Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 20 September 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-07-29

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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The Challenge

"I THINK you would be wise to accept my offer."

There was a hint, barely a hint, of threat in these words. Yet, slight as it was, it was enough to make the firm lips of David Tremayne tighten ominously, while a glint as of the sun on grey sea flickered in his level eyes.

Seated on one side of the table in the tiny saloon of the small steamer, he gazed steadily at the man opposite.

"Why do you say that, Seņor Juarez?" he asked, with a quiet deliberation which was characteristic of the race of Cornish seamen to whom he belonged.

Pedro Juarez made a quick movement with his well-shaped brown hand. There was an impatient gleam in his dark deep-set eyes.

"You know as well as I do, Captain Tremayne," he answered, speaking in English as good as Tremayne's own, and with only a slight foreign accent. "Because, to put it plainly, you will find it pay to accept my offer."

Tremayne's lip curled scornfully.

"Surely you are making a mistake. You calmly claim a full half of the reward, and then suggest that taking a matter of four or five hundred pounds out of my pocket is going to pay me!"

A curious light smouldered in the depths of the eyes of the Spanish-American. "You have a proverb, Captain Tremayne, that half a loaf is better than no bread. Let me assure you that it applies in this particular instance."

Tremayne's eyebrows rose.

"That is a threat?" he questioned.

"As you wish," answered the other, and now his look, was really dangerous. "I am master here. You will learn that either now or in the near future."

"A self-made master?" suggested Tremayne.

"Just so. Yet none the less, master. I have earned my title and I mean to keep it in spite of English fools who may dispute it. Now, what is your answer?"

Tremayne smiled slightly.

"My answer, Seņor Juarez, is an unqualified refusal. I will not pay you one penny, either as blackmail or for any other purpose."

Juarez rose quickly to his feet. His thin lips were twisted into a snarl of rage.

"Then look to yourself!" he threatened. "Look to yourself. It will not be many days before you bitterly remember my warning."

"Theatrical ass!" said Tremayne under his breath. Aloud, he merely observed:

"That is as may be. Meantime I am obliged to you for warning me, and as I am busy I will now wish you good morning."

Tremayne's evident contempt stung the other almost to madness. A glare of positively cruel hatred lit his eyes. He tried to speak but could not; and Tremayne, keeping behind him, shepherded him up the little companion ladder on to the deck.

The air that met them was edged with ice. The Camel, Tremayne's small yet stout, salvage steamer, lay at anchor in a small bay on the western side of the mouth of the Straits of Magellan. The giant cliffs that towered above the clear green water were frosted at their tips with silver edges of snow glittering under a cold Antarctic sun.

A mile or so away lay another vessel, a large schooner with auxiliary motor power. She was El Capitan, Juarez's craft. Posing as a trader, it was whispered that she was little better than a pirate. No ship in Southern Seas had an uglier name than this long, low, black, sinister craft.

Juarez's boat lay alongside the Camel. Juarez was going over the side when he started, and gave a sharp, angry exclamation.

"Where is Button?" he demanded.

A slim-looking boy, with a keen, clever face, who stood by the rail, answered him.

"He has gone, Seņor Juarez. He swam ashore."

"Swam ashore?" Juarez's sallow face was venomous. "You lie. He is aboard this ship."

The boy, Bob Tremayne, merely shrugged his shoulders.

"Your manners leave something to be desired," he said coolly. "I don't wonder that your men desert."

Juarez's face went almost black with fury. He raised his arm as though to strike Bob. Bob never budged, but his eyes were steady on the other's face.

"You have bribed him to desert," asserted Juarez savagely.

"If that is your opinion," said the elder Tremayne, "the ship is at your disposal. Search!"

Juarez hesitated. For a moment he stood glaring at the two Tremaynes. Then suddenly he flung himself over the side, dropped into the little dinghy, and pulled furiously away.

"Sweet creature!" observed Bob.

"And where is Jimmy?" inquired his elder brother.

"Over there among the rocks," replied Bob. "As soon as the coffee-faced gentleman is out of sight, I propose we pick him up."

"What—you want an unclean animal like that aboard?"

"I do, David. We shall find him uncommon useful."

David shrugged his shoulders.

"As you like, Bob. Juarez can't hate us any more than he does already."

"Not by the looks of him, anyhow," rejoined Bob. "What did he want, David?"

"A half share in the salvage."

Bob smiled. "What did you say?"

"Told him politely to go home!"

"Good. What's he going to do about it?"

"Wish I knew. What I do know is that I mean to finish the job as soon as possible."

"It ought to be easy enough," said Bob. "Carnforth's map is pretty full and accurate."

"Yes, there's no diving or any game of that sort. The trouble is the navigation. That Giants' Gorge must be about the limit."

Bob opened his eyes. "Surely if a big craft like the Crowan Castle could get up there, we can."

"It's a question of tides, Bob. And they are unknown factors here. She probably went in on top of a high spring. But remember she had to jettison half her cargo before she got out. Remember, too, the passage bristles with rocks, and there is no chart. We shall have to sound the whole way up."

Bob nodded, and considered a minute. Suddenly his face cleared.

"Why take the ship up at all, David?" he suggested. "The particular packages we are after are no great weight. Why not go up in the boat?"

David Tremayne stared at his younger brother for a moment. "Not a bad idea, Bob," he answered. "But what about the ship herself? Where are we to leave her?"

"That little inlet by the Painted Rock—the place we spotted yesterday. Even Juarez will hardly find her there. My idea is that we should slip off as soon as it is dark, dodge Juarez, then you and I and one other be dropped at the mouth of the Giants' Gorge, while the ship goes on and lies up where I tell you."

"Quite good, Bob," said David. "Quite sound, except for Juarez. I don't like leaving the ship while that unpleasant person is hanging around."

"But he won't know where we are, or where the ship is. And he hasn't anything like our engine power. We ought to be in and back before he can even get there. Anyhow, David, there's no other plan."

"I don't believe there is," said his brother, after a pause.

"Right you are then, Bob. We'll try it."

"Remember, we must pick up Billy first," Bob reminded him. "The poor beggar is scared stiff of Juarez, and I gave him my word we'd take him off as soon as it was dark."

"So it was your doing, you young scamp?" said David, with a smile. "I thought as much. Now I must go and look up the map and things. It will be dark by eight. Be ready then."

The Treasure of the Incas

CARRIED on the swirl of the enormous Antarctic tide, the stout dinghy swept up the fiord at a tremendous pace. Dawn had broken, but down in the depths of this terrific gorge it was still very dark.

On either side towered walls of sombre rock, rising many hundreds of feet towards the cold yellow sky. and against the black cliffs patches of snow gleamed pallid in the chill dawn.

The boat had a crew of four only—David Tremayne and his brother Bob, a seaman named Barstow, while the fourth was the native known as Billy Button.

Billy was a native of Tierra del Fuego, that mysterious Land of Fire that is the southern boundary of the Straits of Magellan. Years earlier he had served as sailor aboard the yacht of an eccentric American millionaire, and had picked up English. But he had never been happy in civilisation, and had gone back to savagery at the first opportunity. He was an undersized man, with a queer, brown, wrinkled face, arms long as a monkey's, and long, straight black hair. He wore a pair of blue dungaree trousers, a ragged, greasy shirt, and nothing else, yet in spite of his airy attire seemed quite indifferent to the nipping cold of the spring morning.

Billy knew every yard of the amazing network of fiords which cut deep into the iron-bound coasts of this part of South America. That was the reason why Pedro Juarez, the wrecker, had kidnapped him. It was also the reason why the Tremaynes had asked him to accompany them on this dangerous enterprise.

And now a word or two to explain what had brought the Tremaynes a third of the way round the world, into the most dangerous waters on the face of the planet.

Before von Spee was scuppered off the Falklands, his squadron was scouring the Southern Seas, taking and sinking every Allied vessel in sight.

The Crowan Castle, an English cargo ship with a full load from Lima and Valparaiso, had been sighted and chased. With shells falling all around him. Her skipper. Captain Nevinson, had dashed straight into the mouth of the fiord called the Giants' Gorge, and although the chances seemed a hundred to one that his ship would be spiked on the iron fangs of the cruel reefs, had managed to escape, leaving the baffled Hun to steam back sulkily into the Pacific.

But when it came to passing up the channel, Nevinson had found a bar too shallow to cross. He did not hesitate, but, anchoring, proceeded to jettison cargo until his ship was sufficiently lightened to proceed.

The cargo, chiefly nitrates, was mostly flung overboard into the water, but certain cases, contents unknown, had been put ashore and stowed in a cave. As it happened, one of these cases contained a collection of Inca relics belonging to the famous Professor Carnforth. Carnforth, a rich man, had offered David Tremayne a thousand pounds and expenses to recover this particular case.

How Juarez had come to know of Tremayne's errand, that Tremayne had not been able to find out. All that mattered was that he did know, and that he had to be dodged at any cost.

David stared. "I believe you are right. Bob. You are, too. There's the flat on which they landed the stuff, and that must be the cave mouth above."

"Quicker than I thought," he added in a satisfied tone. "Now then, Bob, careful how you come alongside. One touch on those rocks and you'll have the bottom out of her."

"I'm not taking any chances," grinned Bob, as he shipped his oar and seized a boat hook. A moment later the boat was alongside a natural quay of rock, and Bob himself had sprung lightly ashore.

It was all far more simple than they had expected. There was the cave, and in it the stuff. Nothing had been touched, and it took but a few minutes to identify Carnforth's property, carry out the case and stow it in the stern sheets.

"Jolly easy way of earning a thousand quid," laughed Bob. "Eh, David?"

"Don't hullo till you're out of the wood," replied his brother dryly, as he took his seat in the boat.

"The tide'll take us out of this quick enough," returned Bob. "We've only to sit tight and let it do the work for us."

It looked as if Bob was right. The tide still raced fiercely up the gorge and swept the boat with it. According to the map, the passage led right through into the Straits in a big curve.

They swirled around a bend; then, with a yell of "Back water!" from David, all were pulling like grim death to save the boat from being swept into a foaming tide race which roared in short, vicious waves across a ragged ridge of broken rock.

One glance was enough to show what had happened. A vast landslide from the right-hand cliff had all but blocked the passage.

It was all that the four of them could do to struggle back to the platform at the cave mouth. There they tied up and sat gasping for breath.

"Not so easy, after all, Bob," said David quietly.

Bob shrugged his shoulders.

"A nuisance," he said. "Still, we've only to wait till the tide turns. Then we can go back the way we came."

David did not answer.

"Let's get ashore and make ourselves comfy," said Bob, and climbed out of the boat. His brother followed more slowly.

"It's a long time to wait, Bob," he remarked as he stood gazing at the rushing tide stream. "I only hope the good Pedro won't come across the Camel."

"Bless you, he'll never find her, or—" Bob broke off suddenly.

"What's that?" he cried sharply.

David leaped back to the boat.

"My rifle, Barstow!" he snapped. "And, Billy, get out of the boat at once."

"What's the matter, sir?" asked Barstow.

"The matter is that Pedro Juarez and his crowd of scallywags are coming up the gorge in a big boat."

"Come a yard nearer and I'll shoot!"

David Tremayne's voice rang high above the sullen roar of the tide rip, and the barrel of his rifle, pointed across a rock, emphasised his order.

Juarez's boat stopped. Her people held her fast to a projecting crag. A moment later and Juarez himself replied.

"Give me the case and I spare your lives."

"Go and play!" retorted David, roused for once.

"You refuse?" snarled Pedro.

"Of course we refuse."

"Then you seal your own death warrant," shrieked Juarez. "You will stay here until you starve to death. You fools, you cannot escape. If you try to we shall shoot you down like the dogs you are."

"Two can play at that game," returned David. "Sheer off at once, or it's I who'll start the shooting."

At once the pirate boat dropped back. They watched her crew pull slowly against the racing stream until they were hidden by a spur of the cliff. They vanished, and all was silence but for the deep-toned boom of the torrent in its rocky bed.

"Pretty bit of bluff!" remarked Bob scornfully.

David turned sharply on his brother.

"You young ass, that's no bluff," he answered angrily. "He can do what he says. They have food. We have none. Within two days, or three at most, we shall be forced to chuck in our hands."

"But we've got a rifle. Can't we fight them?"

"How can we? They are three to one. They will simply lie up in clefts alongside the gorge and use us as targets."

"Sounds cheery," said Bob. For a minute or so he stood beside his brother, frowning thoughtfully.

"Tell you what," he said at last. "Let's talk to Billy Button. He may know some way out up the cliffs."

"That's not a bad idea, Bob," David answered. Then his face fell. "But we could never get that case up," he added.

"We could hide it," suggested Bob. "Anyhow, it's our only chance."

"It does seem to be," said David gravely. "We'll talk to Billy, anyhow. Where is the beggar?"

Bob looked round. "Can't see him anywhere. Billy! Billy!" he shouted.

There was no answer.

"Barstow, where's Billy Button?" asked David.

"Blessed if I know, sir. I never seed him go."

They looked everywhere, but there was no sign of the native.

David shrugged his shoulders. "I hardly blame him," he said. "The poor beggar is scared to death of Pedro. He's slipped off when we weren't looking, and is probably half-way up the cliff by now. He climbs like a monkey."

But Bob was angry.

"The cowardly sweep!" he cried. "I helped him yesterday, and this is the way he repays us. David, we've got to find a way for ourselves up the cliffs."

"We must get that case out of the boat first," answered David. "Lend a hand."

The two got into the boat, and were in the act of lifting the case when a shot sent echoes crashing up and down the gorge, and a bullet smacked viciously against the rock just above David's head.

All three leaped for cover, but before they could gain it a bullet scored Barstow's shoulder, and a ricochet cut the calf of Bob's leg.

"Fat lot of chance we shall have if we start climbing the cliff." said David bitterly, as he tied a handkerchief round Bob's bleeding leg.

"Better get into the cave and think it over," said Bob. "It's no use taking risks."

"Better give 'em the case and be done with it," said Barstow seriously. "They've got us boxed for sure."

"Nonsense, Barstow!" snapped Bob. "You ought to know better than to talk like that."

The cave was damp, gloomy and bitterly cold. Even Bob's usually good spirits began to droop. They had nothing to eat, and there was no means of starting a fire.

The more they thought of the prospect before them the less they liked it. They could not get up the gorge or down. Juarez had got them absolutely boxed up. Now that Billy Button had deserted them there was no way out.

Hours passed. The tide ebbed until there was but a trickle in the bed of the gorge. Then it began to flow again. The cold was cruel, and all three ached with hunger.

Towards dusk Juarez's voice was suddenly heard again. He was shouting through a speaking trumpet, jeering at them.

"How do you like it, Englishmen? Cold, are you? Yes, but it will be colder in the night. I think it is going to snow."

"That's what I thinks, sir," said Barstow to David. "I don't want to go back on you, sir, but there ain't no help for it. We might as well make terms now, afore we all freezes to death."

"Go! if you like," David answered so scornfully that Barstow grew red and shrank back.

Another hour passed. The light was failing.

"David," said Bob desperately, "let's make a rush for it."

David looked hard at his young brother.

"It's nearly certain death," he said quietly.

"I'd rather be shot than frozen," Bob answered.

"Very well," replied David, and moved towards the boat.

They got in. The tide was running in, but slowly. They began to pull quietly. Barstow was silent, but badly scared.

Rounding the next curve he missed a stroke, caught a crab and fell heavily into the bottom of the boat.

There was a shout from above.

"That's done it," said Bob grimly.

A rifle cracked from the rocks, its flash vivid in the gloom. Two more shots, one bullet striking Bob's oar and splintering it. The boat swung round in the stream.

"Shoot! Shoot quickly! They are at our mercy."

It was Juarez's harsh voice, and there was his big boat not twenty yards away.

Again a rifle blazed. Splinters flew from the bow of the dinghy.

"Pull back!" hissed David. But it was too late, and he knew it.

At that moment there came a loud crash—a crash repeated again and again. From high on the side of the jagged cliffs a great mass of rock came thundering down, striking showers of sparks at every bound. The whole gorge was filled with the booming of its fall.

Shrieks and screams rang out as the broken fragments scattered in a death-dealing shower across the ledge along the tideway.

Then with a terrifying roar the great boulder plunged into the water, sending up a wave that almost swamped the dinghy.

"Pull quick! You no wait!" came a high, piping voice from somewhere high overhead. "You no wait for me. Me all right."

"Billy! It's Billy!" exclaimed Bob. "Pull, Dave. We're safe."

Seizing Barstow's oar, he began to pull hard. David did the same. The boat swung round the bend and shot down towards the mouth of the gorge.

Not a word was spoken until they were safe in the open strait. Then Bob stopped pulling and took a long breath.

"I'll never say another word against Billy so long as I live. To think I was cussing him for deserting us, and all the time the cute little beggar was lying up there on the cliff top, waiting his chance to get back on Pedro.

"I say, Dave," he added, "I wonder if he slew the lot?"

"Hope so." said Dave grimly. "Now, what about picking up Billy?"

"Don't worry about him. He'll join up again when he feels inclined," replied Bob. "Let's get back to the ship. I feel as if I could eat an ox and sleep a week."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.