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- The Treasure of the Incas - 30/63 -
had conquered the country the valley would be a lake many feet deep. The Incas, having gained an abundant supply of treasure elsewhere, would take no steps towards opening the tunnel, which in any case would have been a terrible business, for the pressure of water would drive everything before it. Having plenty of slave labour at their disposal, they knew that it could be done at any time in case of great necessity, when the loss of the lives of those concerned in it would be nothing to them. When the valley became full the water began to pour out through this gap, which perhaps happened to be immediately over the mouth of the tunnel, or it may have been altered by a few yards to suit, for they were, as we know from some of their buildings, such good workmen that they could fit slabs of the hardest stone so perfectly together that it is hardly possible to see the joints. Therefore they would only have to widen the mouth of the gorge a little, and fit rocks in on either side so that they would seem to have been there for all time; and indeed the natural growth of ferns and mosses would soon hide the joints, even if they had been roughly done."
"And that all means, Harry--?" Bertie asked.
"That all means that we have no more chance of getting at the gold than if it were lying in the deepest soundings in the Pacific."
Bertie sat down with a gasp.
"There is no way of getting that water out," Harry went on quietly, "except by either cutting a channel here as deep as the bottom of the lake, or by blasting the stone in the tunnel. The one would require years of work, with two or three hundred experienced miners, and ten times as many labourers. The other would need twenty or thirty miners, and a hundred or two labourers. There is possibly another way; but as that would require an immense iron siphon going down to the bottom of the lake, along one side of this ravine, and down into the bottom of the pool, with a powerful engine to exhaust the air in the first place and set it going, it is as impracticable, as far as we are concerned, as the other two.
"In the same way I have no doubt that, with a thousand-horse-power engine, the lake could be pumped dry in time; but to transport the plant for such an engine and its boiler across the mountains would be an enormous undertaking; and even were it here, and put up and going, the difficulty of supplying it with fuel would be enormous. Certainly one could not get up a company with capital enough to carry out any one of the schemes merely on the strength of an Indian tradition; and with the uncertainty, even if they believed the tradition, whether the amount of gold recovered would be sufficient to repay the cost incurred.
"Well, we may as well go down to dinner."
He shouldered his pick and led the way back. Scarce a word was spoken on the way. Bertie tried to follow the example of his brother, and take the matter coolly. Dias walked with his head down and the air of a criminal going to execution. The disappointment to him was terrible. He had all along felt so confident that they should be successful, and that he should be enabled to enrich those he considered as the preservers of his life, that he was utterly broken down with the total failure of his hopes.
A FRESH START
Not until he got to the camp did Harry look round. When he caught a glimpse of the guide's face he went up to him and held out his hand.
"You must not take it to heart, Dias; it has been unfortunate, but that cannot be helped. You have done everything you could in the matter, and brought us to the right spot, and no one could tell that when we got within half a mile of the gold river we should find the valley turned into a deep lake. We can only say, 'Better luck next time'. We would say in England, 'There are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it'. I have never felt very sanguine myself about this; it has all along seemed too good to be true. Of course we are disappointed, but we may have better luck next time."
"But I don't know, señor, with certainty of any other place. No one was ever entrusted with more than one secret, so that if the Spanish tortures wrung it out of him two treasures would not be lost."
"We need not talk any more about this place, Dias. I see your wife has got some of the fish that we caught yesterday fizzling on the fire. Now I think of it, I am very hungry, for it is six hours since we had our coffee this morning. After we have had our meal we can discuss what our next move had better be."
While they were speaking, José had been rapidly telling Maria the misfortune which had befallen them, and the tears were running down the woman's cheeks.
"You must not feel so badly about it, Maria," Harry said cheerfully; "you see my brother and I are quite cheerful. At any rate, no one is to blame. It would have been an enormous piece of luck if we had succeeded, but we never looked on it as a certainty. Anything might have happened between the time the gold was shut up and now, though we certainly never expected to find what we did. We only thought it possible that we might have the luck to find the treasure. Now you had better look to those fish, or we shall lose our breakfast as we have lost our gold, and this time by our own fault. We are as hungry as hunters all of us; and in fact we are hunters, although we have not brought any game with us this time."
The woman wiped away her tears hastily, and, taking off the fish which she had put on when they were coming down the hill, she laid them on plates with some freshly-baked cakes. The fish were excellent, and Bertie, as they ate, made several jokes which set them all laughing, so that the meal passed off cheerfully.
"Now for the great consoler," Harry said, as he took out his pipe. "When we have all lighted up, the council shall begin. Never mind clearing away the plates now, Maria; just sit down with us, there is wisdom in many counsellors. Now, Dias, what do you think is the best course for us to adopt at present?"
"Unless you wish to stay here and make further search?"
"By no means, Dias," Harry said; "for the present, I have seen enough of this side of the mountains. We will get back to Cuzco and make a fresh start from there."
"In that case, señor, there is no doubt as to the best route. There is a pass over the mountains just on the other side of Mount Tinta; it leads to the town of Ayapata, which lies somewhere at the foot of that peak. I have never been there, but I know its situation. It is a very steep pass, but as it is used for mule traffic it cannot be very bad. Once we have passed over it on to the plateau we shall not be more than seventy or eighty miles from Cuzco."
"That is quite satisfactory. We will set off to-morrow."
"We had better catch some more fish, for we have had no time for hunting lately," Maria said. "The meat we ate yesterday was the last we had with us. If we cut the fish open and lay them flat on the rocks, which are so hot one can scarcely hold one's hand on them, they will be sufficiently dry by sunset to keep for two or three days, and before that you are sure to shoot something."
The river was full of fish, and in half an hour they had caught an abundance, having fifteen averaging eight pounds apiece. These were at once cut open, cleaned, and laid down to dry.
"The fishing on this river would let for a handsome sum in England," Harry laughed; "and I think the fish are quite as good as trout of the same size. The only objection is that they are so tame, and take the bait so greedily, that, good as the stream is, they would soon be exterminated."
That evening there was a slight stir among the animals which had just lain down. José leapt up and walked towards them.
"There is something the matter, Dias," he cried; "the llamas are standing up with their ears forward. They see or hear something."
"It may be pumas or jaguars," Dias said. "Take your gun, señor."
He picked up his rifle, and Harry and Bertie followed suit, and further armed themselves with their shot-guns.
"You had best come with us, Maria," her husband said. "There is no saying where the beasts may be. See! the mules are standing up now and pulling at their head-ropes. Let us go among them, señors, our presence will pacify them."
They all moved towards the mules, which were standing huddled together. Dias and José spoke to them and patted them.
"You stand at their heads, Maria," the former said, "and keep on talking to them. We must see if we can discover the beasts. There is one of them!" he exclaimed, but in a low tone. Do you see the two bright points of light? That is the reflection of the fire in his eyes."
"Shall I fire?"
"No, señor, not yet. If we were only to wound him he would charge us; let us wait till he gets closer. Probably there are two of them, male and female, they generally go about in pairs."
Even as he spoke the seeming sparks disappeared.
"He has moved," Dias said; "he will probably walk round us two or three times before he makes up his mind to attack."
"If he would go near the fire we could get a fair shot at him, Dias."
"He won't do that, señor; he will most likely go backwards and forwards in a semicircle, getting perhaps a little closer each time."
Ten minutes passed and then Maria said:
"There are two of them. I can see their outlines distinctly."
"Do you think, if we were to fire a gun, they would move off, Dias?"
"They might for a time, señor, but the probability is that they would come back again. They have smelt the mules, and are probably hungry. It is better to let them attack us at once and have done with it."
A minute or two later there was a snarling growl.
"They are jaguars," Dias said.
Again and again the threatening sound was heard, and in spite of Maria's
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