Manco, the Peruvian Chief, An Englishman's Adventures in the Country of the Incas, by W.H.G. Kingston.
Here is another Kingston novel about South America. As usual he makes the point that the Spaniards were very cruel, especially in the way they oppressed the Indian tribes.
The family in the story are English, and they get pulled into helping an Inca chieftain, Manco, in his flight from the Spaniards. This seems to mirror several other books by Kingston. There is always a long trek overland, the point of which usually eludes me, but which gives rise to all sorts of difficult situations, with Spaniards, with serpents, with dangerous bridges, with rafts on rivers and so forth. Dated 1853 this must be one of Kingston's earliest books, and certainly one of the earliest with this theme: the style is impeccable. This edition is probably some years later, since there is an inscription in the version I used dated 1900, and it might have been tidied up if it needed it.
It makes a good audiobook, though not a very long one, at 11 hours 30 minutes.
Enjoy reading the book or listening to it.
MANCO, THE PERUVIAN CHIEF, AN ENGLISHMAN'S ADVENTURES IN THE COUNTRY OF THE INCAS, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
MY FAMILY AND HOME—WE CONCEAL A FUGITIVE INDIAN.
It was evening. The sun had just set beneath the waters of the Pacific, which could be distinguished in the far distance; and the whole western sky, undimmed by a cloud, was burning with a radiant glow of splendour such as to the eyes of the untutored Peruvians might well appear an emanation from the Deity they worshipped.
I was looking out, with others of my family, from the windows of the country house we inhabited, on the glorious spectacle. We were residing in Peru, that romantic region with which the name of the conqueror Pizarro must be for ever associated—the kingdom of the once powerful and enlightened Incas, on the western shore of South America. At the time of which I speak, however, its greatness, its prosperity and happiness, had passed away; it was a mere province of Old Spain, and governed by a viceroy sent from that country, while the race of its ancient sovereigns, though still existing, was humbled and disregarded, and almost unknown.
My parents were English, and England was my native land. My father, Mr Henry Rexton, had been a soldier in his youth; but when he married my mother, who was the daughter of an eminent British merchant, he quitted the army; and my grandfather induced him, by advantageous offers, to take a share in his house of business. The firm traded with Peru; and certain mercantile transactions of importance requiring for a time the superintendence of a partner, my father and mother went out there, taking with them me and a younger sister, their only children then born. Year after year unexpected circumstances occurred which compelled them, much against their wish, to remain in the country; and well do I remember how frequently in our family circle the subject of conversation was the happiness we expected to enjoy on returning home. On first going to Peru, we resided in Lima, the modern capital; but at length the heat of the climate affecting my mother's health, in the hopes of it being restored by a cooler atmosphere, my father engaged a house in the country, at a considerable distance from the city. It was situated among the lower ranges of the lofty Cordilleras, one of those mighty ranges of mountains which stretches from one end to the other of the South American continent, the eastern portion of them being more properly known by the name of the Andes.
Our house stood on a level spot on the summit of a spur of the main chain. To the east behind it rose range above range of mountains, the more distant towering to the sky, and covered with eternal snows. On either side other spurs stretched out far towards the west, forming deep gorges below us; while along the side of the ridge on which the house was situated ran a narrow road, one of the few paths in that neighbourhood, penetrating among the mountains into the regions on the eastern side. From our windows westward, over a wide extent of broken ground among the mounds, many of which might in other countries be called mountains, would be seen the fertile plains of Peru stretching away to the ocean, distinguished on clear days by a silvery line in the horizon. The house was of one floor only, and built of brick and tiled. The rooms were large and numerous, and it was surrounded by a court-yard. It was of ancient construction, indeed it appeared to have been built originally for a fortification to command the pass through the mountains; but the outer walls had fallen into decay or been pulled down, though it still retained enough of its former character to enable it to be speedily prepared to resist any sudden attack by undisciplined forces destitute of artillery. Around it were plantations of olive and orange trees, on the slopes near it were vineyards, and on the level spaces fields of maize or Indian corn, and many trees and plants of a temperate clime. At the bottom of the ravine rushed a broad and powerful stream, fed by the snows of the neighbouring mountains; and on its banks, in a wider part, some little way to the west, was a large village inhabited chiefly by Indians, the descendants of the hapless race conquered by the Spaniards. In the neighbourhood, on the other side of the river, was a silver mine, in working which many of the inhabitants of the village were employed.
My father's house had, I believe, advanced money to the owners; and this was one of the reasons which made him select the locality for his temporary residence, besides its peculiar healthiness and beauty. He was a firm friend to the Indians, for he pitied their hard fate; and he endeavoured by every means in his power to mitigate their sufferings under the cruel tyranny to which, even at that time, they were subjected. As he did not own the mine, he could not prevent their strength from being often overtaxed; but having some knowledge of medicine, he used to prescribe for them when they were sick, and he to the best of his means relieved them when overtaken by poverty, so that they all learned to love and reverence the English stranger who had come among them. His conduct was uninfluenced by any expectation of a return, but he afterwards had reason to know that the despised Indians were not ungrateful for his kindness. My father was a true Christian, who looked upon all men helpless or suffering, whatever their hue, or race, or religion, as brothers, whom it was his duty to aid and protect. He received his reward; and my belief is, that no person ever performs a good disinterested action without being rewarded for it even in this world. I, at all events, have met with numerous instances which tend to show that such is the case. The means of crossing the river to the mines was by a large hanging bridge, called by the Spaniards "Puente de Soga," which could be seen from the windows of our house. On either side of the river, some fifty feet above the water, stout posts were driven into the steep bank, to which four ropes, formed of twisted cow-hides the thickness of a man's arm, were fastened. These ropes were laid parallel to each other, a few feet apart; and were again fastened by thinner ropes laid transversely, and forming a sort of network. On this foundation were spread roots of the Agave tree, branches of trees, straw, and earth, so that even beasts of burden could walk across. On either side of the bridge, and about three feet above it, two other ropes were carried across to serve as a balustrade; but as it had sunk in the middle, and the ropes were very slack, it frequently swung from side to side as passengers went across, in a most terrific way. It formed a very picturesque object in the landscape.
I have now given a sufficiently full description of our house and the scenery surrounding it, to enable my readers to form a tolerably correct idea of the picture I wish to present to them.
At the time when the adventures I have resolved to narrate commenced, I had just attained my fifteenth year. I looked older, for I had grown rapidly in that warm climate; and, accustomed to exercise and athletic sports, I was of a well-knit strong frame, and had a very manly appearance, though possessed of the light hair and complexion of the Saxon race, somewhat tanned, however, by constant exposure to the sun. My brothers and sisters, for I had several, all bore the same marked characteristics of our Northern ancestors, contrasting strongly with the swarthy hue on the countenances of the people among whom we lived. They used to call us the fair-haired children of the North; and from the love and respect with which they regarded us, I believe they associated us in their minds with the revered race whom their traditions told them once ruled the country with paternal sway—the family of the fallen Incas.
I shall have to tell more fully, in the course of my narrative, the beautiful legend, for so I may call it, regarding the origin of the Incas; how they appeared suddenly among the ignorant inhabitants of Peru, claiming to be the children of the Sun, and, gathering their scattered tribes together, formed them into one people, and gave them laws and institutions, and brought peace and prosperity to the land, which continued till the Spaniards arrived, and, with unexampled treachery and cruelty, overthrew their monarchy and reduced the people to abject slavery and misery. The Indians around us were nominally Roman Catholics; but though they conformed openly to the ordinances of that Church, and partly believed in the power assumed by its priests, they pertinaciously retained many of the superstitions of their ancestors, and practised their rites in secret.
Having given a brief account of my family, and their position in the country, I must begin to unwind the thread of my Tale. We were seated, as I have said, in our sitting-room, gazing on one of the most magnificent of Nature's spectacles—the setting sun. The younger children were playing about the room, while my sister Lilly and I, with our father and mother, were seated near the open window. We were talking, I well remember, about our distant home, when our conversation was interrupted by seeing a man leap over the wall of the court-yard, and rapidly approach the house.
"Who can he be? What brings him here?" exclaimed my mother, while my father rose to make inquiries on the subject.
Scarcely had she spoken, when the door was thrown open, and the person we had seen rushed into the room. He was a tall man, of well-knit, active frame, and though he looked travel-stained and weary, there was something in his appearance and manner which betokened that he was not an ordinary being. His complexion was dark, though scarcely darker than that of a Spaniard; but the contour of his features and the expression of his countenance showed that he belonged to the Indian race. His dress was simple, consisting of a pair of trowsers, and a shirt of the cotton cloth of the country, of a dark blue colour; a poncho of alpaca wool covered his shoulders, while a sash was fastened round his waist, and his feet were protected by sandals, fastened on by leather thongs. He threw himself on the ground before my father, who went to meet him, and taking his hand, he looked up imploringly in his face.
"Save me, Senor!" he exclaimed in Spanish, "you have the power if you will venture to do it. I am flying from what they call justice—the tyranny of our cruel task-masters. If I am captured, my death is certain. You are noble and generous, and I throw myself on your mercy."
The appeal thus made, with all the energy of despair, was difficult to resist. My father's feelings were enlisted on the side of the fugitive; but he looked round at my mother and us, who now stood grouped about him, and remembered the difficulties to which we might be exposed, should he yield to the promptings of his heart, from the anger of the Spanish authorities. The Indian divined his thoughts.
"You run no danger," he continued. "Far be it from me to cause you to suffer for your charity. No one saw me approach your house; neither did your servants observe me enter it. I was on my way through the mountains to the far interior, but not daring to enter any house for food and rest, I felt that my strength was forsaking me, and that I could not hope to combat with the difficulties of the road. If you cannot shelter me, noble Senor, either I must die from fatigue, or be captured by my enemies."
"Of what crime have you been guilty, that you thus seek to fly from justice?" asked my father.
"Of no crime, Senor, believe me," replied the Indian in a proud tone, rising to his feet as he spoke. "Of no crime in the sight of Heaven, or even of men, if they had regard to justice. I was selected for the hated Meta, I, a descendant of the great Incas, was ordered to work as a slave—a Pongo in the house of a sub-delegado, a man noted for his crimes and cruelty. I refused to perform the disgraceful office—I was dragged there by force—with a thong he endeavoured to frighten me into performing the work he ordered. His rage surpassed all bounds; he struck me again and again. Was I tamely to submit? My dormant spirit was aroused. I at length struck him again; and when he rushed at me in his fury, I felled him to the ground. I attempted to fly, but I was captured ere I could do so, and was borne off to prison, there to await my doom, which would have been death. My name was unknown. They thought I was an humble Indian; but some of my race were at hand, and, aided by them, I effected my escape from prison. My friends could not conceal me, and my only course was instant flight into the mountains."
"Let us shelter him, Henry," exclaimed my mother, in English; "Heaven surely will not allow us to suffer injury from doing what is right."
The Indian at once comprehended by her looks that she was pleading his cause.
"May the blessing of the God of my fathers light on you and yours!" he cried, kneeling at her feet.
My father thought as she did; but he had learned not to give way on a sudden to the impulse of his feelings, and he wished to ascertain that the Indian was not deceiving him before he promised his protection.
"Who are you?" he asked; "though your tale, alas! is too probable to be doubted."
"I am one who would not be guilty of a falsehood to save my life," answered the Indian proudly; "I am the cousin of the Cacique Tupac Amaru, the rightful heir of the last Inca of Peru. You see in me one of the children of the Sun; and though the blood of the conquerors of my country is mixed in my veins, I feel that of my fathers still burning strongly within me. I had heard of your charity and kindness to my people; and for long I have known you, hoping some day to repay you; but I see that you fear my presence might risk the safety of your family, and I will not trespass on you. Give me but some food to sustain my wearied body, and I will depart."
My father took the stranger's hand. "You shall not go," he said. "I will trust you, and at all hazards I will endeavour to conceal you till your strength is recruited. David," he continued, speaking to me, "see that the servants do not come into this part of the house till I have concealed this poor fellow; and remember, children, do none of you on any account speak of what has occurred. Now, my friend," he added, turning to the Indian, "follow me; I trust in the truth of your story, and will endeavour to preserve you from injury."
While I went out to the end of the passage to send any of the domestics back who might by chance have been coming to that part of the house, my father led the Indian to a large unfurnished room, which the children used as a play-room in rainy weather. At one end was a deep recess in the wall, with a door to it, and from the recess a narrow flight of steps led to a vault of considerable depth, from whence there was a passage to the side of the mountains. In the roof of the chamber there was a small trap-door, through which a thin ladder conducted to the roof of the house. It had evidently been constructed when the building was used as a fortification, and was probably intended to enable the garrison to make a sudden sortie on the enemy at an unexpected point. The outside entrance was blocked up by rubbish overgrown with vegetation; and my father had caused a strong door to be placed to the vault, to prevent any intruder, who might by chance have found his way through it, from entering the house. He always kept the keys himself; and as no one ever thought of wishing to enter the recess, a securer place for the concealment of the fugitive could not have been found. Our evening meal was, fortunately, spread in the parlour, so that we were able to supply our guest with the refreshment he so much required, without exciting the suspicion of the servants. I must remark that several of them, of the higher class, were Spanish, though the rest were Indians; and though we believed them to be honest and faithful, my father did not consider it right to trust them with a secret which might compromise them as well as himself and all his family.
He was very sensible, even as it was, of the risk that he was running; but he had resolved, at all hazards, to preserve the unfortunate man who had thrown himself on his protection. While I kept watch, my mother collected some bedding, and took it into the closet; so that in a few minutes our guest was made as comfortable as circumstances could allow. He ate sparingly of the food placed before him, and then, expressing his deep gratitude for the protection afforded him, he threw himself on his couch, and sought the repose he so much needed. My father having secured the door, called me to him, and we all again assembled in the sitting-room as if nothing had occurred, till summoned by the servant to our evening meal. The arrival of the stranger had, however, an influence on my future fortunes.
While our servant Jose, who was a Spanish Creole, was waiting at table, I could not help looking into his face to try and discover if he suspected anything; but the look of perfect unconsciousness which his countenance bore reassured me. I was afraid also that the children might betray it to their nurses; but our mother had kept them carefully shut up in the sitting-room while our father was concealing the stranger, so that they were under the impression that he had gone away. Lilly and I were therefore the only ones in the secret.
When we retired to rest, all night long I dreamed of the unhappy descendant of the Inca who was beneath our roof. Some of the incidents of which I had read in Peruvian history were strongly mixed up in my mind with the reality, with the indistinctness which generally occurs in dreams.
I thought our guest was the mild and unfortunate Huascar, the rightful Inca of Peru, who was a prisoner in the hands of his fierce brother Atahualpa when the Spaniards attacked Peru with their small but determined band of robber-warriors. I thought I was aiding Huascar to escape from among his brother's army. We had passed the guards, who were fast asleep, when we came to a broad river. We attempted to swim across, when I felt my strength failing me. Huascar was bravely buffeting the stream by my side. Suddenly the bank was lined with troops. They shouted to us, and let fly a cloud of arrows at the Inca. He stopped swimming. I endeavoured to drag him on; but as I grasped at him he sank below the water. The shouts grew louder. I awoke. The noise was real, for I heard the voices of some men calling in Spanish at the court-yard gate, and desiring to be let in.
I trembled with alarm; for I at once suspected that the strangers must be the emissaries of government come in search of our guest. I jumped up and began to dress myself, intending to go out to inquire who they were; but before I had left my room I heard Jose, the servant, hold a parley with them at the gate.
"Who are you," he asked, "who come at this unreasonable hour to disturb a quiet family?"
"Open in the king's name, and we will let you know," was the answer he received.
"I must get my master's leave first, and he is fast asleep," he replied.
"We are government officers in search of a fugitive malefactor, and are benighted on our road; so you must awake your master whoever he is, and he will not refuse to give us shelter," they exclaimed.
I now went out to join Jose. He was afraid they were robbers; and I suspected that they by some means knew that the fugitive was harboured in the house, and only made this a pretext to gain an entrance. Fortunately my father was not awakened by the noise, or he might have had more difficulty than had the servant in answering the questions put by the officers of justice. Opening a slide in the gate through which he could look out, Jose let the light of the lantern fall on the strangers, and the inspection convinced him that they were what they represented themselves to be.
"Be quick there," said the strangers, "for we have but a short time to rest, and we must speedily be again on our road."
"What shall I do, Master David?" said Jose. "If we do not let them in they will batter down the door; but still I do not like to disturb the Senor Rexton. They do not look like robbers, so it is all right." With the knowledge that the Indian concealed in the house was in all probability the fugitive the officers were seeking, I felt that it was all wrong, and would have given much to have kept them out; but still I saw that it would be equally dangerous to attempt to do so. My heart all the time was beating audibly with agitation; and I was afraid that even Jose would suspect the secret. However, I replied, "Let them in, Jose, by all means, and do you attend to what they require."
He accordingly withdrew the bolts and bars of the gate, and two chief officers—alguazils they are called—and four subordinates made their appearance.
Two of them remained without to take care of their horses. They were all fierce, rough-looking fellows, armed with muskets, pistols in their belts, and swords by their sides. The officers of justice (though I do not think the name is a proper one) were often pardoned banditti, cut-throats and robbers of the blackest dye, who were glad to accept the office as an alternative for the garotte; and I believe our visitors were of that description. The inferiors were Mestizos, half Indian and half Spaniards by descent, with dark brown complexions and savage countenances—altogether gentlemen of a very unprepossessing appearance. They were accompanied by a dog, a huge, savage-looking hound, whom they called by the very ugly name of Demonio. If he was a bloodhound, as at first I thought he was, I felt that the detection of the Indian would be certain.
"You were a long time opening the gate, friend," observed, one of them as they strode into the house. "You took us for robbers, I suppose?"
"O no, Senor, not at all," said Jose; "but a servant should not let strangers into the house without his master's leave."
"Is that young senor your master then?" inquired the alguazil.
"He is my master's son; my master is Senor Rexton, an Englishman, and he is fast asleep," said Jose.
"Well, you need not disturb him then; all we want is food and shelter for the night," replied the alguazil. "Be quick with the former, some straw and blankets will serve us for beds. While, hark you, do you send some one to show the way to the stables, that our beasts may be looked after; they require food as much as we do."
"All shall be done you request, Senores; in the mean time, follow me," said Jose; and what was my dismay to see him lead the way to the large empty room I have spoken of, close to which the Indian was concealed! I dared not interfere, lest I might excite their suspicions; so I thought it best to let Jose follow his own course. Having dragged in a table from one of the other rooms, he placed a lighted candle on it, and then hurried off to call up some of the other servants to help him, leaving me alone with the officers. I was afraid of speaking to them, lest they should ask me questions; so I made signs that the servant would quickly return with what they required. I dared not even look towards the door of the secret passage, to which every instant I expected to see some of them go for the purpose of examining it. However, somewhat to my relief, they seemed not to notice the door, but throwing themselves on the ground, stretched out their limbs to rest themselves, while their hound Demonio crouched down at their feet with his head between his fore-paws, ready to spring up in a moment. I saw by the glare of his half-closed eyes that he was all the time wide awake, and eager to spring upon any one who might molest him or his masters.
My anxiety made me fancy that Jose was a long time absent, but he had really been away only a few minutes, when he returned with another servant, bringing a supply of bread and meat, and wine. Some chairs were carried into the room; and the officers being joined by their companions, they attacked the viands with a good will. Had Jose been in the secret, he might have betrayed it, but his perfectly collected manner gave no cause for suspicion.
"You do not chance to have seen or heard anything of an Indian, an atrocious villain who has escaped from justice, and is supposed to have taken the path by this up the mountains?" asked one of the officers.
O how my heart did beat as I heard this! Jose assured them with an air of perfect disembarrassment that he knew nothing of any Indian fugitive. His answers seemed to satisfy them. He next brought in some bundles of straw and blankets to serve as bedding.
"There, Senores, I hope that you will make yourselves at home, and sleep soundly after your supper," he observed, as he deposited them in different parts of the room.
"No fear of it, friend; we will not forget your hospitality," said the chief alguazil, as he helped himself to a large tumbler of wine.
I was glad to see them apparently so well satisfied; but at the same time I thought I detected a sinister expression in the eye of the speaker, with which I was not altogether satisfied. The hound Demonio, too, gave me some uneasiness; for though he came back to catch the pieces of meat thrown to him by the officers, he employed himself meanwhile in snuffing round the room in a very suspicious manner. Jose stood quietly by to attend to their wants.
"Can I do anything more for you, Senores!" he asked.
"Another flask of this wine will not be objectionable, and a bundle of cigars would be welcome," answered the chief alguazil, laughing at the thought of the comfortable quarters into which he had fallen, and determined to make the most of them.
"Certainly, Senores; I am sure my master would not object to afford all you require," said Jose, going out to fetch what was asked for.
While he was absent, what was my horror to see the dog, who had now finished his meal, begin to snuff vehemently under the door of the secret passage, and then to work away with his paws, as if to try and open it! I turned pale with alarm, for I knew that all must be discovered; but still I thought it best to take no notice of the circumstance.
"What does the dog want there?" said one of the men.
"Rats are there, I suppose," remarked another, whose wits the wine had somewhat dulled.
"Demonio has a strange fancy for rats," said a third.
"Rats or not, I should like to have a look behind the door," observed the chief alguazil, as the dog's excitement increased.
I said nothing, and the officers seemed to fancy that I could not understand Spanish, so they did not trouble me with questions. Just then Jose returned.
"What is inside that door?" asked the chief alguazil abruptly.
"Nothing that I know of but an empty cupboard," he answered quietly. "The room is little used, so that I never saw it opened."
"Bring the key, and let us see," said the alguazil.
"I have not the key; and if there is one, my master must have it, and I cannot disturb him for such a fancy," replied Jose. "The dog smells a rat; there are many in the house, and he will soon be quiet."
But the dog would not be quiet, neither was the alguazil satisfied; and at last Jose was obliged to say that he would go and ask my father for the key. I followed him out of the room.
"Jose, I will go to my father and get the key, while you stay with the strangers," I said to him. "Give them plenty of wine, and amuse them as long as you can."
I hurried to my father's room to consult what was to be done; though I intended not to mention that the key had been asked for till he had come into the passage, as of course my mother would be very much alarmed at hearing of it.
I had got him out into the passage, and was mentioning the unwelcome arrival of the Spaniards in as calm a tone as I could command, when it struck me that I might prevent his being implicated in the secretion of the fugitive if I took the whole blame upon myself. I at last told him of the suspicions the behaviour of the horrid dog had aroused in the minds of the officers; and entreated him, by every argument I could think of, to let me manage the affair as best I could.
"They can scarcely inflict any severe punishment on me," I observed, "while they might drag you off to prison, and leave my mother and brother and sisters without a protector."
"I must take the consequences of what I have done," he returned. "At the same time I do not repent having endeavoured to save the poor fellow. The act was right, and that must be my consolation."
But I was not so easily to be turned aside from my purpose; and at last he consented to let me take the key, and to use it if driven so to do, while he remained in his room. I returned, as may be supposed, in no great hurry to the hall; and as I got close to it I heard, amid the loud talking of the Spaniards and Jose, who was doing his best to amuse them, the scratching and snarling of the savage brute at the door.
"My master is incapable of breaking the laws; that I can assure your Excellencies," I heard Jose say. "If the man you seek is inside there, he did not put him in, you may depend on it. If you find anything, it will be a rat or a little mouse, perhaps, for which all this fuss is to be made."
"What you say may be true, friend; but if the key is not brought we must break open the door," observed one of the Spaniards. "The dog is not a pure bloodhound; but he has enough of the race in him to know the difference between an Indian and a rat."
At last I thought it better to go in with the key. When I reached the door of the passage, the brute snarled at me savagely, and I fully believe would have sprung upon me and torn me limb from limb, had not his masters called him off. I trembled so with agitation that I could scarcely apply the key to the keyhole. Luckily the light did not fall on me, or it would have been perceived.
"Come, young Senor, be quick about it; somebody is in there—of that I can be sworn," exclaimed the alguazil.
"There, take the key yourself, and try and open it," I answered, hoping that as he did so the Indian would rush out and make his escape, though his chance was a forlorn one. The officer took the key; some of his men approached with lights, while others held their swords and pistols ready for use. Jose looked very much astonished, though in no way alarmed at the proceedings; but I knew too well what was about to be revealed. The door flew open, and the men and their hateful dog rushed in. The fate of the poor Indian was sealed, I thought. I followed, expecting to see them tearing him to pieces. What, then, was my astonishment and satisfaction to find not a trace of him remaining! The bedding, and even the dishes in which his food had been carried to him, were nowhere to be seen.
"There, I told you so," exclaimed Jose triumphantly, "there were nothing but rats."
But the dog was not so easily satisfied; and to my horror he rushed down the narrow flight of steps leading to the secret outlet. The door at the bottom I knew was locked, and I too justly feared that the Indian would be found there. The officers hesitated about descending; for as only one could go at a time, they saw that a determined man might kill them in detail, if so inclined; so they sent their inferiors forward to make the experiment. I stood by, waiting the result with increased anxiety; for I felt that if the Indian should kill some of the officers, the difficulties of our position would be still more increased. The dog led the way, and I hoped would be the only victim; the others followed very reluctantly. Some time passed; but still there was no sign of their having discovered the fugitive.
"Have you found the rat?" shouted Jose, laughingly, from above.
"Bring the key of the other door," thundered the alguazil in return from below. I had got it, but I did not say so.
"Of what door do you speak?" asked Jose, in real ignorance of the fact that there was a door. I was anxious to gain all the time possible, believing that the Indian must have made his escape through the passage; so I let them talk on till the alguazil peremptorily ordered me to open the door, threatening me with all sorts of pains and penalties if I refused to obey.
"I have heard that there is a long passage leading no one knows where," exclaimed Jose; "so, Senores, if you are going to explore it, you had better take some torches, or you may chance lose your way."
"Bring them here instantly," shouted the alguazil.
"If you are wise men you will amuse yourselves with the wine flasks while I go to prepare them," said Jose. The advice was too agreeable to be neglected, and I was very glad to see the men return and again seat themselves at the table. While they were drinking and Jose was absent, the dog however continued running up and down the steps, and smelling in every direction.
The officers seemed to enjoy their wine so much that I was in hopes that their suspicions were lulled, and at all events I rejoiced that the Indian would have more time afforded him for making his escape. Jose at last returned with the torches, which were composed of twisted straw dipped in pitch; and the chief officer descending with less caution than before, led the way, the rest following. At the bottom of the steps was a tolerably broad space, which enabled me to pass the men so as to reach the door, where the hound, snarling at me as I approached, stood ready to rush through at his prey as I supposed. How the Indian could have escaped, still, however, remained a mystery to me. After several attempts I succeeded in turning the rusty lock, and a dark passage cut through the solid rock opened before us. The wet dropped from the roof as we proceeded, and, combined with the noxious exhalations which proceeded from the farther end, almost extinguished the torches.
"It is folly in me accompanying these men," I thought to myself; and just then a recess appearing in the rock, I stepped into it and let the rest pass me. Jose was the last; I touched him as he reached me, and whispered to him to return.
He either did not hear me, or wished to watch the proceedings of the alguazil and his subordinates. As I had no torch, I groped my way with no little difficulty to the foot of the stairs, thinking Jose was following me. To my horror, just as I was about to ascend, I heard the low-muttered growl of the savage hound, and the next instant I found my leg seized in his jaws.
"Help, Jose, help!" I cried out, but not loud, lest the officers should hear me; "the brute will kill me else."
But Jose was not, as I supposed, at hand. I felt the dog moving his jaws higher up my leg, as if he evidently was about to pull me to the ground, while the pain he inflicted almost paralysed me. I certainly was no coward, but I shrieked in my agony. In another moment he would have mastered me, when, by the faint light which came through the door of the room above, I saw a dark figure spring down the steps. The dog let go his hold of me to fly at the new-comer but was met by the point of a sharp dagger, which pierced his breast, and uttering a low yell of pain and rage, the brute fell dead at my feet. The Indian—for my preserver was the fugitive—without speaking, assisted me in dragging the dog out of sight under the steps, and then whispering, "Say not a word about the dog, he will not be discovered," again sprung up the steps.
I followed him, fearing that the men in the room above would discover him. I caught sight of him as he ascended to the roof of the alcove, by means of a single rope which hung to the ground. In the roof was a trap-door, through which he disappeared, and closed it silently after him, having first drawn up the rope. Again going below, I met Jose, and told him that the dog was dead, charging him to ask no questions, and to say nothing about it.
I was much afraid lest the men should discover the dog; for the fact of his remaining near the stairs might make them suspect that the Indian was concealed near at hand. My trousers were fortunately only a little torn, though, as the brute's teeth had met in the calf of my leg, I felt a considerable amount of pain; but I did my best to conceal it, lest the men should accuse me of killing the dog. I might with truth have replied that I had not killed him, but they would then have asked who did, to which question I could not have replied. As the life of a fellow-being was at stake, I felt the importance of being very circumspect in everything I did.
When we returned to the room, the two men who had been left there inquired what had become of their comrades.
"Hunting rats or spirits, for they will find nothing else down there I am sure," answered Jose, unconcernedly. "They will be back soon, I warrant, after their fool's chase, begging your pardon, Senores."
His words were verified more speedily than he expected, for at that moment cries and shouts were heard, and the officers came tumbling up the steps as fast as their legs could carry them, with their hair almost standing on end, and their eye-balls starting from their heads. One had lost his cap, another his sword, and all their torches; they were also wet and dirty from scraping against the sides of the cavern. They declared that they had been set upon by a whole legion of demons, who had blown out their torches and attacked them with teeth and claws, so that they were glad to escape with their lives.
"For the love of heaven shut the door, or they will be up here after us!" shouted the last of the men, as he rushed into the room.
I, as may be supposed, hurried down with joyful alacrity to obey the order, and coming back without encountering any of the demons, closed the upper door after me.
"I said you were going on a fool's errand," said Jose; "your pardon for the remark, Senores. But let me fill up your glasses, the wine will soon make you forget your mishaps." The men were easily induced to apply the proposed remedy.
"But what has become of the dog?" asked the chief.
"Carried off by the demons," observed Jose.
"Let him go," growled one who was the most bruised and dirty. "He led us into the scrape, and deserves his fate; if it had not been for him, we should not have known of that horrid vault."
The chief, notwithstanding these remarks, ordered his men to go and look for the dog; but as he showed no readiness to set the example, none of the others would obey him, declaring that they would rather be shot at once than venture again among such horrors. I felt very much relieved at the turn events had taken. The Indian had escaped, the means of the bloodhound's death was not suspected, and the officers would probably at early dawn continue their search after the fugitive.
"Ask them if they wish to return to the vault; for if not, I will take the keys up to my father," I whispered to Jose.
"No, no," answered the men. "We have had enough of the vault, and demons, and monsters, and spirits it contains. Tell your master all we want is plenty of this good wine to keep them away."
Telling Jose to give them as much as they required and to keep a careful watch over them, I hurried back to my father to inform him that the danger was over.
"I never fear the consequence of having performed a good action, my boy," he replied; "yet we should be grateful to Providence for having preserved us from much suffering, both of mind and body. The poor Indian is for the present safe. I can guess the way he escaped; but we will talk on the matter more to-morrow. Now, David, go to your room and rest, for you look pale and fatigued."
I did not tell my father that the dog had bit me, though I should have been wiser had I done so, as he would have had proper remedies applied, had the wounds required them. Jose, however, soon after came into my room and fomented my leg with a mixture which he said was very efficacious in preventing inflammation from the bite of an animal. It at all events relieved me from the pain I was suffering; and when Jose left me to keep watch with the other servants on the officers, I threw myself on my bed in the hopes of obtaining some sleep. Whenever I dropped off, my mind recurred to the unfortunate descendant of the Incas, and the scenes I had just witnessed; and every instant I was jumping up, fancying I heard the shout of the officers as they discovered his place of concealment.
A JOURNEY AND THE ADVENTURES WE MET WITH.
I awoke to perfect consciousness (for I could scarcely be said to have been asleep all night) just as the first faint streaks of dawn were appearing in the sky; and hearing the voices of men, and the stamping of horses in the court-yard, I looked out of the window to learn what was occurring. At first my mind misgave me that the alguazil and his myrmidons had by some means seized the Indian; but as I scrutinised the dark forms which appeared in the cold grey light of the morning, I could not distinguish his among them.
The men mounted one after the other apparently in good humour, for Jose was there among the other servants with a huge flagon of wine to serve out to them the stirrup-cup at parting, a custom observed in most countries. It was a great relief to my mind when the gates were opened and I saw them fairly outside the walls. As the light increased, I watched them slowly winding along the steep path which led up the mountain, till they disappeared in a dark gorge which opened before them.
"You will have a long ride if you do not intend to halt till you have caught the fugitive in that direction," said I to myself, just as Jose entered.
"I have sent the rogues off in good humour," he observed. "Wine is a fine thing to raise the spirits, though to my mind last night they took enough to raise more than they expected—ha, ha, ha! They thought they were attacked by ghosts and goblins, when in reality only a number of bats flew out against them after the foul air had already damped their ardour. The place swarms with the vermin. By the by, if the Senor, my master, will give me the key of the vault, I will get up that beast of a dog, and bury him or hang him up to feed the condors."
I thought Jose suspected something, and said this to learn the truth. I was inclined to confide the secret to him, but I felt that I ought not to do so without my father's permission; so I answered that my father would give him the keys when he required them. When I met my father, he told me that I was right in not telling Jose, both for our sake as well as his own, though he was doubtless trustworthy.
I then asked him what had become of the Indian.
"He is safe on the roof," he replied. "I have just seen him; he tells me that he heard the alguazils arrive, and that at first he thought he was betrayed, especially when the dog began to snuff under the door. He soon, however, learned from their conversation that his presence was not suspected; but still, to make sure, he descended the stairs in the hopes of discovering a means of escape,—finding none, he ascended the ladder, and forcing open the trap-door, he got through to the roof. He then returned, when hearing the key asked for, he knew that his bedding would betray his having been there, so he carried everything up to the roof, lifting the ladder up after him. His doing so puzzled the dog, and saved him his life probably, and us from very considerable annoyance."
We afterwards met at breakfast, when Jose gave my father and mother a full account of all that occurred. My father having given the Indian notice to retire to the roof, the body of the hound was removed and buried, and the family resumed their usual routine of life. Either I or Lilly twice a day, when no one was observing us, carried food to the Indian. Upwards of a week had passed since his arrival, when he expressed a strong desire to resume his journey, saying that he thought by this time the search for him must be over. My father was very unwilling to let him go; but he assured us, that now his health and strength were completely restored, he had not the slightest fear of again falling into the hands of the Spaniards. All the provision he would accept was a little maize, and sufficient cacao to replenish his pouch. The cacao has been in use among the Peruvians from the earliest times. Its peculiar qualities enable those who take it to undergo great and continuous exertion, without any other food. It is a plant somewhat like the vine, and grows to about seven or eight feet in height. The leaves have a bitter flavour, and are aromatic. Among other qualities, they act as a sudorific, preserve the teeth, and prevent sleep. On first awaking in the morning, an Indian will put a quid of his favourite leaf into his mouth, and he performs the same operation three or four times in the day. To give it a relish he mixes a little pulverised unslacked lime, which he carries in a gourd for that purpose. He takes the lime out the gourd with a thin slip of damped wood, and conveys what adheres to it to his mouth. The operation of chewing is called chakchar. Many even of the whites indulge in it in secret, though it would be considered derogatory to chew in public, because the despised Indian does so.
The Peruvians, in their love and admiration for this plant, used to pay it a religious respect, and considered it the most grateful offering to the spirits they might wish to propitiate. It has certainly a most wonderful effect in sustaining nature; and I have known people undergoing great fatigue, exist four or five days, without tasting any other food, or suffering the slightest inconvenience. The ignorant conquerors, from observing the reverence paid by the Indians to cacao, fancied that it must possess some demoniacal properties, and not only refused to use it themselves, but endeavoured to prevent it being used by the natives; and a royal decree was actually issued, declaring that the idea entertained by the Indians that cacao gave them strength, is an "illusion of the devil." The mine-owners, however, perceived its importance in enabling the slaves to undergo fatigue; and its use, therefore, rather increased than diminished. It, however, excites the brain, somewhat as does opium, and thus its intemperate use for any length of time would probably wear out mental vigour and activity. Having procured a supply of this valuable leaf for the Indian, he filled his pouch with it, while the maize he fastened up in a corner of his poncho.
"I am ready to depart," he said, "though my heart yet lingers with you; and believe, O children of a Northern land, that, though fallen and despised his race, Manco Tupac Amaru is truly grateful for your generous hospitality, and more for preserving his life. The time may come, and shortly too, when he may have the opportunity of proving his gratitude— till then, farewell!"
Taking my father's hand and mine, he pressed his lips to them, and burst into tears. His words made an impression on me, though at the time I did not comprehend their meaning. I afterwards had good reason to do so. It was again evening, the hour at which he had arrived; and when it was perfectly dark, I went out to see that none of the servants were near. He then let himself drop from the window, and crossing the court-yard, scaled the wall, and took his way up the mountain. I had reason to believe that none of the servants suspected that he had been with us. This was the first of the many adventures in which, at that period of my life, I was engaged. We often talked of the Indian Manco, and were anxious to know his fate; but for long heard no more of him.
Some time after this, my father invited me to attend him on a journey, which business required him to perform, to Cuzco, Lima, and other parts of the country; and, as may be supposed, with no little alacrity I set to work to make the necessary preparations. We are fond of boasting of the civilisation of Europeans of the present day; but, however humiliating to our pride, it must be owned that in many important respects Peru has retrograded since the time that the Christian Spaniard took possession of the country, and superseded the mild though despotic sway of the glorious Incas. Under her ancient sovereigns, magnificent roads traversed the kingdom from north to south, and from the sea-coast into the distant interior, across the mighty Andes. Inns for the accommodation of travellers were built at convenient distances on the roads, and stored abundantly with provisions, while at each relays of couriers were stationed, who with wonderful celerity could carry messages or small parcels through the country. It is said that the tables of the Incas, when at Cuzco, or still farther in the interior, were supplied regularly with fish fresh caught from the sea, and other quickly perishable luxuries, in a mode which has only been accomplished in England since the introduction of railroads, or perhaps in the latter days of quick coach travelling. I mention this to show the contrast to the means we possessed for performing our journey.
At last the day arrived for our departure. My father rode a steady mule, but I preferred a horse, though not so safe an animal for the narrow tracks, up and down steep mountains, on the summit of terrific precipices, and across rickety bridges which we were about to traverse.
They were caparisoned much in the same way. Our saddles were huge and deep, covered with red woolly rugs; our stirrups were of Moorish shape, large wooden boxes strapped with iron; the girths were broad; and belts fastened to the saddle, passed round the breast and haunches of the animals, prevented it from slipping off when going up or down the almost precipitous declivities in our way. Our luggage was carried in huge trunks, made of untanned bullocks' hides, fastened with thongs of the same material, each mule carrying two slung on either side of his back. In some our clothes were packed, in others our mattresses and bedding, and in others our mess utensils and provisions; for as there were no inns, it was necessary to take everything which would be required. We rode ahead, our peons or muleteers following the beasts of burden. Before the introduction of horses and mules, the Indians employed the delicate llama to carry goods through the country. We had heavy spurs, and sharp bits to our bridles, and wore broad-brimmed hats and ponchos. The last named garment may be described as a large piece of cloth of wool or cotton, of a round form, with a hole in the centre. Through this hole the head is put, while the cloth falls over the shoulders, and forms a very effectual protection from the weather. It was used by the Indians before the conquest.
My mother and Lilly assisted in preparing and packing our provisions and clothes; and with prayers for our safety, at an early hour one morning they saw us mount and commence our journey. "Good-bye, mother; good-bye, Lilly," I exclaimed, as I seated myself in my saddle. "I will bring you back, like the princes in the Arabian Nights, all the most wonderful things I can collect." Their hearts were too full to answer, and their eyes were moist with tears; for they could not conceal from themselves that there were many very considerable dangers which we must encounter on the road. They stood watching us while we wound our way down the steep path, and crossed the bridge which spanned the river at the bottom of the ravine. I propose giving a very brief sketch of our journey, and shall dwell only on the more interesting incidents; or I might otherwise fill my book with an account of what we saw in the course of a few weeks.
We arrived one evening at a tambo, or post-house, which, from its appearance and position on a portion of the great high road of the Incas, we judged had been erected before the conquest. The walls were very thick, and composed of large blocks of stone. It was divided into two compartments; one had formerly been the storehouse and granary, the other the common hall and kitchen. The roof was thatched, as it had been originally.
At a little distance off was a village of Indian huts, mostly small; but some were of larger size, in which the cacique and some of the chief men resided. The tambo stood in a beautiful valley, through which ran a clear and rapid stream among meadows of ever verdant tints. The mountains which rose on either side were to their very summit cut into terraces. These terraces, or hanging gardens, as they are sometimes called, were of no great width, but the walls which faced them were built of large blocks of stone; and though in some places they were crumbling into decay, in general they were in a perfect state, bearing witness to the industry and intelligence of the ancient inhabitants of the soil. These terraces are called Andenes, and from thence the conquerors derived the name Andes, which they bestowed on the whole vast range of mountains.
Our peons having taken charge of our mules and horses, and led them to a shed adjoining the grey and moss-grown tambo, we entered the building. The interior was sombre in the extreme; everybody and everything wore a subdued look; and even the dogs slunk about as if their spirits were depressed. The smoke of ages was on the walls and roof, and the tables and benches at one side had a sadly dilapidated appearance. The master was an Indian of lightish hue, his long, lank hair already turning grey with age, and perhaps with care. Several Indian women were moving about round a fire at the farther end of the room, preparing a meal for a somewhat numerous company assembled there. The women about the house were all dressed in loose garments of dark coarse woollen cloth, which extended from the neck to the ankles, and were secured round the waist by a broad belt of some gay colour. They wore, folded up on the crown of the head, a small cloth mantle, a part of which drooped down to the shoulders behind. Each woman wore over her right shoulder a black scarf, which I understood was a sign of mourning, not for any relation lately dead, but for their Inca, long ago murdered by their conquerors. The dress of most of the men was a dark woollen jacket, with breeches open at the knees, a gaily embroidered woollen cap, a broad cotton belt, woollen stockings without feet, and sandals of goatskin. A broad-brimmed hat, and a small poncho thrown over the shoulders, completed their attire. Our host soon placed before us a large deep silver dish, containing some delicious mountain mutton, and a fat fowl, cooked in the ashes, and garnished with small but very good potatoes. There were neither knives nor forks in the dish, but one large wooden spoon, with which it was intended all guests should help themselves. We had chicha, the beverage of the country, offered us in silver goblets; but for a good reason neither my father nor I felt inclined to partake of it, though our servants did most willingly. To the taste of Englishmen nothing can be more disagreeable than the mode in which chicha is prepared. A quantity of Indian corn is pounded into a fine powder, round which a number of old men and women sit and masticate it into a paste. They then roll it into balls, which are dried; and afterwards water being thrown on them, they are allowed to ferment.
A number of Indians were sitting apart in a corner of the room. One of them was a tall, thin, emaciated man, of a yellowish copper hue. His only garment was a pair of dark trousers; and his long, lank, black hair hung down over his bare shoulders, giving him a very wild and haggard appearance. I saw him swallow a large cupful of a mixture which I thought was chicha; but soon afterwards he seemed to fall into a deep stupor, and I fancied he was going into a fit. His eyes were fixed on the ground, his mouth closed convulsively, and his nostrils dilated. As I watched him, his eyes began to roll most horribly, foam issued from his half-opened lips, and every limb and his whole body became distorted in the most frightful manner.
"The man will die!" I exclaimed, springing forward to assist him, and disgusted with the apathy of his companions.
"No fear, my son," answered an old Indian, making a sign which checked me; "our brother has but drunk the tonga; his spirit has departed for a season to hold communication with the spirits of our ancestors, and when it returns he will be able to tell us things of wonder, and perchance they may show him the treasures which lie hid in their huacas—their graves."
I afterwards found that the Indian had been drinking a powerful narcotic, prepared from the thorn-apple, and which is called huacacachu, or grave-plant, from the power it is supposed to possess of enabling those who drink it to see the inhabitants of the graves. After the Indian had been some time convulsed he fell into a profound slumber, when his friends covered him up carefully with their mantles and left him.
Our meal was scarcely over when the clattering of horses' feet was heard on the road, and by the sound I judged that a band of horsemen had ridden up to the tambo. Our Indian host rushed out with dismay on his countenance. I followed him to learn what was the matter; and by the light of the moon, just then risen over the mountains, I saw about as ugly a set of fellows as I ever encountered. Their countenances were of every hue—black, yellow, and olive, disfigured by scars and savage passions. Their garments, I cannot call them uniforms, of many a shape and colour, were in rags and tatters. The horses were weary, ill-conditioned and ill-groomed, and as miserably accoutred as their riders, with a look in the eye full of vicious meaning. They were armed with short carbines and long swords, and some had pistols and daggers in their belts.
"Los Montoneros, los Montoneros!" exclaimed several of the people behind me, and rushed back into the tambo, the women trying to hide themselves from the new-comers.
The horsemen threw themselves from their jaded hacks, and calling to the Indians to take charge of them, with scant ceremony entered the building. They regarded, as they did so, my father and me, and our servants, with no favourable eye; but after a moment's hesitation, they threw themselves on the benches before the table at which we were seated, crying loudly for food and liquor. It was speedily placed before them by the trembling hands of the host; and in silence they addressed themselves to the tearing the meat with their fingers, as if they had not eaten anything for a week. After imbibing quantities of chicha, they lighted their cigars; and then their tongues broke loose in a style which made us anxious to escape their neighbourhood. Some were Spaniards, or Spanish Creoles, and others were negroes; but most of them were of a variety of mixed races. The Montoneros are notoriously robbers in time of peace, and soldiers in war; but from the expressions they let fall, we judged that these fellows were employed exclusively in plundering all they met not likely to offer resistance. My father told the servant to keep a sharp look-out on our horses and mules, which the gentlemen would with little ceremony have appropriated.
To avoid them we walked over to where the group of Indians were collected round the tonga-drinker, who was now awaking from his sleep, and sitting up, though apparently very much exhausted. His companions were listening attentively to the mysterious revelations which fell from his mouth, the result of his spiritual communications with his ancestors. He spoke of a day of regeneration for the Indians; of liberty and happiness not far distant, when the yoke of the Spaniard would be thrown off their necks, and the race of their Inca should again wear the crimson borla of their monarchy. There was an air of earnestness and sincerity in his manner which convinced me that he at all events was deceiving himself as well as his hearers. In his dreams he had truly seen what he hoped would come to pass. I afterwards had good reason to know that he had strong foundation for his prophecies. He was still uttering his awful communications to his wondering and credulous hearers; the Montoneros were still drinking, smoking, and feasting; and some other travellers (Spanish, negro, and native, among whom was a Spanish priest, a landowner near Cuzco, and a shopkeeper) were either taking their suppers or seeking repose, when we retired to the deserted granary.
We were actually provided with bedsteads of a rude construction, on which we spread our bedding. The noise made by the Montoneros prevented me from sleeping for some time; till they themselves sought for rest, on and under the table and benches where they had been sitting. I was awakened in the middle of the night by a scratching and hissing and struggling noise under my bed, as if two animals were fighting. I sprung to my feet, and by the light of the full moon, which streamed in through a hole in the wall, I saw a large tabby cat engaged in a fierce combat with a glittering snake. At first I thought it would prove a hopeless one for poor pussy; but I soon saw by her manoeuvres, that she had at all events an equal chance of victory. Now the venomous monster would dart out its forked tongue and try to spring at her; when she, with equal agility, would leap aside and would sit watching her antagonist with careful eye, endeavouring to find an opportunity of catching it by the neck, while she avoided its deadly fangs. The snake seemed aware of its danger, and was not the less cautious. Indeed puss had already given it an ugly bite on the neck, which had somewhat crippled its movements—probably catching it asleep. The snake kept turning round and round its baneful head, the cat always keeping beyond the distance she knew it could spring. At last she saw her opportunity, and rushing in upon it, she seized it by the neck, so that it could not bite her. The snake wriggled violently, but all in vain; after a few convulsive struggles even the tail ceased to move, and I left the eat crunching the bones of her defeated antagonist.
I was glad to find that I had so good a guardian as puss had proved. I turned into bed again and went to sleep. In the morning I discovered that the snake was a very venomous adder, but that the cat was not a bit the worse for eating it. I afterwards learned that there are certain sorts of poison which may be swallowed without danger, yet if it should touch the slightest scratch or excoriation of the skin, would prove fatal.
At daybreak the Montoneros were on foot; and to the satisfaction of all the occupants of the tambo, they took their departure up the valley. It was the direction in which we were going, but we hoped not again to fall in with them. As we were mounting to proceed on our journey, the Indian soothsayer (for so I may call him) approached my father, and whispered earnestly in his ear for some minutes. My father looked surprised and somewhat anxious, and told him he thanked him for his advice. The Indian retired into the tambo apparently satisfied. We had begun to move on, when we were called back; and, turning our heads, we saw the padre and the other Spaniards mounting their mules.
"Stay, Senors, for the love of charity," cried the padre; "we are going your way, and if we go alone and meet with those villains, the Montoneros, we shall all be robbed and murdered to a certainty. Now you Englishmen are known to fight bravely, so the rogues may not think it worth while to attack us."
"We shall be happy to have your company, Senor Padre," said my father, smiling; "but I hope our valour may not be put to the proof."
"I am sure I hope not either," ejaculated the padre, crossing himself. "May the holy saints protect us; for those fellows care not for the anathemas of the church, the laws of the realm, or the bullets of the soldiers."
The other Spaniards seemed to partake of the alarm of the padre; and as we rode along, I saw them casting anxious glances around, as if they expected every moment to see the robbers start out from behind the rocks which skirted the road. After we had proceeded some distance, my father called a halt, and summoning the guides, he inquired whether they were acquainted with a road to the right, which he described. They replied that they were, but that it was longer and more difficult.
"Never mind," he replied; "it is the road I intend to pursue. I shall be glad of the company of those who wish to journey with me."
Though he did not give his reasons, the Spaniards saw that he had good cause for his change of route, and agreed to accompany us. They probably, however, attributed it to the Montoneros; as I observed that the expression of apprehension on their countenances gradually wore off, and they no longer cast the same furtive glances at every bush and rock as before.
We travelled along the valley for many miles, sometimes passing over a high ridge, and then again descending to follow up the course of some stream which had its birth among the snowy ranges above us. My father had formed the party into military order. Four armed men took the lead, then came the baggage mules, while the main body of those on horseback brought up the rear.
For three or four days we travelled on, each night sleeping at one of the wretched tambos kept by Indians, similar to that I have before described. Every day we mounted higher and higher, the scenery becoming more wild, barren, and desolate. We were now traversing that part of the Cordilleras called the Puna, a region of level heights, some fourteen thousand feet above the sea; nearly the only vegetation being a short, dark yellow grass, scarcely a tree or a shrub to be seen, except cacti, gentiana, and a few other flowering plants. There were animals, however, in abundance—vicunas, huanacus, stags, and rock-rabbits; while condors and other birds of prey hovered aloft, ready to pounce down on any carcase they might scent from afar. We next entered the region of the Sierra, the name given to the extensive valleys which either intersect the Puna, or lie between the Cordilleras and the Andes. These valleys are generally some thousand feet below the Puna, and the climate is very pure and healthy. The soil is also very fertile, so that they were in the days of the Incas, and still are, more densely inhabited by Indians than any other portion of Peru. These valleys contain many towns, villages, and hamlets; but as they are surrounded on all sides by mountains, only to be crossed by dangerous and circuitous routes, their trade is but limited, and they are seldom visited by the inhabitants of other parts of Peru. Among them are a few white people, but a considerable number of mestizos live in the towns. There is very little money in circulation among them, and in some parts hens' eggs are used instead of small coin, about fifty being counted for a dollar. The Indians are the sole cultivators of the soil, which produces wheat, maize, and barley in abundance, as well as potatoes and other tuberous plants, and most of the vegetables and fruits of Europe.
It must be understood that many of the scenes I have to describe took place in this favoured region; while others, again, were among the mountains and valleys to the east of the vast range of the Andes. People when reading of mountains are so apt to picture to themselves the molehills of Europe, which can mostly be crossed on foot in a day or so, that I must remind them that the Cordilleras and Andes which I am describing are an extensive region, the passage over which requires not only days, but in some places even weeks to accomplish. We had traversed several of these valleys, and were now about to cross over the highest ridge of the Andes. Having travelled so far without encountering the Montoneros, even the most timid of our party had lost all apprehension on that score.
One afternoon we found ourselves ascending through a narrow and wild gorge in the mountains. For three hours we had been mounting higher and higher, till our beasts began to show great signs of weariness. At last we saw before us a huge rock which, projecting from the side of the mountain, completely overhung the road, and looked as if it would overwhelm all who attempted to pass under it; while on the other side was a precipice three or four hundred feet in perpendicular height, at the bottom of which appeared a dark chasm with a wild roaring torrent running through it. The road, if so the mountain track could be called, was barely wide enough to allow a loaded mule to proceed along it; and it was next to impossible for two animals to pass one another, or for a person to dismount without great risk of falling over the precipice. We had been scrambling up for a long way over places which it appeared scarcely possible even goats would surmount, when one of the baggage mules stopped short and refused to proceed. Several others followed his example, and the whole cavalcade in the rear was brought to a stand-still. Blows could not be administered, for the muleteers could not get up to the beasts; and entreaties, coaxings, and persuasions were all in vain. I could not help laughing at the variety of expressions the men made use of to induce the animals to move. First they addressed them by every endearing epithet they could think of, then they appealed to their courage, their magnanimity, their perseverance—the deeds of their ancestors.
"Have not I always treated you well?" exclaimed our muleteer Juan to his beast. "Have not I always seen you housed and fed before I thought of caring for myself? Have not I slept by your side and watched over you as a father his son? Ungrateful as you are thus to behave at this pinch! If we meet another party, we shall be all hurled headlong over the rocks, or we shall have to fight desperately and have to hurl them over, and all for your obstinacy, sons of donkeys that you are!"—and he broke forth in a torrent of vituperation and abuse which it is not necessary for me here to repeat.
"If the Montoneros should meet us now, what will become of us?" cried the padre.
"It is the last place they would think of attacking us in," observed my father. "Their object is to get possession of our purses and our beasts; now if they attacked us here, the greater number of us would be tumbled over into the torrent below, so they would lose their booty."
"That's a satisfaction truly," observed the padre; "but I wish the beasts would move."
The beasts, however, seemed not a bit inclined to stir, and we had no remedy for it but to wait patiently, or throw them and our luggage over the precipice. As I looked up and saw the huge boulders of rock which hung above our heads, appearing as if the touch of a vicuna's hoof would send them rushing down to overwhelm us in their fall, I certainly did feel anxious to get out of their way. At last the leading mule, somewhat rested, began to move, the others followed him for a few minutes, and they all stopped again. The same process of entreating, coaxing, and abusing was gone over again; when the refractory cavalcade moved on once more for a few paces, but only in like manner to try our patience and our nerves by stopping at a worse spot than before. After resting a few minutes, the leading mule, which kept the others back, appeared to gain strength, and his stoppages each time being of shorter duration, he at length began to climb up the steep ascent before him, the rest readily following.
The cold, at this great height we had now attained, was excessive to our feelings, accustomed to the warmth of the lower country. Great, however, as was the elevation, the peaks which rose above us on every side appeared not to have lessened in the least in height. Snow of brilliant whiteness was around us, some of which in the more lofty spots had perhaps not melted since the days of the flood. Mists were floating about, and below our feet was collected a dense mass, which obscured the view beyond. A few flakes of snow began to fall, which every instant increased in number.
"Forward, forward, Senores!" shouted our chief peon, who acted as guide. "If a Cordillera storm catches us before we get under shelter, the days of some of us may be numbered."
We did not neglect the warning. The animals even seemed to perceive the necessity of pushing on; and away we all went, tumbling, sliding, and leaping over the rough track which led down the mountain. The snow increased in density, so that we could scarcely see the person immediately preceding us; and the chilling wind blew stronger and stronger from off the icy peaks above. Not a moment was to be lost—the guides shouted, "On, on, on!" and we whipped and spurred, and urged on our weary beasts by word and bridle. Still the ground was far too rough to enable us to get them into a trot, far less to gallop; and besides, a tumble would in many places have proved fatal both to horse and rider. The descent was very rapid, for we were scarcely ever on a level.
"I'll will it fare with any unfortunate fellow in the rear who falls," said my father. "Remain close to me, David; I am afraid of your horse stumbling."
"No fear," I answered, "I keep a tight rein on him, and he knows well that he must not be careless."
There was little time to contemplate the scene as we rode along, but still I could not help being struck by the solemn stillness, and the wildness of the desolation around. The voices of the men, as they shouted out, appeared strange and unnatural from their very distinctness, as did the tramp of the animals; while not another sound was heard from any direction.
"On, on, Senores!" were the only words we could hear. The snow had ceased; but dark clouds seemed gathering around us, when, without warning, a flash of forked lightning darted across our path, ploughing up the ground before us, and followed by a peal of thunder which seemed to rend the mountain tops. Flash succeeded flash in every direction, the very atmosphere quivering with the uninterrupted peals repeated a thousand-fold by the mountain echoes; while cataracts of fire appeared to be rushing down the rocks on either side. Our trembling animals refused to move; the Spaniards crossed themselves, and shrieking, as they slid off the backs of the animals they rode, they called on their saints for protection.
We dismounted and endeavoured to lead our horses under an overhanging rock. At last we succeeded in obtaining some shelter; and there we stood, every instant expecting to be struck by the electric fluid, which rushed zigzagging before us. Feelings such I had never before experienced came over me. I was at the same time inspired rather with awe than with terror. It was as if the heavens were pouring out their full wrath on man—as if the foundations of the world were about to be uprooted, and the mighty mountains hurled over on the plains below.
Rocks and earth came hurtling down from the lofty peaks above us; crash succeeded crash, and flashes of the most intensely vivid lightning dashed before us without intermission, till the air itself seemed on fire, and the faculties of sight and hearing both failed from over-exhaustion of their energies. It appeared as if the dreadful strife of the elements would never end; but as we were despairing of reaching a resting-place before night should set in, the thunder rolled away, the lightning ceased, and our party emerging from the caves and crevices where they had taken shelter, we found that providentially all had escaped injury. We mounted once more. As we proceeded, the rays of the setting sun came streaming along a beautiful valley which opened on our right. Descending rapidly, in little more than an hour we found ourselves before a tambo. It was wretched enough in appearance, and neither food nor beds did it afford. As, however, we had with us a supply of provisions, and our cloaks and saddle-cloths spread on the floor, with our saddles for pillows, served us for couches, we were not worse off than we frequently had been; and I know that I slept soundly till morning.
ATTACKED BY ROBBERS—A MERCIFUL DEED RETURNED WITH INTEREST.
The scenery we passed the next day was very similar to what I have already described; but the valley, which, on being contrasted with the snowy region we had just left, appeared so attractive, was, I found, when seen by the morning light, owing to its high elevation, a very barren and desolate place.
We rode on for some hours through scenery such as I have before described, when in the afternoon, as we were beginning to fancy that we were near the termination of our day's journey, we entered a deep gorge, with the dark rocks towering up, wild and rugged, on either side of us. It was just such a place as one might have expected an ambush to have been placed in; as a few resolute men might have held the road, aided by others sheltered by the rocks, against a whole army attempting to pass. An oppressive gloom invaded the spot, and the air seemed damp and heavy, as if the warming rays of the sun had never penetrated below the tops of the cliffs.
I was riding on in advance of the main body, when, on reaching the spot where the gorge opened somewhat, I saw at a considerable distance before me what I took to be a mark on the cliff in the shape of a horse with a rider. As I advanced, however, I perceived that it was a lonely man on horseback. He was too far off, standing as he was in shade, for me to distinguish his dress or appearance. He seemed to be stationary, as if watching our approach. A sharp turn in the road shut out the view beyond him. Had I been an old soldier, I should have fallen back on my companions and reported what I had seen; but I fancied that the horseman was a traveller like ourselves, and so I continued to ride carelessly on. I was very nearly falling a victim to my neglect. I had advanced some two hundred yards farther, when my friends reached the spot from which I had first caught sight of the horseman. He was still there, but no sooner did he see them than he wheeled round his horse and disappeared behind the cliffs. This I thought suspicious. My first impulse was to gallop on to overtake the man; but fortunately the chief guide had just then come up with me, and urged me not to go on. I therefore shouted out to my friends to let them know what I had seen, and reined in my steed till they came up. The information did not hasten the advance of any of the party; indeed some of them were evidently anxious to cede the post of honour in the van to their friends. The cry of "The Montoneros, the Montoneros!" arose from every mouth. Some tumbled off their horses, as if to shelter themselves behind them from the expected volleys of the dreaded banditti; others sat still and began to count their beads; and not a few turned their horses' heads preparatory to running away. I must do the padre the justice to say that he looked as brave as any of them, except a few who advanced to the front.
"Where are the enemy, David?" asked my father, who led them on.
"I only saw one man, whom our friends here have multiplied into a band of Montoneros," I replied.
"Come on, my friends, then!" exclaimed my father. "If the man my boy saw is a robber, he and his companions are more likely to run away than to attack us, if we show a bold front."
His words and tone of confidence restored the fast evaporating courage of the party; and having halted to get them into something like order, with the armed men in front and the baggage mules and their drivers in the rear, we again moved forward. We had not, however, advanced far, when the man I had before seen again appeared; and directly afterwards a troop of horsemen wheeled round the sharp angle of the rock, and with loud cries galloped rapidly towards us.
"Steady, steady, for your lives!" shouted my father, as he saw in many of our companions strong evidence of a disposition to turn round and fly. "If we break our ranks, we are lost."
That the horsemen now approaching were banditti, I had no doubt, from their varied and fantastic dresses, the different hues of their faces, and their wild appearance. We could not escape them, even had we been better mounted than they were, as the baggage mules in the rear would have prevented us. This they probably calculated on, or perhaps they would rather we had escaped and left them our baggage, which was what they most wanted, with the exception, perhaps, of our horses. They invariably appropriate the best horses they can find, as it is important for them to be well mounted. My father and I, two Spaniards, a mestizo, and our chief Indian guide, formed the first rank. When we saw the Montoneros, and could no longer doubt their intentions, we halted and presented our firearms. These were of various lengths and calibres, and some were better fitted to frighten an enemy than to do harm. When the Montoneros saw the determined front we presented, they checked their speed, but it was only for an instant.
"Do not fire until they get close to us," cried my father.
On came the banditti, their horses' hoofs clattering over the hard road, while uttering loud and discordant yells, they waved their swords above their heads. They made their intentions very manifest of cutting us to pieces if they could; so we felt perfectly justified in trying to knock them out of their saddles.
Many of our party gave themselves up for lost; and certainly the appearance of the banditti was enough to make a stout heart uncomfortable, to say the least of it. Their untrimmed moustaches and long hair escaping from under their broad-brimmed hats, their fierce countenances and dark flashing eyes, the many hues of their skins, and their motley costume, gave them altogether a very savage look, which was increased by the fiery bloodshot eyes of their horses, whose shaggy manes and the fringe of their housing streamed in the wind, while their riders shook their weapons, and shrieked out threats of destruction on our heads.
"Steady, my men, and fire when I do," cried my father, levelling his rifle; in which I, Jose, and the rest, followed his example. The Montoneros had got within a dozen paces of us, when we gave the word. We fired together, our friends behind handing us their still loaded weapons. Two of the robbers rolled in the dust, and the horse of a third was shot dead, and fell across the road, so as somewhat to impede the progress of those behind. On they came, however, and were up to us as we fired our second round, and received a discharge of their carbines in return. Some of the shot took effect on our companions in the rear, who, instead of reloading the firearms, threw them down and endeavoured to escape. In an instant the banditti were upon us. My father's horse was shot under him. I saw Jose knocked over; and then I recollect nothing that happened for some minutes, except a confusion of sounds, shouts, and shrieks and groans. When I returned to consciousness, my first thought was for my father. He was not near me, but I saw Jose at no great distance, leaning on his arm, as if unable to move, and looking along the road the way we had come. I turned my eyes in the same direction, towards which the tide of the fight had gone. A few of our companions were still contending against a greatly superior number of the banditti, most of whom, however, were engaged in a work more congenial to their taste, that of plundering our baggage. I could not doubt that my father was among the combatants; for without his example I did not think the others would have fought, and I trembled for his fate. I tried to rise, to rush to his assistance, or to die with him; but I found I was too weak to stand, much less to use a weapon. I gave up all for lost, for I perceived that the resistance of the gallant little band of my friends was every instant growing weaker; while the robbers were quitting their plunder to join their assailants. Meantime some of the baggage mules were trotting off in the direction where Jose and I lay; seeing which, some of the banditti came in pursuit of them. On seeing that I was alive, a savage-looking fellow lifted his carbine, and was about to give me a quietus on my head with the butt of it, while another threatened to perform the same office for Jose, when a shout, different from any I had before heard, reached my ears.
"Los Indios, los Indios!—the Indians, the Indians!" cried the brigands; "fly, fly, or we are lost!"
I looked up; for when I thought my brains were about to be dashed out, I had instinctively shut my eyes. What was my surprise to see the cliffs on either side of the road, and which I had thought inaccessible, swarming with Indians, mostly dressed in their ancient costume, and armed with bows and slings, with which they sent a shower of arrows and stones among our enemies! Several of them were wounded; and the suddenness of the attack threw them into confusion. Before they could recover from it, the Indians came leaping down the cliffs, and threw themselves between the three parties of the robbers, while others advanced along either end of the road, so as completely to hem them in. With the wildest fury, animated apparently by the most deadly hatred, the Indians rushed on our assailants, who, though they fought for their lives, could not withstand the onset.