take you back again in order that you may complete your time."

"Thank you very much, Harry!" the lad said gratefully. "The first condition you may rely upon being performed, and I think the third will be all right, for I know that I have always been favourably reported upon. Old Prosser told me so himself when he said that I should have a rise in my pay this voyage. As to Mr. Barnett, of course I can't say, but I should think, as it was he who put you up to this, he must see that it would be good for you to have someone to take care of you."

"I think he is much more likely to say that I shall have quite enough to do to take care of myself, without having the bother of looking after you. However, I will go and see him this morning. You had better call upon your employers."

"Don't you think I had better go to Mr. Barnett with you, Harry?"

"Not as you are now anyhow, Bertie. Your appearance is positively disgraceful. You evidently had on your worst suit of clothes when you were wrecked, and I can see that they have not been improved by the experience. Why, there is a split right down one sleeve, and a big rent in your trousers!"

"I got them climbing on board, for I had no time to pick and choose, with the _Stella_ sinking under my feet."

"Well, you may as well go as you are, but you had better borrow a needle and thread from the landlady and mend up the holes. You really cannot walk through the city in that state. I will see about getting you some more clothes when we get back, for I cannot have you coming here in these in broad daylight. Here are three guineas; get yourself a suit of pilot cloth at some outfitter's at the East End. It will be useful to you anyhow, whether you go with me or ship again here."

"There is a good deal in what you say, Harry," Mr. Barnett said when Prendergast asked his opinion as to his taking his brother with him. "Two years would not make any material difference in his career as a sailor; it simply means that he will be so much older when he passes as mate. There is no harm in that. Two or three and twenty is quite young enough for a young fellow to become an officer, and I don't think that many captains care about having lads who have just got their certificate. They have not the same sense of responsibility or the same power of managing. Then, too, Bertie will certainly have a good deal of knocking about if he spends a couple of years in South America, and the knowledge he will gain of Spanish will add to his value with any firm trading on that coast. As far as you are concerned, I think it would be a great advantage to have him with you. In a long expedition, such as you propose, it is a gain to have a companion with you. It makes the work more pleasant, and two men can laugh over hardships and disagreeables that one alone would grumble at; but apart from this, it is very important in case of illness.

"A lonely man laid up with fever, or accidental injury, fares badly indeed if he is at a distance from any town where he can obtain medical attendance, and surrounded only by ignorant natives. I was myself at one time down with fever for six weeks in a native hut, and during that time I would have given pretty nearly all that I was worth for the sight of a white face and the sound of an English voice. As to the fact that it is possible that the lad might catch fever, or be killed in an affray with natives, that must, of course, be faced; but as a sailor he runs the risk of shipwreck, or of being washed overboard, or killed by a falling spar. Everything considered, I think the idea of his going with you is a good one. I don't suppose that many guardians would be of the same opinion, but I have been so many years knocking about in one part of the world or another, that I don't look at things in the same light as men who have never been out of England."

"I am glad you see it in that way, sir. I own that it would be a great satisfaction to have him with me. He certainly would be a cheery companion, and I should say that he is as hard as nails, and can stand as much fatigue and hardship as myself. Besides, there is no doubt that in case of any trouble two men are better than one."

"I cannot advance any money out of the thousand pounds that will come to him when he is of age. By your father's will it was ordered that, in the event of his own death before that time, the interest was to accumulate. Your father foresaw that, like you, probably Bertie would take to the sea, and as the amount would be fully two thousand pounds by the time he comes of age, it would enable him to buy a share in any ship that he might, when he passed his last examination, command; but I will myself draw a cheque for a hundred pounds, which will help towards meeting expenses. I feel myself to some extent responsible for this expedition. I somewhat regret now having ever spoken to you on the subject, for I cannot conceal from myself that the chance of your making a discovery, where the Spaniards, with all their power of putting pressure on the natives for the past two or three hundred years, have failed, is so slight as to be scarcely worth

The Treasure of the Incas - 3/63

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