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- The Treasure of the Incas - 50/63 -


walls, and it will be much more cheerful."

Then a blazing fire was lit. The wood was almost as dry as tinder, and burnt without smoke. It was built almost touching the back wall, in which, some five feet above the fire, Harry with a pick made a hole four inches deep.

While he was doing this, José went down and cut a sapling four inches in diameter, growing in a cleft on the rock, and from this cut off two six- foot lengths and brought them up. One end of the thickest of these was driven into the hole and tightly wedged in there, the other end was lashed securely to an upright beam.

"There, Maria," he said when it was finished, "you will be able to hang your pots and kettles from that at any height you like above the fire. Now, you can set to work as soon as you like, to get breakfast for us. We have been at work for four or five hours, and have good appetites."

"I have the cakes ready to bake, señor, and I sha'n't be long before I get an olla ready for you."

"Well, José, what do you think of the place?" Harry asked.

"I should like it better if it were not so big," the lad said. "I shall want a broom, señor, to sweep out the dust."

"It is three inches deep," Maria said.

"I should not bother about that, Maria; it would be a tremendous job to sweep such a big room, and the dust is so fine that it would settle again and cover everything. Besides, it will be a good deal softer to lay our beds on than the stones would be, so I think you had better let it remain as it is, especially as you are fond of going about without your shoes. I think I will rig up a blanket against the doorway. It will make the place look a good deal more snug, and will keep the bats from returning."

"I am not afraid of the bats, now I know what they are; but I should be constantly expecting them to rush out again."

"I expect a good many went back last night," Harry said. "We won't put the blankets up till after dark. They are sure to come out again; then, as soon as they have gone, we will close it, and they won't be able to get in when they come back before daybreak."

Harry's expectations were fulfilled. At dusk a stream of bats rushed out again, but this time quite noiselessly. The rush lasted for three or four minutes. As soon as they had gone, the blankets were hung up, and fastened across the doorway.

"They will be puzzled when they come back."

"Yes, señor," Maria said; "but when they find that they can't get in here, they will come in through the openings above."

"So they will; I did not think of that. But when they once find that they cannot get out here in the evening, they will go out where they came in, and we shall have no more trouble with them. I don't know whether they are good to eat?"

Maria gave a little cry of horror.

"Oh, señor! I could not eat such horrible things!"

"Their appearance is against them, Maria; but when people eat alligators, frogs, snakes, and even rats, I don't see why a bat should be bad. However, we won't touch them unless we are threatened by starvation."

"I should indeed be starving before I could touch bats' flesh, señor."

"Well," Harry said, "if people eat monkeys, rats, and squirrels--and it seems to me that a bat is something of a mixture of the three--one might certainly eat bats, and if we are driven to it I should not mind trying; but I promise you that I won't ask you to cook them."

They chatted for another hour, and then Maria went off to her corner. The brothers spread their beds by the fire, and José had his blanket and poncho, and it was arranged that any of them who woke should put fresh logs on the fire.

They were all roused just before dawn by a squeaking and twittering noise. They threw on fresh logs, and as these blazed up they could see a cloud of bats flying overhead. They kept on going to the doorway, and when they found they could not get through they retired with angry squeaks. The light was gradually breaking, and in a few minutes all had flown out through the opening. Harry and his brother followed them, and could see them flitting about the upper windows. Presently, as if by a common impulse, they poured in through the various openings.

"I don't suppose we shall see any more of them," Harry said, "and I own that I shall be glad. There is something very weird in their noiseless flitting about, and in the shadows the fire casts on the ceiling."

"They are a great deal larger than any bats I have seen," Bertie said.

"I have seen as large, or larger, at Bombay and some of the towns on the coast."

"They bite people's toes when they are asleep, don't they?"

"Yes, the great vampire bat does, but I have never heard of any others doing so. They live on insects, and some of them are, I believe, vegetarian."

"Are vampire bats found here?"

"I do not think so; I fancy that they inhabit Java and other islands in the Malay Archipelago. However, they are certainly rare, wherever they come from, and you can dismiss them altogether from your mind."

"I was glad when I heard your voices, señors," Maria said when she appeared a quarter of an hour later. "I knew they would not hurt me; but I was horribly frightened, and wrapped myself up in my blanket and lay there till I heard you talking, and I heard the logs thrown on the fire; then I felt that it was all right."

"I don't suppose they will come again, Maria."

After drinking a cup of coffee, with a small piece of maize cake, Bertie said:

"What is the programme for to-day?"

"We can't do much till Dias comes back. We may as well go down and have a look at the lower rooms. I don't think there is much dust on the floor there, but while José is away looking after the mules we will cut enough bushes to make a couple of brooms. We shall want the place swept as clean as possible, so that we can look about, but I don't think there is the least chance of our being able to move the stones. Before we do anything we will go down to the pool and have a swim, and dive out through the entrance and have a look at those rocks."

"That is right," Bertie said. "I was longing for one yesterday morning, but of course the first thing to be done was to examine this place."

"Would it be safe for me to bathe, señor?"

"Quite safe, Maria; the slope is very gradual, and you need have no fear of getting out of your depth suddenly. We will be off at once, Bertie."

CHAPTER XVII

AT WORK

Harry and his brother went to the edge of the pool, where they undressed and waded out. They found that the bottom of the passage sloped more gradually at the edge of the water than it did higher up, and they were able to walk out till they came to the point where the roof dipped into the water. They dived, and in a few strokes came up beyond the roof.

"This is glorious!" Bertie said. "We have often bathed in pools, but this is a different thing altogether. It is more than a year since we had our last dip in the sea, the day we arrived at Callao."

Although there was little or no wind, the rollers were breaking on the line of rocks outside, pouring over the lower points in volumes of foam, and coming in broken waves up the passage.

"We mustn't go beyond the point, Bertie, or we may be dashed against the foot of the cliff. We will climb up that rock to the left; it is not too steep, and I think we can manage it. From there we shall get a good view of this side of the house and of the situation in general."

It required considerable care to climb the rocks, and more than once they hurt their feet on sharp projections. The top of the rock, however, was smooth by the action of time and sea, and they were able to sit down on it in comfort.

"The castle is just as you described it, Bertie; and certainly no one sailing past, however close he came outside these rocks, would be able to detect it. No doubt the stone of which it is built is the same as that of the cliffs. Most likely it was taken from the ravine where the passage now is, and had fallen from the arch above. It might have been more noticeable at first, but now it is weathered into exactly the same tint as the cliffs. The openings are very dodgily placed, and a stranger would not dream that they went many inches in. Now, from where we stand we can look up into that curious opening on the top story. I have been puzzling over that ever since I saw it, but can't think of any possible reason for its having been cut like that, except to enable them to throw stones on to any boat that came into this passage behind the rocks; and yet that can hardly have been the case, for, as I remarked, there are no stones piled up there. Certainly they had a very large number of arrows, but stones would be very much more useful than arrows against a boat almost under their feet. However, that does not concern us now. This line of rocks must greatly aid in hiding the house from the sea. They are higher than you thought they were, looking down at them from above. We are quite thirty feet above the water, and at two or three points they are at least ten or twelve feet higher. Of course a short way out no one would be able to see that they were detached from the cliff, or that there was any passage whatever behind them.

"Besides, they break the force of the waves. If it was not for them it would be impossible for any boat to come up close to the face of the house, and a heavy storm might even break down the wall altogether. A tremendous sea would roll in here in a westerly gale; and if it hadn't been for these rocks it would have been necessary to build the lower part of the house absolutely solid to resist the sea. It is possible that the


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