The mysterious loss of a large portion of the treasure of the Incas has never been completely cleared up. By torturing the natives to whom the secret had been entrusted, the Spaniards made two or three discoveries, but there can be little doubt that these finds were only a small proportion of the total amount of the missing hoards, although for years after their occupation of the country the Spaniards spared no pains and hesitated at no cruelty to bring to light the hidden wealth. The story of the boat which put to sea laden with treasure is historical, and it was generally supposed that she was lost in a storm that took place soon after she sailed. It was also morally certain that the Peruvians who left the country when the Spaniards became masters carried off with them a very large amount of treasure into that part of South America lying east of Peru. Legends are current that they founded a great city there, and that their descendants occupy it at the present time. But the forests are so thick, and the Indian tribes so hostile, that the country has never yet been explored, and it may be reserved for some future traveller, possessing the determination of my two heroes, to clear up the mystery of this city as they penetrated that of the lost treasure-ship. It need hardly be said that the state of confusion, misrule, and incessant civil wars which I have described as prevailing in Peru presents a true picture of the country at the period in which this story is laid.
G. A. HENTY.
Two men were sitting in the smoking-room of a London club. The room was almost empty, and as they occupied arm-chairs in one corner of it, they were able to talk freely without fear of being overheard. One of them was a man of sixty, the other some five or six and twenty.
“I must do something,” the younger man said, “for I have been kicking my heels about London since my ship was paid off two years ago. At first, of course, it didn’t matter, for I have enough to live upon; but recently I have been fool enough to fall in love with a girl whose parents would never dream of allowing her to marry a half-pay lieutenant of the navy with no chance in the world of getting employed again, for I have no interest whatever.”
“It is an awkward case certainly, Prendergast,” the other said; “and upon my word, though I sympathize with you, I cannot blame Fortescue. He is not what you might call a genial man, but there is no doubt that he was a splendid lawyer and a wonderful worker. For ten years he earned more than any man at the bar. I know that he was twice offered the solicitor-generalship, but as he was making two or three times the official salary, he would not take it. I believe he would have gone on working till now had he not suddenly come in for a very fine estate, owing to the death, in the course of two or three years, of four men who stood between him and it. Besides, I fancy he got hints that in the general opinion of the bar he had had a wonderfully good innings, and it was about time that younger men had a share in it. What his savings were I do not know, but they must be very large. His three sons are all at the bar, and are rising men, so there was no occasion for him to go on piling up money for them. But, as I say, he has always had the reputation of being a hard man, and it is practically certain that he would never allow his daughter to marry a man whom he would regard as next door to a pauper. Now, what are you thinking of doing?”
“Well, sir, Miss Fortescue has agreed to wait for me for two years, and of course I am eager to do something, but the question is what? I can sail a ship, but even could I get the command of a merchantman, it would not improve my position in the eyes of the parents of the lady in question. Now, you have been knocking about all over the world, I do wish you would give me your advice. Where is there money to be got? I am equally ready to go to the North Pole or the Equator, to enter the service of an Indian prince, or to start in search of a treasure hidden by the old bucaneers.”
“You talk Spanish, don’t you?”
“Yes; all my service has been in the Mediterranean. We were two years off the coast of Spain, and in and out of its ports, and as time hung heavily on our hands, I got up the language partly to amuse myself and partly to be able to talk fluently with my partners at a ball.”
The elder man did not speak for a minute or two.
“You have not thought of South America?” he said at last.
“No, Mr. Barnett; I don’t know that I have ever thought of one place more than another.”
The other was again silent.
“I don’t think you could do better anywhere,” he said slowly. “It is a land with great possibilities; at any rate it is a land where you could be understood, and of course it would be folly to go anywhere without a knowledge of the language. I was, as you know, five years out there, and came home when the war broke out between Chili and the Spaniards. I have been more in Peru than in Chili, and as Peru was still in the hands of the Spanish, it would have been impossible for me to go there again as long as the war lasted. Knocking about as I did, I heard a great deal from the natives (I mean the Indians). I gathered from them a number of their traditions, and I am convinced that they know of any number of gold mines that were formerly worked, but were blocked up when the Spaniards invaded the country, and have been kept secret ever since.
“The natives have never spoken on the subject at all to the Spaniards. If they had, they would have been flogged until they revealed all they knew — that is to say, they would have been flogged to death, for no tortures will wring from an Indian anything he knows about gold. They look upon that metal as the source of all the misfortunes that have fallen upon their race. With an Englishman whom they knew and trusted, and who, as they also knew, had no wish whatever to discover gold mines, they were a little less reticent. I never asked them any questions on a subject in which I had not a shadow of interest, but I certainly had some curiosity, not of a pecuniary kind, because the matter had always been a riddle as to the hiding-place of the Incas’ treasures. And from what I learned I should say it is absolutely certain that a great portion of these escaped the search of their Spanish tyrants.
“Whether the men who were employed in the work all died without revealing the secret, or whether it had been trusted to a chosen few, I know not; but the natives believe that there are still a few among them to whom the secret has been passed down from father to son. Anyhow, all had heard vague traditions. Some said that part of the treasure was carried hundreds of miles inland and given over to a tribe of fierce savages, in a country into which no European can enter. Another tradition is that a portion of it was carried off by sea in a great canoe, which was never heard of again and was believed to have been lost. I am not for a moment supposing, Prendergast, that if you went out there you would have the most remote chance of discovering what the Spaniards, ever since they landed there, have been in vain trying to find, and I certainly should not think of recommending a mad-brained adventure, but undoubtedly there are many rich gold mines yet to be found. There are openings for trade, too; and I can give you introductions to merchants both in Chili and Peru. It is not a thing I should recommend to everyone, far from it; but if you want to combine adventure with a chance, however small, of making money, I don’t know that you can do better than go to South America. You are fitted for no calling here; your income, counting your half-pay, would suffice to keep you out there, and a couple of years of such a life would do you no harm.”
“It is just what I should like,” the young man said enthusiastically; “though I don’t know how I should set to work if I did find a mine.”
“You would have to bring home specimens, with particulars of the width of the lode. Of course you would crush pieces up and wash them yourself, or get your Indian to wash them; that would give you an approximate idea of the percentage of gold. If it were rich, I could introduce you to men who would advance money for working it, giving you a share of the profits. They would send out a mining expert with you. He would verify your report, and then you would take up the concession. I don’t know whether there have been any changes in the regulations, but there is no difficulty in learning how to proceed from one or other of the men to whom I will give you introductions. The thing would not be worth thinking of were it not that the man who always went with me as guide and muleteer is an Indian, and has, I am convinced, a knowledge of some of these places. He was with me all the time I was out there. I saved his life when a puma sprang upon him, and he more than once hinted that he could make me a rich man, but I had no inclination that way, my income being sufficient for all my wants. Still, on the chance that he is alive — and he was about thirty when he was with me fifteen years ago, so it is probable that he is still to the fore — I will give you a letter to him telling him that you are a dear friend of mine, and that I trust to him to do any service he can for you just as he would have done for myself. Had it not been for that I should never have mentioned the matter to you. These old mines are the dream of every Peruvian. They have been searching for them ever since the conquest of the country, and as they have failed, it is absurd to think that an Englishman would have the slightest chance of lighting upon a mine, still less of finding any of the Incas’ treasures. But with the Indian’s aid it is just possible that you may find something, though I should advise you most strongly not to build in any way upon the chance. I consider that you cannot possibly win Miss Fortescue; that being so, two years of knocking about will not make your position worse, and by the time you come back, you may have ceased to struggle against fate. It will afford you a remote — but distinctly remote — opportunity of bettering your position, will give you something else to think about besides that young lady’s charms, and you may even come to recognize that life is, after all, possible without her. You may shake your head, lad; but you know children cry for the moon sometimes, yet afterwards come to understand that it would not be a desirable plaything.”
“Well, at any rate, Mr. Barnett, I am extremely obliged for your suggestion and for your offer of introductions. It is just the life that I should enjoy thoroughly. As you say, the chance that anything will come of it is extremely small, but at least there is a possibility, and I take it as a drowning man catches at a straw.”
“By the way, you mustn’t think only of gold; silver is, after all, the chief source of the riches of Peru, and there are numbers of extraordinarily rich mines. It is calculated that three hundred millions have been produced since the first occupation by the Spaniards. Quicksilver is also very abundant; copper and lead are found too, but there is not much to be done with them at present, owing to the cost of carriage. There is good shooting in the mountains on the eastern side of the Andes, and you will find plenty of sport there.”
They talked over the matter for some time before they separated, and Harry Prendergast became quite excited over it. On his return to his rooms he was astonished to find the candles alight and a strong smell of tobacco pervading the place. A lad of about sixteen leapt from the easy-chair in which he had been sitting, with his feet on another.
“Hullo, Harry, I didn’t expect you back so soon! The maid said you were dining out, and I suppose that generally means one o’clock before you are back.”
“Well, what brings you here, Bert? I thought I had got you off my hands for a year at least.”
“I thought so, myself,” the lad said coolly; “but circumstances have been too strong for me. We were running down the Channel the night before last, when a craft that was beating up ran smack into us. I don’t know that it was his fault more than ours; the night was dark, and it was very thick, and we did not see each other until she was within a length of us. Luck was against us; if she had been a few seconds quicker we should have caught her broadside, but as it was she rammed us, knocking a hole in our side as big as a house, and we had just time to jump on board her. Our old craft went down two minutes after the skipper, who was of course the last man, left her. The other fellow had stove his bow in. Luckily we were only about a couple of miles off Dungeness, and though she leaked like a sieve, we were able to run her into the bay, where she settled down in two and a half fathoms of water. As soon as it was light we landed and tramped to Dover. A hoy was starting for the river that evening, and most of us came up in her, arriving at the Pool about three hours ago. It is a bad job, Harry, and I am horribly put out about it. Of course nothing could be saved, and there is all the new kit you bought for me down at the bottom. I sha’n’t bother you again; I have quite made up my mind that I shall ship before the mast this time, and a five-pound note will buy me a good enough outfit for that.”
“We need not talk about that now, Bertie. You are certainly an unlucky beggar; this is the second time you have been wrecked.”
“It is a frightful nuisance,” the boy said. “It is the kit I am thinking of, otherwise I should not mind. I didn’t care for the skipper. He seemed all right and decent enough before we started, but I soon heard from fellows who had sailed with him before that he was a tartar; and what was worse, they said he was in the habit of being drunk two nights out of three. However, that has nothing to do with it. I am really awfully sorry, Harry. You have been a thundering good elder brother. I hated to think that you had to shell out last time, and I have quite made up my mind that you sha’n’t do it again.”
“Well, it cannot be helped; it is no fault of yours; still, of course, it is a nuisance. Thank God that no harm has come to you, that is the principal thing. Now, sit down and go on with your pipe, you young monkey. I did not think you had taken to smoking.”
“One has to,” the lad said, “everyone else does it; and there is no doubt that, when you have got the middle watch on cold nights with foul winds, it is a comfort.”
“Well, go on smoking,” his brother said. “I will light up too. Now shut your mouth altogether. I want to think.”
They were silent for fully ten minutes, then Harry said;
“I told you about that business of mine with Miss Fortescue.”
Bertie grinned all over his face, which, as he sat, was not visible to his brother. Then with preternatural gravity he turned towards him.
“Yes, you told me about it; an uncomfortable business wasn’t it? — surly old father, lovely daughter, and so on.”
“I will pull your ear for you, you young scamp,” Harry said wrathfully, “if you make fun of it; and I have a good mind not to say what I was going to.”
“Say it, Harry, don’t mind my feelings,” the lad said. “You can’t say I did not stand it well when I was here last week, and gave you no end of sympathy. Go ahead, old fellow; I dare say I shall be taken bad some day, and then I shall be able to make allowances for you.”
“I’ll have nothing more to say to you, you young imp.”
“Don’t say that, Harry,” the lad said in a tone of alarm. “You know how sympathizing I am, and I know what a comfort it is for you to unburden yourself; but I do think that it won’t be necessary to go into personal descriptions, you know, or to tell me what you said to her or she said to you, because you told me all that ten days ago, also what her tyrannical old father said. But really seriously I am awfully sorry about it all, and if there is anything that I can possibly do for you I shall be only too pleased. I don’t see that it would be any advantage for me to go and give the old gentleman my opinion of him; but if you think it would, and can coach me in some of his sore points, we might see how we could work upon them.”
“I always thought you were a young ass, Bertie,” Harry said sternly, “but I have not realized before how utterly assified you are.”
“All right, Harry!” the lad said cheerfully; “hit me as hard as you like, under the circumstances I feel that I cannot kick.”
Harry said nothing for another five minutes.
“This is a serious matter,” he said at last, “and I don’t want any tomfoolery.”
“All right, Harry! I will be as serious as a judge.”
“I am thinking of going away for two years.”
The lad turned half round in his chair and had a good look at his brother.
“Where are you going to?” seeing by Harry’s rather gloomy face that he was quite in earnest.
“I believe I am going to Peru.”
“What are you going there for, Harry?” the lad said quietly.
“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.”
“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.”