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First published by F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1934

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"The Lone Hand," F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1934


"The Lone Hand," F. Warne & Co., London & New York, 1934



Rob swung the wizened figure of the Indian over his shoulder.


ROB MACLAINE stopped at the door of the barely furnished dining-room in the little South American hotel and gazed in dismay at his father; for Angus Maclaine, who sat by his untasted breakfast, with a letter before him, looked ten years older than when he and his son had parted on the evening before. His grim face was carved with deep lines, actually his hair seemed to have gone greyer.

"What's the matter?" Rob asked sharply. "What's wrong, dad? You've had bad news."

Angus Maclaine looked up from his letter. His weather-beaten face looked like granite.

"Aye, the news is bad," he answered curtly. "I will have to go up the line at once."

A dozen questions trembled on Rob's tongue, but he did not voice them. He had seen nothing of his father for the past four years, during which time he had been at school in Scotland. The two were almost strangers. Somehow he felt that he had best keep silence, so he sat down quietly to his corn cakes and coffee.

Rob was barely sixteen but with his broad shoulders, level blue eyes, firm lips and strong chin looked at least two years older. He had only just arrived in the South American State of San Lucar to join his father who was contractor for the new railway crossing the mountains between the towns of Peralta and Orono.

After a hurried breakfast the two set out for the station, and within less than half an hour were travelling in a train composed of one coach and a small locomotive, up the new line. The driver was Tex Rayson, a smart young American.

Mr. Maclaine sat silent and Rob, seeing that he did not wish to speak, went out on to the railed platform at the back of the coach.

The sight was marvellous. The new line went curving up through the foothills of a range of giant mountains, the snow-capped peaks of which glistened like sugar loaves against the intense blue of the Western sky. Everything was new to Rob, the vast bare slopes, the deep canyons with their roaring torrents like threads of wool in the depths, the big pepper plantations, the flocks of brown sheep, the natives, with their comical hats, driving trains of pack mules. For the time he almost forgot his father's troubles in the interest of it all.

The line being brand new it was impossible to go fast. The speed rarely exceeded twenty miles an hour and did not average more than fifteen. Midday found them running down into a broad valley at the bottom of which stood the small town of Magdalena.

The weather had changed. Huge thunder clouds darkened the sky, and up in the mountains it was plain that a furious storm was raging. Then all in a moment the rain was upon them, falling in sheets that blotted out everything beyond a radius of a few yards, and driving Rob back into the carriage.

Next minute he noticed that the train was moving faster than it yet had. The speed increased; Mr. Maclaine jumped up.

"What's Rayson doing?" he demanded sharply. "It's not safe to go at this pace."

"I believe she's running away," said Rob sharply.

His father leaned out of the window.

"Rayson! Rayson!" he roared at the top of his voice. "Brake her! Stop her!"

The words were hardly out of his mouth before there was a bump which flung Rob clean off his feet. In falling he made a grab at the back of one of the fixed seats, and pulled himself up. As he did so he saw the whole fore-end of the carriage lift upwards, then tilt sideways. He was conscious of a fearful crash, a stunning shock—then all was blackness.

* * * * *

ROB felt water splashing on his face. He opened his eyes to find himself lying flat on his back on very wet ground. From above him a stream of water was pouring on his face. His head was ringing like a bell, and for the moment he could not imagine where he was or what had happened. Presently he recognized the thing which overhung him as the roof of the carriage. The side was gone, broken clean out. Then recollection came back with a rush, and he was on his feet in an instant. He was giddy, bruised and still half stunned, but he did not give one thought to himself.

"Dad! Dad! Where are you?" he shouted as he went staggering through the wreckage.

He had not far to look. Ten steps brought him to his father. Like himself, Mr. Maclaine had been flung out through the broken side of the train and lay on the wet clay at the edge of the permanent way in the pouring rain. But he had not got off as easily as his son, and Rob felt a spasm of fear as he saw his father's closed eyes and the blood on his face. He looked round to see if anyone else had escaped, and at that moment Tex Rayson appeared from the direction of the ditched engine. Tex looked white and shaken, but otherwise not much the worse.

"Gee, but I'm glad to see you on your legs," he said to Rob. "My fireman's finished, and I reckoned I was the only one left. How about the boss?"

"I don't know," Rob answered. "I'm afraid he's badly hurt. Can't we get him out of the rain?"

"You bet. We'll lift him back close under the carriage."

"Wait. I'll get cushions," said Rob who was rapidly pulling himself together.

As they moved Mr. Maclaine he stirred and groaned.

"There's life in him yet," said Tex encouragingly. "But say, looks to me as if his leg was broke."

There was no doubt about it. Mr. Maclaine's left leg was broken above the ankle. Rob spoke up at once.

"Stay with him, Rayson, and I'll go down to the village and find a doctor."

Tex shook his head.

"Guess I'd better do that. If he comes round it'll be better for him to have you around. And see here, you take this." As he spoke he handed a small automatic to Rob. "Kin you use it?"

"Yes, I can use it, but what do I use it on?" demanded Rob, surprised.

"I don't know yet, but the same chap as monkeyed with my brakes."

"Monkeyed with your brakes?" repeated Rob.

"You don't reckon I'd let my train run away with me?" returned Tex with scorn. "Someone had sure been at them brakes before we started. But I got no time to talk now. Sit tight. I won't he long."

He vanished in the grey rain-mist, and Rob and his father were left alone. Some time passed, the rain fell less heavily, and Rob was looking out anxiously to see if help was coming when he was startled by the sound of his father's voice.


He turned sharply. His father's eyes were open, and though his face was pinched with pain he looked almost himself.

"Rob, you're not hurt?"

"No, dad, I'm all right. Tex Rayson has gone to Magdalena for help. How do you feel?"

"My leg is broken. There's not much else wrong, but that's enough. Did Tex tell you how it happened?"

"He—he said someone had interfered with his brakes."

"I thought it. I ought to have suspected it before we started and had everything overhauled. Well, they have done for us now. Rob, this finishes everything."

The bitterness in his voice fairly frightened his son.

"Ruined us?"

"Yes. This broken leg puts me on my back for at least six weeks. That means that we lose the contract on the time limit."

"But I thought you told me yesterday that everything was going smoothly, and that once the bridge across the Salado River was built trains could run at once."

Mr. Maclaine groaned.

"That's the trouble—the bridge. Suarez has managed to hang me up. But I forgot. You don't understand the situation."

"You haven't told me," said Rob simply.

"It's this way. Suarez is the man who wanted the contract, but I underbid him. He swore to get even, but I did not see how he could harm me. In fact I have hardly given him a second thought. I was a fool to underrate him.

"Now listen. There is only one place where the bridge can be built to cross the Salado; a place so easy that an ordinary steel bridge has been ordered for it, to cost no more than ten thousand dollars. Suarez has realized this and has bought the land at this point. According to the law of this republic of San Lucar, land cannot be commandeered for railway purposes; the company or contractor has to compensate. So Suarez, who has a pull with the Government, is asking a hundred thousand dollars for this land of his. I cannot pay it, I would not if I could. But, as you see, Rob, he has the whip hand of me."

"I see, dad. But even if you were not hurt, what could you do?"

"I don't know. But, something." His lips lightened. "I have been in tight places, but never been beaten yet. And now—" He groaned again, and was silent.

"What about your managing engineer?" asked Rob. "Clandon, I mean."

"No use. A good servant, but no earthly use as a master. He has no initiative."

Rob sat quite still. He was frowning slightly, thinking hard. At last he spoke.

"Then it's up to me, dad."

"You?" Mr. Maclaine raised himself slightly and stared hard at his son. "What do you think you can do—a boy of sixteen, with no knowledge of the country or the conditions, against a glib-tongued, conscienceless scoundrel like Suarez?"

"I don't know, dad, but at any rate I can try," replied Rob quietly.

There was silence again while the contractor's keen grey eyes dwelt upon his son's face. Rob's level gaze did not falter. Then quite suddenly his father spoke again.

"Then, by thunder, you shall try!" he said curtly.

Before Rob could reply there was a shout in the distance, and up the hill came Tex Rayson and four men carrying a stretcher.

"I got a room at the posada for the boss," said the engine driver cheerily. "And a chap's gone for the doctor. Guess we'll have everything fixed up all right in a brace of shakes."


IT was night before Rob arrived at the rail head. Tex Rayson had driven him up on a construction engine. Joseph Clandon, the engineer in charge, met him, and the two walked together up to the camp. On the way Rob told Clandon of the accident. Clandon, who was a thin, dark, spectacled man, looked horrified.

"Mr. Maclaine's leg broken! Good Heavens, what a misfortune!" he exclaimed. "Things were had enough before, but this finishes it."

Rob's nerves had been pretty badly tried during the day. Clandon's outcry nearly finished them, and he had to bite his lip to keep himself from bursting out, but he managed to answer quietly.

"Why do you say that?" he asked. "Surely you and I can tackle the situation."

"You and I!" repeated Clandon. "What can you and I do against this cunning devil, Suarez? lie owns the Tablada, and he won't sell for less than a hundred thousand dollars. If your father can't pay it, why, there's an end of everything. There's no other place for us to build the bridge."

"If there's no other place, then somehow we must get the land from this man Suarez at a reasonable price," answered Rob.

"How?" demanded Clandon.

"I don't know. But see here, I'm tired out. Suppose we leave the discussion until the morning. We shall both feel fresher then."

Clandon shrugged his thin shoulders.

"You can discuss it all you like, or any time you like. Nothing will make any difference," he said despondently.

Rob did not answer. He realized very clearly that Clandon was a broken reed, and that, whatever was to be done, he would have to do it himself. The two walked in silence to the camp where Rob ate his supper and turned in at once.

Rob was always an early riser. The sun was not up when he woke, and he got up at once, had a dip in the small river which ran close to the camp, and, after dressing, walked off to have a look round. The peons, native labourers, who were cooking their breakfasts over fires in the open, stared at the tall young Englishman, but of Clandon Rob saw nothing. Apparently the engineer was still asleep.

"Can't think why Dad ever employed a chap like that," said Rob bitterly, but he did not realize the difficulty of getting good men in this remote part of the world. He was just leaving the clearing when he heard a voice.

"Hulloa, Rob, is that you?"

Rob started and swung round, to see a boy coming quickly after him, a boy of about his own age, but shorter, very squarely built, with a round, freckled face, and hair so fair it was almost white. There was something familiar about the look of him, yet for the moment Rob could not place him.

"You're a nice chap. Why, you don't even remember me," said the square boy, with a cheery grin.

The grin did it.

"Ned—Ned Blunt!" cried Rob, stretching out both his hands.

"Ned it is," answered the other, grinning more widely than ever as he took Rob's hands in his hard brown ones and wrung them heartily.

"My dear chap, I'm jolly glad to see you," said Rob cordially. "But will you tell me how in the name of sense you come to be here at the ends of the earth?"

"My uncle has a coffee plantation on the Salado, and when I left St. Levan's I came out here to learn the business."

"But I thought you were going to be an engineer?"

"Funds wouldn't run to it. But I don't mind telling you I spend all my spare time up here in the railway camp. I got word you were coming. That's why I'm here so early."

"I'm most frightfully glad to see you," said Rob. "I suppose you've heard that Dad is hurt, and that I'm here on my own."

"Yes, I've heard. And I don't mind telling you that you're up against it, Rob."

"Goodness, don't I know it? That fellow Clandon's been rubbing it in."

"Clandon," said Ned scornfully. "He's about as much use as a sick headache. It'll take a man to bluff Suarez."

"Do you think there's any chance, Ned," asked Rob.

"Of course there's a chance," replied Ned sturdily. "A white man can always beat a dago."

"Ned, I could hug you for that," said Rob. "It's the first word of encouragement I've had. Do you know Suarez?"

"Of course I know him—the slimmest, sneakiest skunk in San Lucar."

"Sounds cheerful, but I've got to meet him."

"You shall. But first you'd better get some idea of the lie of the land. I can put you wise to that if you'll come with me."

"I'll be awfully grateful," said Rob, and Ned nodded and led the way.

The raw red gash of a new cutting took them through a stretch of scrubby land. Then it stopped, and Ned led Rob through some trees until they came to a strong wooden fence enclosing a grove of sickly-looking orange trees.

"That's Suarez's land," said Ned. "Worth fifty dollars an acre, and he's asking five thousand. Now we'll follow round the fence to the edge of the cliff."

They did so, and found themselves on the rim of a high bluff About a hundred feet below was a flat savannah, or plain of grass, through which wound a river. Rob looked up and down and at once got the hang of it all.

From the point where they stood to the opposite cliffs was a distance of seven or eight hundred yards, a tremendous gap to bridge, for it meant building up huge piles. But to the left—that is, opposite Suarez's orange grove—a long point of rock ran out, a sort of natural buttress, which approached the far cliffs to within less than a hundred yards. Round the point of this buttress the river ran deep and narrow, with but a strip of shore on either side.

"Do you get it, Rob?" asked Ned.

"Absolutely. That buttress is the key to the whole situation. If we can run the line along the top of it, a single span bridge will do the trick, but if we have to build here, why, the cost will be gigantic."

Ned nodded.

"That's it, and the only alternative would be to make a big cutting and carry the line at a low level across the savannah."

Rob shrugged his shoulders.

"That would cost as much as the bridge. More, I expect, for this rock looks as hard as they make it. Besides, the cutting could never be done in the time."

For a few moments both were silent. Then Ned spoke.

"I don't suppose Suarez is about yet. How would it be if we slipped over into his land and had a look at the buttress?"

"Right you are," Rob answered, and turned to the left.

The fence was easy enough to climb, and the two made their way through the stunted orange trees towards the point of rock. This was even broader and bigger than Rob had supposed. It was ideal for carrying the line. They walked to the end, and Rob was standing gazing down into the river beneath when Ned nudged him.

"We've done it this time, Rob. Here's Suarez."

Rob swung round, and as he did so their enemy himself emerged from the trees. He was a man of middle height and olive complexion, very well dressed in European style; but a crimson necktie added a touch of colour to his suit of greenish tropical tweed. He was perhaps forty years old, handsome, but in a distinctly sinister fashion. His eyes were black as jet and hard as glass. Before Rob could find words Suarez spoke.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he said smoothly. "Perhaps you are not aware that you are trespassing."

Rob felt a perfect fool, yet managed to collect his wits.

"I am afraid that I am aware of that fact," he answered, "but I was tempted to inspect this curious freak of nature."

Suarez nodded.

"Curious—and convenient," he said.

"Yes," said Rob coolly. "Convenient for building our railway."

"Just so. And if your father will pay my price he is welcome to it."

"But your price—forgive me for saying so—is too high," said Rob.

Suarez shrugged his shoulders.

"A man has a right to put his own price on his own property, Mr. Maclaine. My price is one hundred thousand dollars. To use your English expression, your father can take it or leave it."

"He will certainly leave it at that price."

Suarez shrugged again.

"That is his own business," he said quietly, and all the time his hard eyes were searching Rob. "But since you are here, pray spend as much time as you please in inspection. There is a way down. My peon, Pedro, shall show you."

"Thank you. I shall be glad of the opportunity," replied Rob politely.

Suarez gave a call, and a wizened little old Indian came up. Suarez spoke to him in Spanish, and Pedro led the way to the top of a sort of natural stairway that led to the plain below. The two boys followed him down it.

"You kept your temper top-hole, Rob," said Ned.

"I was boiling inside," replied Rob. "But it's no use getting woolly, and I'm glad of the chance of making a proper inspection."

"Suarez was mighty civil," said Ned. "But I saw him watching you. I've a notion he doesn't like you."

"Don't suppose he does. He hates Dad. But here we are at the bottom. Let's go round the end of the Point."

They walked on, Rob carefully examining the rock and the lie of the land generally. They were under the end of the Point, which here overhung slightly, when a rumbling sound from above made Ned look up. Next moment he had seized Rob and shoved him roughly into a crevice at the base of the cliff.

"Look out!" he yelled. "A big slide. My word, the whole cliff is falling down."

His words were drowned by the roar of a huge mass of falling rock, which came thundering straight down upon them.

There was no chance to bolt, nothing for it but to squeeze tight as limpets against the face of the cliff while the mass of loose stuff came crashing past and over them. The noise was deafening, the dust blinding, and as for Rob Maclaine he had so fully expected to be killed that he could hardly believe his senses when the roar passed and he found himself choked, blinded, yet quite unhurt, standing in the little niche at the base of the cliff into which Ned had forced him.

"Phew!" he gasped. "That was a close call. I thought our number was up that time, Ned. It was only your quickness that saved us. I'm awfully obliged to you."

"Never mind that now, old chap," said Ned swiftly. "Thing is to get out of this, and sharp, too. There'll be more down in a minute."

"I didn't think the rock looked so rotten."

"Rock, man! It's not the rock. It's Suarez." Rob gasped again.

"The swine! Do you mean he tried to murder us?"

"And jolly near pulled it off, too. Come on."

"The sooner the better," said Rob, then stopped short. "But Pedro. I'd clean forgotten him. Where is he?"

He glanced round. The grassy savannah in front of them was littered with great masses of raw, fresh fallen rock, and suddenly among them Rob caught sight of Pedro. The peon lay on his face pinned down by a huge stone which, however, did not lie full upon him, but which in its fall had caught against another mass against which it was precariously balanced.

"There he is!" Rob cried sharply, and sprang forward.

"Look out, man!" snapped Ned warningly. "Come back, you ass. You can't help the poor brute, and you're putting yourself at Suarez's mercy."

"Can't help that," retorted Rob. "Can't leave the wretched man to die like this."

As he spoke he had reached the rock which pinned Pedro, and was using all his strength to try to shift it. Ned saw that it was too much for him.

"He's right," he growled. "But it's suicide all the same."

With that, he ran forward, and adding his strength to Rob's, the two between them swung the great ragged fragment aside, and managed lo release Pedro. Rob stooped, got his arms around the Indian and lifted him. As for Ned, he had turned and was gazing with scared eyes up at the top of the cliff.

"See anything?" asked Rob quickly.

"No. The beggar's a deal too cute to show himself." Then an instant later: "Watch out! Here's more coming," he shouted.

With a great effort of strength Rob swung the wizened figure of the Indian over his shoulder, and scurried back under shelter of the overhang, before he had reached it there came the whistle of a falling object and a stone the size of a man's head struck the very spot where Pedro had been lying and hitting one of the other stones burst like a shell, scattering them all with its fragments. Rob's face was grim and set.

"So that's your game, Mr. Suarez," he said between set teeth. "Very good. You've warned me now, and it will be my own fault if you catch me napping a second time."

"Bit early to talk of second times. We're not out of the wood yet, old son," grumbled Ned.

"We're fairly safe here," replied Rob. "The cliff overhangs quite a bit. Anyhow, Suarez can't see us. And I don't think he'll try the same trick again. The day's getting on, there are people about, and someone might spot him."

"That's true," agreed Ned. "What about the Indian? Is he finished?"

Rob turned to the man whom he had laid on the grass close under the foot of the cliff.

"Why, his eyes are open!" he said in surprise as he bent over him. "Are you badly hurt, Pedro?"

"I am bruised, Señor, and the breath is out of my body," replied the Indian speaking in Spanish. "But praise to the Saints, and thanks to your brave help, I am not otherwise hurt."

"That's uncommon lucky," smiled Rob. "I suppose you know where the rocks came from?"

Pedro's dark eyes narrowed.

"I know, Señor," he answered. "It was that robber dog, Suarez. Always I have hated him, though my poverty forced me to work for him. But no more. Rather will I starve than ever again do a hand's turn for that man."

"You shan't starve if I can help it," said Rob kindly. "And now I wonder if it would be safe for us to try to get back to camp. I badly want some breakfast."

Pedro rose stiffly to his feet and looked round. Suddenly he pointed across the valley to where a man riding a mule was crossing the opposite flat.

"It is safe, Señor," he said quietly. "Suarez will not risk a watcher of his attempts at murder."

"Pedro is right," said Ned. "Let's push on."

The Indian went with them back to the camp, where they found Clandon sitting in his tent at breakfast.

"Not a word to him or anybody," whispered Rob to his companions; then, sending Pedro to get some food with the men, he took Ned into the tent.

"You have been looking round, Mr. Maclaine?" said Clandon.

"I have. Mr. Blunt and I have been up on the Tablada."

Clandon started slightly.

"Did you see Suarez?"

"Yes, and had a talk with him."

"Then no doubt you realize that it will be impossible to deal with him?"

"I realize that his terms are absurd," replied Rob quietly. "As for paying a hundred thousand dollars, that is out of the question. But I should like to know, Mr. Clandon, why the right of way was not arranged for before work began?"

Clandon shrugged his shoulders.

"It was. At least we thought it was. I understood that the Tablada belonged to the Indian Pedro who was quite willing to sell. It was only a few weeks ago that Suarez cropped up with proof that Pedro's title was bad, and that he had pre-empted the land from the State."

Rob nodded.

"Ah, now I begin to understand. And is it worth while for us to go into this matter of the title?"

"None whatever," Clandon answered with more decision than he usually showed. "Even if we could prove that Suarez's title is bad it would take months—years perhaps. The Courts here are the slowest in the world, and Suarez has friends in high quarters. Jose Frias, the Prime Minister, is his brother-in-law."

"Then we must find some other way out of our troubles," said Rob.

Clandon made a despairing gesture.

"There is no other way," he declared. "I have surveyed the country for miles around, and I tell you plainly that it is out of the question. If we cannot carry the line across the Tablada we may as well throw up the whole business."

Rob rose.

"We won't do that," he said with quiet decision.


"NED, are you busy?"

Rob had taken Ned into his tent and the two sat together, glad of the shelter from the now blazing sun. Ned grinned.

"Busy! I shouldn't be here if I was. Just at this time of year there's hardly one day's work a week on the plantation. It's only when we are picking that we're really busy."

"Then you can stay with me a bit?"

"Nothing I'd like better. A little excitement of this kind is the breath of life to me. Besides, you know it's very jolly to see you again."

"Right, oh! Then write a line to your uncle to say where you are, and I'll send it by one of our men."

Ned nodded, and taking up a pencil and pad of paper wrote the note which Rob at once sent off.

When the messenger had gone Ned turned to Rob.

"And now what are you going to do, old son?"

"Have a look round," replied Rob. "The first thing is to get wise to the lie of the land."

"Afraid that won't help you much. You may take it from me that Clandon is right when he says that the only place where you can push the line across is the Tablada."

"You may both be right, but I've got to be sure, Ned."

"By all means make sure. I'll come with you. I know the country pretty well."

"That's just what I want. Hulloa—who's this?" A lean figure appeared at the entrance to the tent.

"It is Pedro Ruiz, Señor," answered the Indian in his soft Spanish.

"Come in, Pedro. Anything I can do for you?"

"Señor, you have done too much for me already. It is time that I did something in return for your great kindness. I have come to beg you to accept this little token of my gratitude."

As he spoke he took something from the pocket of his shabby coat and laid it on the camp table in front of Rob.

Rob picked it up. It was a little figure of a naked man about six inches long, beautifully done in some dull, heavy, bronzy metal.

"But this is exquisite," said Rob quickly. "It's mighty fine work," declared Ned. "I guess the British Museum would give quite a lot for that, Rob."

Rob looked uncomfortable.

"Pedro," he said gently, "I wish you would not offer me anything so valuable as this. If you were to sell it—"

Pedro drew himself up.

"Señor, this was the work of my ancestors. It would not be fitting that I should sell it. But to you I give it gladly."

Rob saw that he would bitterly offend the old man if he pressed his point.

"Then I accept it with gratitude, Pedro, and I will always keep it."

Pedro nodded.

"Then, Señor, it will bring you good luck. Yes, and fortune also, for the figure is that of the Gilded Man."

He bowed and was gone. Ned picked up the image.

"That's what it is, Rob. It's the Gilded Man who was a sort of hereditary High Priest of the people in this part. And I say, Rob, d'ye know what it's made of?"

"Bronze, isn't it?"

"Not a bit of it. It's solid gold."

Rob whistled softly.

"Where do you suppose it came from?"

Ned shook his head.

"Hard to say, but probably out of one of the old Inca Treasure Caves."

"What! I thought they had all been rifled by the Spanish long ago."

"Not a bit of it. The Incas hid their stuff a jolly sight too well for that, and the Indians, their descendants, know how to keep their mouths shut. Slabs of the old soft Inca gold are constantly cropping up in the towns about here. The shopkeepers know they come from the old hoards, but nothing will ever induce an Indian to show a white man where they are to be found."

"H'm, I wish we could find one," said Rob. "It would be mighty useful just about now." He stood up and shook himself. "If you're ready let's go," he said. "I want to cover a lot of ground to-day."

"Wait! Surely you're going to take a gun."

"What for—to shoot Suarez?"

"No, you old idiot. But when you've been here as long as I have you'll know better than to go messing about in the woods without a gun."

"What game is there?"

"Jaguars, pigs, deer, to say nothing of snakes."

"I'll take your word for it," said Rob as he took a rifle from its case, and stuffed a handful of cartridges into his pocket.

"Which way are you going?" asked Ned.

"West—down the river," was the answer.

Five minutes after the two had left the camp the jungle swallowed them up, and in another five, but for Ned, Rob would have been hopelessly lost.

"I'd no notion it was so thick," said Rob as he stopped and taking off his broad-brimmed felt hat swept the perspiration from his streaming forehead. "Why, one can't see ten steps in any direction."

"Nothing to what it is down in the swamps," grinned Ned. "There you're lucky if you can see ten inches."

"But what are we to do?" asked Rob as he gazed helplessly at the amazing tangle of trunks and creepers and foliage of all sorts which surrounded them on every side. "Surveying is out of the question, and it would take an army to cut down the stuff."

"That's all right. We shall find it more open further on," said Ned.

"Thank goodness for that. This stuff suffocates me," was Rob's answer as he plunged forward.

Before he had gone two steps, Ned had seized and jerked him back. At the same time something flashed past his head with a vibrant hum, and he saw Ned strike at it fiercely with a branch he carried.

"What's the matter?" asked Rob in a confused tone.

"You'd have known what was the matter fast enough if that fever wasp had got you."

"Fever wasp?" questioned Rob in amazement.

"Yes. Nastiest insect they keep here, except perhaps the Boma ant. If that thing had stung you, you'd have been laid up for a week. Gives you fever."

Rob looked unhappy.

"And the Boma ant—what's that?"

"Inch-and-a-half long, black as your boot, with a sting in its tail like a scorpion. Get stung by one and the chances are you'll be clean off your head with pain inside five minutes."

Rob shivered in spite of the heat.

"Are there any more horrors of the same sort in these woods?"

"Heaps, but I'm not going to tell you just now, for I don't want to discourage you. Anyhow, you'll find out soon enough. Meantime let me lead the way. Knowing what to look out for, I shan't be so likely to walk into trouble."

Rob was only too glad to let Ned take the lead, and the latter conducted him carefully in and out among the giant trunks of jackaranda and ceiba and many other trees, each of which, if planted alone in any English park, would have brought sightseers from all over the country. At last it got a little lighter, and quite suddenly they stepped out from the steamy hot-house atmosphere of the thick forest into the full blaze of tropical sunshine. In front was a wide shallow valley covered with coarse grass and dotted with clumps of huge trees. Rob started forward eagerly.

"Is that a brook down the bottom?" he asked eagerly.

"Yes, but I believe the bed's pretty nearly dry. Still, you may find enough water for a drink."

"Drink, man!" retorted Rob. "It's not a drink I'm looking for, but if that's a brook, why, it must run into the Salado, and that's exactly what I've been looking for!"

"How do you mean?"

"Man, can't you see? We could make a loop and run a line down into the valley, cross the Salado by a temporary bridge and probably find some way of climbing the cliffs opposite."

"I see," said Ned, "but I'm afraid it's no use, old chap. There's no opening in the cliffs. This little brook drops into a swallow hole a little way further on, and I suppose makes its way underground to the Salado."

There was such disappointment on Rob's face that Ned felt very sorry for him, but in a very short time he had pulled himself together.

"That's bad luck," he said quietly. "But if you don't mind, Ned, I'd like to walk down to the end of the valley and see what the cliffs are like."

"Right you are, but you won't see much to encourage you."

Crossing the savannah, they came to a belt of heavy timber bordering the stream. As Ned had said, this was nearly dry, but the bed was covered in with a most amazing jungle of tall grasses and flowering reeds. The branches of the trees overhanging this narrow swamp were gorgeous with many coloured orchids, and small greenish monkeys swung and chattered in their tops.

"Keep a bit clear of the thick stuff, Rob," said Ned.

"Why, what's the matter?"

"Snakes," was the brief reply.

Rob did not look happy. He hated snakes.

For a time he kept his eyes wide open, watching for any movement in the grass, but there was none, and presently he became so interested in the lie of the land that he forgot Ned's warning, for the valley seemed to contradict all the ordinary laws of nature. For a mile or so it sloped gently towards the Salado; then instead of breaking down into the plain of the big river, its lower end was barred by a huge rampart of cliff covered with thick timber.

"This is a queer business, Ned," said Rob.

"You mean the lie of the land?"

"Just so. This looks like a regular river valley, and I can't imagine where the river has gone to."

"It's not a bit of use counting on anything out here," said Ned. "It's the craziest country that ever was made."

"The most annoying," growled Rob. "If it wasn't for those confounded cliffs, this would be just the place to run the line down into the plain. Let's go as far as the end, and see if there's a possible chance of cutting a tunnel."

Ned shook his head.

"Not much, I'm afraid, old chap. There's a big breadth of rock between this and the Salado valley. Still, we'll have a look-see."

The two walked on together close beside the swampy stream until they had reached a point about a couple of hundred yards from the cliff face. Then all of a sudden Rob caught a glimpse of something moving among the branches to the right, a great glistening many-coloured coil that moved slowly, with a smooth silkiness impossible to describe, over a huge branch.

"A snake!" he cried, and flung his rifle to his shoulder.

"Don't shoot!" cried Ned, but it was too late. Rob's finger had already pulled the trigger, and the sharp report of the rifle sent echoes crashing through the still heat.

Before he could fire again Ned caught his arm.

"Steady on! It's only a tree boa. Quite harmless. You missed him anyhow, so—"

His voice was cut short by a squeal, a squeal so sharp and angry that Rob instinctively knew that there was something dangerous in the sound. But he was not prepared for the absolute horror which showed on Ned's face.

"Peccaries!" gasped the latter. "And by all that's awful, you've hit one. Run for the rocks. It's our only chance."

As he spoke he jerked him round, and the two set to running hard towards the cliffs.

Next moment the squeal was repeated by a hundred other throats, and there was a sound like the crashing of a squadron of charging cavalry. Rob glanced back over his shoulder to see the brake heave as the herd struck it. Next instant scores of little black pigs came bursting through, but small as they were, they were the fiercest-looking creatures he had ever seen or dreamed of, and their long sharp snouts were armed with razor-sharp white tusks which glittered ominously in the bright sunlight.

And the pace at which they came—it was terrific. Rob saw at once that he and Ned could never reach the cliff before they were caught and ripped to pieces by their terrible pursuers.

Ned saw it, too.

"That tree!" he panted, pointing, and dashed for a big ceiba of which the lowest branches hung within five or six feet of the ground. Rob spurted for all he was worth, and he and Ned reached the tree together, and each made a leap at a branch and hauled themselves up. Rob did not stop until he was nearly a score of feet above the ground, then reaching a huge limb more than a foot through swung his leg over it, and looked down.

Below him the ground was black with a multitude of the savage little pigs which leaped upwards and clashed their tusks till they rattled like castanets. Their small eyes were red with rage, and every bristle on their muscular bodies stood up stiff. The air was full of the harsh, stye-like scent of them.

"What brutes, Ned!" said Rob, looking across at his friend who was perched opposite and a few feet away. "It's a jolly good thing we're safe out of their reach."

"We're out of their reach," said Ned, "but as to our being safe, that's a very different matter."

"How do you mean? We've only got to wait till they go away."

Ned laughed.

"And how long do you reckon that will be?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know! A hour or two, I suppose."

"Say a week or two, son, and you'll be nearer the mark."

Rob stared.

"You're rotting, Ned."

"Wish I was. No, it's straight goods, Rob. These black demons are the only sort of beast that never gives up, and never knows when it's beat. Even if you had your rifle which I see you haven't, you might sit up here and shoot 'em one by one as long as your cartridges lasted. They'd draw off a bit, but they'd never go."

Rob knew Ned was speaking the truth, and his heart sank lower and lower till it felt as if it had reached his boots.

"But they must get hungry and thirsty," he objected.

"There's plenty of grass," said Ned, "and plenty of water. And if there wasn't some would stay and watch while the others went to feed."

"What awful brutes!" groaned Rob.

"You've said it. They're the worst ever."

"But isn't there a chance of anyone coming to look for us?"

"A mighty slim one. We're three miles from the camp, and no one knows which way we went. And even if they did, it's all odds they'd simply be chased up another tree."

"Then what in sense are we going to do about it?" demanded Rob in despair.

"Sit tight. There's nothing else for it," said Ned grimly.

Sit tight they did, first making themselves as comfortable as possible. The peccaries gave up their raging and jumping, and began to graze around, but Rob noticed that they never went far away from the tree, and if he or Ned so much as moved half a dozen would come rushing back in a flash. Time wore on, the heat grew terrible, and though the boys were protected from the full blaze of the sun by the heavy foliage of the great ceiba, they began to grow terribly thirsty. Rob looked longingly at the water of the brook gleaming among the tall rushes only a few yards away.

"Ned," he said, "there's a branch the far side of the tree which almost overhangs the brook. If one of us crawled across he could drop a hat down at the end of a string and dip up some water."

Ned considered. Then he nodded.

"It's just on the cards," he agreed, "but you've got to remember that the peccaries will be right on top of that hat before you can say knife."

"I doubt if they'd reach the spot," said Rob. "It's pretty boggy. Have you any string?"

Ned felt in his pockets.

"Yes, here's a coil. Plenty for what you want. Going to try it?"

Rob nodded and started. The moment he began to move the peccaries moved, too. Squealing and snorting, they followed beneath him as he climbed. They leaped up three or four feet into the air, falling back heavily into the tangled herbage.

The climb was easy enough except for the tangle of creepers which matted everything. They were so thick that they soon hid Ned from him. He had to go far out in order to reach a point over the one open pool, and the branch, though big, sagged unpleasantly.

Presently he saw that the peccaries had been obliged to stop. Some of them were up to their bellies in black slime from which rose a nasty sour reek.

"You brutes!" he growled. "I wish I could drown the lot of you."

At last he was exactly over the pool. It was only a few feet across and surrounded by a wall of tall rushes and water plants. He noticed that the trunk of a big dead tree lay across one end of the pool almost hidden in the coarse growth.

Getting a good grip with his legs, he took off his hat and was beginning to tie the string to it when from beneath came a sound so startling that he as near as possible lost his balance. It was exactly like the escape of steam from a small boiler. He looked down, and what he saw was so monstrous and utterly incredible that for the moment he sat frozen, unable to believe his senses.

The trunk—the dead tree trunk—had come to life, revealing itself as a serpent of such appalling dimensions as seemed only to belong to the realm of nightmare. Why, the thing was forty feet long, and as thick as Rob's own body! Its head, the size of a five-gallon keg, had just risen from the reeds, and this appalling sound was its hiss of rage at being disturbed from its noonday siesta. Rob found himself looking right down into its eyes which were yellow as gold, and full of a cold, yet deadly menace.

For a moment the breath left his lungs, and he felt as if turned to stone. He gave himself up for lost. The great serpent's head shot upwards; beneath, he saw the thick reeds flatten under the crushing weight of its writhing coils. Then, just as he was expecting the terrible head to dart against him and the huge curved fangs to fix themselves in his body, suddenly the head swept down and passed beneath him. Then came a squealing scream, and he caught a glimpse of a peccary struck and flung back among its fellows as if hit by a battering ram.

It was enough. In an instant its companions made a combined rush, and some at least got near enough to the serpent to fix their teeth in its scaly hide.

What followed was a battle such as few human eyes have ever seen and fewer spectators lived to speak of. Reeds crashed, mud and water flew, the vast coils of the serpent spun and wheeled, and its monstrous head darted this way and that with incredible speed and force. One blow was enough for each peccary that was struck. It was like hitting rats with a loaded club, for not one survived the lightning stroke of the great anaconda. Yet the rest, absolutely regardless of life, kept leaping in, snapping at the coils, making their tusks meet in the thick hide of the monster. Some were flung yards, some crushed into the mire under the weight of the writhing coils.

As for Rob, he sat as if frozen. His eyes were glued upon this terrible combat, and to save his life he could not remove them. A hand grasping him by the shoulder was the next thing he knew of, and here was Ned alongside him.

"Can't you hear me, you idiot?" he cried quite angrily. "I've been shouting to you to come on."

"I never heard you," Rob told him.

"You hear me now. Come—sharp, or it will be too late."

"Mean to say we can escape?" said Rob, but Ned did not answer.

He had turned and was scrambling like a lamplighter right across the branches. Rob wasted no time, and in a few moments the two were back on their original perch, on the side of the ceiba further from the swamp.

Ned glanced back. Not much was to be seen, In it from the frightful crashings, hissings and squealings it was evident that the battle was still in full swing. Then Ned looked upwards.

"Not one of the little brutes in sight," he said swiftly. "Come along, Rob. This is our chance. But for Heaven's sake don't make a sound."

As he spoke he dropped lightly to the ground, and Rob quickly followed him. Ned made straight for the cliff, and Rob ran beside him. Rob thought he heard something behind him, and glanced back over his shoulder just in time to see about half a dozen of the wicked little pigs come charging in pursuit.

"They're after us, Ned," he gasped.

"I know! Run!" was all Ned said.

Run they did. No one ever knows quite how fast he can travel until he is forced to run for his life, and as Rob said afterwards, the pace at which they did that hundred odd yards must have been near to record. Anyhow they reached the cliffs well ahead of their ugly little pursuers, and flinging themselves at the steep ascent went scrambling upwards. The rocks were broken and covered with shrubs and creepers which gave them good hand hold, and up they went from ledge to ledge at top speed. Nor did they stop until they were a good fifty feet above the level of the valley, where they found themselves on a broad ledge with a sheer scarp of rock above it. Ned turned and looked back.

"Safe for the minute," he said, pointing to the peccaries which were surging and squealing at the foot of the cliff.

Some had got up a few feet, but it was quite evident that they could get no further.

"But I'm not sure that it isn't out of the frying pan into the fire," he added.

"What do you mean, Ned?"

"Use your eyes, Rob. We can't climb any higher, and we're still a deuce of a long way from the top of the cliff. And there's no water—or shade."


ROB did not answer at once. He was carefully inspecting the face of the cliff. At last he pointed to the left.

"I think I see a way up, Ned. If we move along this ledge as far as it goes, I think there's another we can reach. Then do you see that dark line in the distance? It looks to me like a sort of crevasse or perhaps what mountaineers call a 'chimney.' And it seems to lead right up. Shall we try it?"

"I'm game," replied Ned briefly. "You lead. You know more about this kind of climbing than I do."

This was true, for Rob Maclaine had done a deal of climbing in the fells of Cumberland and in the Scottish mountains.

"But go slow," added Ned warningly. "There may be snakes anywhere along these ledges."

"No more pythons, I hope," said Rob with a shudder.

"No. Cascavels—rattlesnakes they call them in North America."

Sure enough they had not gone far before there came a warning hum, and one of these ugly reptiles raised its flat head threateningly. Rob picked up a big stone and crushed it, and kicked the writhing coils over the edge. The snake fell among the peccaries who were following below, and they instantly tore it to ribands.

"A warning to us," remarked Ned dryly, but Rob did not reply.

The climb was not easy, and the heat was frightful. Also the two were so thirsty that their mouths were like parchment and their tongues like dry sticks. But Rob proved himself right as regards the ledges, and he patiently worked from one to another towards the dark line which he had spotted zigzagging across the face of the cliff. The bushes and creepers so nearly hid it that Rob had felt very doubtful about its real nature, therefore, when he and Ned did at last reach it he was all the more pleased to find that it was just what he had hoped—a deep crevice seaming the cliff almost from top to bottom. Swinging round the edge, he climbed into it, and Ned followed him.

"Phew!" said Ned, mopping the perspiration which streamed down his brown face. "It's something to be out of the sun, anyhow. But what about it? Does this lead to the top?"

Rob did not answer at once. He was looking about, and there was a puzzled frown on his face as he stared at the rocks on either side.

"What's the matter?" demanded Ned. "What are you looking at?"

"I don't quite know, but this is a precious queer formation."

"Everything's queer in this rum country," agreed Ned. "But what strikes you as specially odd?"

"The strata are quite different on the opposite sides of this crevice."

"That's Dutch to me. Does it mean anything?"

"Do you mind if we climb down a bit?" said Rob.

"Down!" repeated Ned in surprise. "I thought we wanted to get to the top."

"So we do, but I badly want to see what this crack is like lower down."

Ned shrugged his shoulders.

"Anything you like, but I don't know how long I'm going to stick it without a drink."

"You may get a drink sooner than you think," replied Rob quietly, and set about clambering down the crack. It was easy enough, for the rock was sound, and there were plenty of footholds.

Rob did not speak, and Ned, realizing that his friend was really after something, asked no questions, so some five minutes passed during which they reached a point not more than twenty or thirty feet above the valley floor. Rob swung out of sight around a big jutting slab, and next moment Ned, following, heard him give a sharp cry.

"A snake?" he cried, springing forward.

"No—a cave!" was the quick answer.

"A cave!" repeated Ned, who was both relieved and disappointed. "Well, why not? There are heaps of caves in these cliffs."

"Ah, but not like this," replied Rob, pointing into a deep narrow crack which cut straight into the cliff.

He laughed.

"Don't look so puzzled. This is what I was looking and hoping for. See here, Ned, if I am fight—and I think I am—this is the old river bed."

Ned merely shook his head.

"It's this way," explained Rob. "Once this valley was lower than it is now and instead of that tiny brook a decent river came down it. Then one day, a few hundred years ago, there was an earthquake and the cliffs on either side of the valley toppled over and blocked it. This is the point where they met."

"But where's your river?" demanded Ned.

"Dried up, perhaps, for the climate here is changing and getting drier. Or it may be running underground."

Ned nodded.

"I see, but what good is all this to you?"

"I can't tell until I have explored the cave. Let's go a little way in. I've a torch."

He led the way and Ned followed. The entrance was so narrow that it took some squeezing to get through, but almost at once the cave broadened out to a breadth of ten or twelve feet and a height of twenty.

The torchlight showed it sloping gently into the heart of the cliff. Rob was now quivering with excitement.

"It's all right, Ned," he cried, his voice echoing hollowly down the cavern. "It's all right. We've got that ugly beggar Suarez on toast. Here's our tunnel practically made!"

"What, you mean you can run the line through it?"

"I do indeed. Of course it depends on whether it goes right through or not. Are you game to come on a bit?"

Ned shrugged his shoulders.

"It's a drink I'm thinking about."

"Me, too, but here's the place to find water if we are to find it at all."

"Then I'm your man," replied Ned hoarsely. The cave grew higher and wider, so high indeed that the small beam of Rob's electric torch failed to reach the roof. In spite of his sufferings from thirst Rob's spirits rose. This was tremendous luck, for if the tunnel continued on this scale it would be a comparatively simple matter to run the line through it and so down into the valley of the Salado. The only question would be whether he could find a way of carrying it up the scarp on the far side. But he had not much doubt about this, for he knew that the cliffs on that side were not so high as these, or so steep. The air grew cooler and damper and suddenly Ned's hand fell on Rob's arm.

"Water—do you hear it?" he said sharply.

Sure enough, from out of the gloom came the welcome tinkle of dripping water. Rob swung his torch, and presently the light fell on a tiny rock pool into which a little spring was bubbling from the side of the tunnel.

Both made for it at once, and flinging themselves down cupped their hands and drank greedily. The water was clear as glass, and cold as if it had been iced. At last Ned rose to his feet.

"I say, that was the best ever. I feel like new," he said.

"So do I," agreed Rob. "Now what are we to do? This torch won't last for ever, and I haven't another battery. Do we go back or push on?"

Ned's usually merry face turned grave.

"I suppose we ought to go back, but the trouble is the peccaries, Rob. We don't want to run into them again."

"We certainly don't," agreed Rob. "Then shall we push on and trust to getting out the far side into the valley?"

"Bit chancy, isn't it? We don't know if there's any opening."

"Of course we don't, but it looks as if there ought to be. Got any matches?"

"A few."

"Then I tell you what. Let's go back and make some torches from the shrubs on the cliff face. Then we'll have another shy at exploring the cave."

"That sounds good," agreed Ned. "Come on."

It did not take long to get back, and luckily Ned knew just what wood to use. With their knives they cut good bundles, lashed them together with creepers, and before they returned into the cave had a good look down the valley, but now there were no longer any peccaries in sight.

"Still, you can't trust them," said Ned. "They may be hidden up in the tall grass, and since we've dropped our rifles under the ceiba we mustn't take chances. Let's see if we can get through this cave of yours."

The torches flung a fine glare on the rugged roof and sides of the tunnel as the two marched through it. They passed the spring and pushed on for some distance.

"A regular, ready-made tunnel," said Rob with great satisfaction.

"Two, if you ask me," returned Ned who was a little ahead and pointed as he spoke to a great opening on the right of the main cave, an opening quite as large as the tunnel itself.

Rob whistled softly, then went nearer and held his torch into the opening.

"This is the real cave," he said, but the words were hardly out of his mouth before a number of large dark creatures came flitting out of it. They came at tremendous speed but in absolute and uncanny silence. In an instant they were all round the boys.

"Bats!" cried Ned, beating at them. "Look out, Rob. They'll put your torch out."

The warning was too late. These hideous creatures of the darkness swirled like great moths upon the lights, and almost instantly had extinguished both torches, leaving the two boys in darkness so intense that it might almost be felt. Rob cried out sharply, for one of the horrid things had caught its claws in his shirt and was beating him with its leathery wings. He tore it off and flung it from him.

"Light up! Light up again," he said to Ned.

"What's the use?" was the answer. "The moment I strike a light, they'll be on us again, and there are hundreds of them. And I've only got four matches left."

"And my torch is burnt out," groaned Rob. "What on earth are we going to do, Ned?"

Ned considered a moment before replying.

"The only thing is to turn and crawl back the way we came, Rob."

"I'm not too sure of the direction," said Rob. "Still, if you think it's the only thing to do I'm game."

"I'm sure it's the only thing to do," Ned answered. "I daren't risk the last of our matches with all these brutes of bats flying about."

"Next time we come we'll have something better than torches," Rob murmured as he started.

Moving in a cave without light is about the most nerve-racking job in the world, to say nothing of being the most difficult and dangerous. It is true that, on their way in, the boys had not seen any pits or dangerous holes in the floor, but that was not to say that there were none, and anyhow there were plenty of loose boulders great and small. In the darkness these seemed to have multiplied themselves a dozen times over, and every few moments Rob, who led the way, kept bumping into one or other of them. Then the only thing was to crawl round it, and this of course put him off the straight. At last he stopped.

"Ned, I haven't a notion which way we're going," he said.

"I think we're all right, Rob," was the answer. "We're going up the slope. That's the main thing. Keep on."

They kept on. Rob's eyeballs fairly ached in the vain effort to catch a glimpse of light. At last he did see something, or fancied he did. He stopped again.

"Ned, what's that?" he whispered sharply.

"What's what?"

"Those two green lights. Ned, they're eyes." He felt Ned start back.

"Yes, I see them," he whispered back. "You're right. They're eyes right enough. And a panther, I believe."

"A panther! What shall we do?"

"Chance the bats and light up again. If we don't the brute will have us. Keep still, Rob, I have the matches."

Rob's heart was thumping hard as he listened to Ned fumbling for his matches. Little as he had seen of this strange country, yet he knew enough to recognize the terrible nature of the danger which confronted them. There are seven sorts of panther or jaguar in the South American forests, and the largest exceed in size the great Bengal tiger. He kept his gaze fixed on those lambent green orbs which glared at him out of the surrounding blackness.

He heard the scratch of the match, and the flame, tiny as it was, nearly blinded him. Ned touched the match to the resinous sticks composing the torch, and by good luck they caught at once, sending up a hot red flame. As the light leaped up, both heard a low ugly snarl, and caught a glimpse of a huge tawny beast which leaped from the summit of a flat, table-shaped rock not twenty yards in front, and flashed away up the cave with almost incredible speed.

"Phew, but he's a big one!" gasped Ned. "The sort they call pintado."

"Where's he gone?"

"Haven't a notion, but anyhow he won't face the torch. I say, we seem to have got away from the bats."

"I expect they were only in that branch cave," said Rob, and looked round.

Then he gave a short laugh.

"What's the matter?" asked Ned.

"Matter. Only that we've turned right round and gone the wrong way."

Ned whistled softly.

"So we have. What do you want to do about it?"

Rob did not hesitate.

"Go right back. I'm not following that pintado, not without a rifle anyhow. I'd sooner face the peccaries."

There were no more bats, and the torch lasted well. Both breathed more freely when they stepped out again into daylight through the narrow opening of the cave.

"What about it?" said Ned with his engaging smile. "Have you done enough exploring for one day?"

"You bet," returned Rob emphatically. "We're due for camp and grub. The only problem is the peccaries."

"None in sight anyhow," replied Ned. "I think, if we slip quietly into the woods to the west of the glade, they probably won't spot us. It's that or climbing the cliff."

"I vote we chance it," said Rob.

Chance it they did, and gained the trees with out seeing a sign of the savage little black beasts. Ned guided his friend safely through the recesses of the forest, and in less than an hour they were out in the open again, and within sight of the camp.

"My word, I feel as if I could eat an ox," said Ned.

"You'll get a piece of one out of a tin," laughed Rob, and sure enough that was exactly what the camp cook provided—a large and very excellent tinned ox tongue. They practically finished it between them, and had put away a big dish of fruit and a large pot of tea into the bargain when Clandon came in, looking even more dispirited than usual.

"That fellow Suarez has been here," he said.

"What for?" demanded Rob.

"He was after that Indian, Pedro, his servant."

"Of all the cheek!" exploded Rob. "I hope you sent him off with a flea in his ear."

"I—I told him it wasn't any business of ours," said Clandon weakly.

"On the contrary, it's very much our business. Pedro is under our protection. I have promised him work."

"We have got as many men as we need," objected Clandon. "More—now that we are hung up."

"We shan't be hung up any longer," said Rob confidently. "But where is Pedro?"

"I don't know. He was not to be found."

Rob stared at Clandon.

"You don't mean to say you let that brute look for him?"

"I didn't want any more unpleasantness," was Clandon's feeble answer.

There was such a flash in Rob's eyes that for a moment Ned thought he was going to explode. But Rob had inherited plenty of self-control from his strong-willed father, and he checked himself.

"Please understand, Mr. Clandon," he said formally, "that this man Suarez is in future not to be allowed in or about our camp. And now I will tell you what I have done to-day and how I propose to proceed with the work."

Before he could say more the mosquito net which hung across the flap of the tent was lifted and Pedro came swiftly in.

"Señor, save me!" he begged, running towards Rob.

"What from?" began Rob, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before another figure stood in the entrance. It was Suarez dandily dressed as usual, his white teeth showing in an unpleasant grin. Rob shot to his feet.

"What do you want here?" he asked, and though he did not raise his voice in the least, there was no mistaking the fact that he was intensely angry.

"My peon, Señor Maclaine," replied Suarez, pointing to Pedro. "The man is in my debt, and the law gives me the right to claim his services in exchange.

"The law gives you no right to trespass on my property," answered Rob with admirable coolness. "I will ask you to leave at once."

The quiet tone in which Rob spoke deceived Suarez. The man knew that he could handle Clandon, so took it for granted that he could bluff this boy.

"When you hand over my servant I shall leave. Not before," he answered coolly, and actually stepped forward in the direction of Pedro who was cowering behind Rob.

What happened next was almost too quick for eye to follow. Before Suarez had the faintest idea what was happening, Rob had him by the collar of his dandy drill jacket, and spinning him round ran him out of the tent just as a professional chucker-out puts a rowdy customer out of a public-house.

The camp was surrounded by barbed wire. Rob ran Suarez straight down towards the nearest opening and through it; then letting go he administered one lusty kick, a kick which fairly lifted the dago, and deposited him on hands and knees in the grit and gravel of the gateway.

Suarez rose slowly to his feet, and his face was livid and his lips twitched as he faced the young Englishman. His hand shot to his knife, but he saw Ned, rifle in hand, standing close behind Rob, and thought better of it.

"I will kill you for that," he said slowly, and so fiercely that the words seemed to grate in his throat. "I will kill you," he repeated. "Not now, but later—and slowly."


"MUCH obliged, Ned," said Rob as they watched Suarez out of sight. "He'd have knifed me if it hadn't been for your rifle."

"Sweet creature!" remarked Ned with a dry smile as Suarez's white jacket finally faded into the gloom. "Wonder what he'll do next."

"It isn't what he'll do; it's what we are going to do," returned Rob.

"Oh, I know what you're going to do, old chap, and that's get on with the job, but I want you to remember that I know these dagoes a bit better than you. That chap means mischief, and he's cunning as well as revengeful. I'll ask you as a personal favour to go armed and to keep your eyes very wide open."

"Anything to please you, Ned," smiled Rob. "Now I've got to go and talk to Clandon."

Clandon, as usual, threw cold water on Rob's suggestion, but Rob's enthusiasm was proof against that sort of thing. And presently Clandon submitted to the stronger personality, and agreed that the new plan might be worth trying, always supposing that they could find a way to carry the line up the opposite side of the valley of the Salado. It was agreed that this should be surveyed the very next morning, and if it proved feasible, that work on the loop should begin at once.

They all turned in early, Pedro being given a bunk in the workmen's tent.

Very early next morning Rob, with Ned and Clandon, went down the valley, and very soon discovered a spot where a ravine or "barranca" made it possible to run the line up the southern cliffs. In very good spirits they returned in time for midday dinner.

Rob's first task was to write to his father, explaining fully what he intended to do. As soon as he had sent the letter off he collected his men and marched them off to the cave. Clandon with some helpers were left to survey and mark out the loop line which would carry the line to the new tunnel.

By Ned's advice, a number of the men were armed, but the peccaries seemed to have moved off. The boys ventured back to the big ceiba to recover their rifles which they had dropped there. They found no fewer than fourteen dead peccaries on the field of battle, while beyond the reeds and tall grass were crushed as if a steam roller had been over them, but of the monstrous serpent itself there was no other trace.

The peons looked a little scared when they saw the narrow mouth of the tunnel. Most of these natives are more or less frightened of meddling with caves, but Rob made them a little speech in his best Spanish, and promised them extra pay if they would run the job through in time, and since the tall young Englishman was already popular with them, they soon got over their nervousness, and promised to do their best.

The very first thing Rob did was to set the drillers at work and put in blasting charges on either side of the long narrow crack in the cliff. When these were fired they brought down enormous masses of rock, letting air and light into the more open space beyond.

Next, well armed and provided with acetylene flares, Rob and Ned, accompanied by a couple of gangers, set out to explore the tunnel to the far end. As before, the bats came swooping upon them, but a few charges of small shot brought them down by the score, and soon put an end to that trouble. They pushed on again, keeping a sharp look out for the panther, but apparently the shooting had scared him, and they saw nothing of him.

Then suddenly Rob gave a sharp exclamation and pointed to a dim ray of light which showed in front.

"She's open right through," he cried. "Did you ever know such luck?"

Sure enough, there was an opening out on the river side. It was very narrow and veiled by a perfect mat of creepers, but these were very soon chopped away, and then the sunlight streamed in.

"Jove, what luck!" cried Rob, quite carried away by excitement. "It's a tunnel practically ready made."

"Yes, you've certainly struck it lucky, Rob," agreed Ned more gravely. "I really think it ought to pan out all right. What's more, the roof seems fairly sound, which is a very big asset. If it wasn't for that wretched dago, I should be feeling fairly happy."

"You've got Suarez on the brain," said Rob with a touch of irritation. "What on earth can that beggar do to hurt us?"

"I don't know," confessed Ned, "but this I do know—that, as soon as he realizes what you're doing here, he'll be up to some monkey trick."

"I shall give orders that he is to be arrested if he is seen anywhere near the works," replied Rob sharply. "And if I catch him I shan't bother about the law. I shall simply put him under lock and key until the job is finished."

Ned made no reply, but his face remained graver than usual.

Next day work began in real earnest. Part of the camp was moved down to the mouth of the tunnel. Clandon, with half the men, began to build the loop to the tunnel mouth; Rob and Ned took charge of the actual tunnelling. They were with their men all day long helping and encouraging them, and Rob in particular was so cheery, so full of enthusiasm, that he got more out of these peons than Clandon had ever done. Pedro worked as well as any, but somehow he always managed to keep close at Rob's elbow. In a hundred little ways he showed his gratitude to the young Englishman who had rescued him from slavery.

A week passed, both ends of the tunnel had been opened out, and big progress made with clearing out the masses of loose boulders and smoothing the floor.

Then one morning, when Rob came out of his tent after breakfast, he got an unpleasant surprise. Not a man had gone to work. They were lounging about in knots, looking scared and talking in low voices. He turned to call Pedro, only to find him at his elbow.

"What's the matter, Pedro?" he asked sharply. The little man looked unhappy.

"They are on strike, Señor. They will not work any more."

"Heavens, why not? Aren't they getting enough pay? Is not the food right?"

"It is not that they quarrel with, Señor," replied the Indian. "It is that they are frightened."

"But what of?"

"Of the ghost, Señor. The ghost in the tunnel."

At this moment Ned came out of the tent.

"Hulloa, what's the trouble?" were his first words.

"They say there's a ghost in the tunnel," Rob answered quickly. "Did you ever hear such rot? But wait. I'll drive them back to it—and quick too."

Ned checked him.

"Steady, old chap. You won't do a bit of good by trying to drive them. They're as superstitious as African negroes, and if you try to force them back to work, likely as not the whole lot will simply clear out."

"Then what are we to do? Every day, almost every hour counts."

"I know that, but it's a case of 'Hasten slowly!' We must investigate. May I talk to Pedro?"

"Do! See if you can get to the bottom of it."

Ned spoke to Pedro and the two talked earnestly for some minutes. Then Ned turned back to Rob.

"It's a man called Gonsalvez who saw the ghost. He was later than the others in the tunnel last night, and the ghost appeared out of the Bat Cavern."

"What sort of a ghost?"

"Something with a perfectly awful name which sounds like Calafguin. It's the old Inca God of Grief, and of course they all think that his appearance means some awful disaster, and are scared stiff. But if you ask me, it's a put up job."

Rob's face hardened.

"You mean it's a trick of Suarez's?"

"You've hit it in one, Rob. That's exactly what I do mean. If you remember, I told you we hadn't done with him yet."

Two red spots showed on Rob's brown cheeks.

"I was a fool. I ought to have set a guard at both ends of the tunnel," he said.

"I don't suppose it would have done a bit of good, Rob. This is a very cunning ruffian we have to deal with."

"Well, what are we to do now, Ned? You know more about this sort of game than I do. I'm in your hands."

"If you ask me, the first thing to do is to explore the Bat Cavern. But you and I will have to do it, alone. We shan't get one of these chaps to come with us."

Rob nodded.

"I'm game. Shall we go at once?"

"The sooner the better. But it may be a big job, and we had better take arms and food."

"Yes, and plenty of lights and a rope. And perhaps I had better send word to Clandon so that he can keep an eye on the chaps while we're away."

"Quite a good notion," agreed Ned. "You write him a line, and I'll get the kit ready."

In less than half an hour all was ready, and the two were away into the tunnel. So far they had been much too busy to dream of exploring the Bat Cavern. All they had done was to put a light there with a net to trap the bats, and in this way they had destroyed a number of the hideous creatures. Apparently they had pretty well finished them off, for barring a few stragglers none appeared, and these were easily beaten down with sticks.

The boys carried a powerful acetylene lamp like a motor-bicycle lamp, but with a larger container. They had also electric torches with spare batteries, food for twenty-four hours with flasks of cold coffee, a long coil of strong rope, and a small axe. Each carried a magazine pistol, with plenty of cartridges.

"Keep your eyes on the floor, Rob," said Ned. "Our friend may have left traces behind him."

Next moment Rob had stooped and picked up something. It was a feather, a small white feather, which he showed to Ned.

"That's it, sure thing," said the latter. "I'll lay it's from his disguise."

"But this is quite near the mouth of the cave, Ned," said Rob. "Seems to me that the chances are he came into the tunnel from the river end, and never went any further than this into the Bat Cave. In that case, what's the good of exploring here?"

"You may be right," Ned answered. "But that's not my notion. I don't believe that Suarez would have risked coming into the tunnel in daylight. My idea is that he sneaked in the previous night, and hid himself in this side cave. And if you ask me, I shouldn't wonder if he's here still."

Rob looked up sharply.

"Ned, you've a head on you," he answered quickly. "I believe you're right. Come on."

They went on. The cave narrowed, but the floor was singularly smooth. Also the air remained perfectly fresh. The two boys proceeded cautiously, swinging the light from side to side. The silence was intense, and each footstep sent strange echoes whispering into the depths. The cave grew still narrower, and presently Ned pointed to the walls.

"Chisel marks," he whispered. "Some of the ancient people have opened this out."

The cave became a passage cut in the solid rock. The chisel marks in the wall were clear as if made yesterday, yet the floor was smoothed and hollowed seemingly by the passage of many feet. Here and there they saw characters carved in little squares on the walls, but the letters belonged to no language of which they knew anything. Ned stooped, and Rob heard him give a little hissing breath. Ned pointed, and in the dust which lay upon the floor Rob distinctly saw footmarks.

"Suarez?" he whispered, and Ned nodded assent.

Rob felt an odd thrill. It seemed to him that at last their enemy was delivered into their hands. He slipped his right hand into his pocket to make sure that his automatic was handy.

The passage curved, and as they rounded the bend they came suddenly upon a flight of broad steps leading down into the gloom. Rob hesitated a moment, but Ned urged him onwards, and the two went slowly down.

They were half-way when a sudden loud noise, a sort of clang, made them both pull up short. Imagine their horror when they saw that half-a-dozen steps had fallen away behind them leaving a gap far too wide to jump, and by its blackness of unfathomable depth. At the same moment a low cruel laugh sent ugly echoes whispering through the depths.

Great as was the shock, Rob recovered in an instant. Drawing his automatic, he raised his lantern, flashing its light back up the flight of stone steps in an effort to locate their treacherous enemy, but there was no sign of him, and again came the jeering laugh.

"No, Señor Maclaine, I may be a fool. I have been a fool, for at first I under-estimated your abilities. I did not credit you with the enterprise to find this outlet for your railway. But I am not fool enough to stand up and let you shoot at me."

He laughed again.

"On the contrary it is I who could shoot you if I so desired. Yes, you make an excellent target for my pistol, standing as you do in the full light of your fine new lantern."

Quick as a flash, Rob switched the slide over the glass, and laying the lantern on the floor, stepped aside. Suarez laughed again.

"A needless precaution, Englishman." His voice grated with malice. "Be assured. I have not the faintest notion of shooting you or your companion. Had I desired to do so, I could have killed you both when you passed me a minute ago." Again he chuckled, and the sound of his laughter made Rob feel as if icy water was trickling down his spine.

"Ha—ha! You never saw me, but walked on into the trap which I had prepared for you, as innocently as two rabbits.

"Such a pretty trap," he went on. "You have lights and a little food. That I know. I would recommend you to explore your prison, for there is much of interest to be seen. The one objection, so far as you are concerned, is that you will never return to report on your discoveries."

Once more his laugh sent echoes grating through the gloom.

"Oh, so you propose to keep us prisoners here?" said Rob, speaking with a coolness which almost startled Ned.

"Precisely, my young friends, and I can assure you that a more perfect prison does not exist in South America. Large, airy, and absolutely sound-proof."

Rob laughed.

"Does it occur to you that our men know where we have gone and that when we fail to return they will come and look for us?" he remarked.

The chuckle that came back was like the mirth of a lost soul.

"Your opinion of my intellect, Señor Maclaine, does you small credit. The folk who constructed this pleasant underground retreat took all precautions against intruders venturing into their tombs. Before I leave I work a lever hidden in the wall, and a slab of solid rock weighing several tons descends and bars the passage.

"Your men, when they seek you, will come against a blank wall. One, too, that is completely sound-proof. And since they do not know the secret of the lever they will return, and give up the search. Believe me, you are quite beyond any possibility of rescue. And Clandon, I fancy, will not exert himself greatly. He will, if I know him rightly, be rather glad to be rid of your inconvenient energy."

Rob, listening, felt his spirits sink lower and lower. The full horror of Suarez's dastardly plot was only just beginning to dawn upon him. But now he saw that, if what the man had said was true—and there seemed no reason to doubt it—he and Ned were doomed to a fate almost too dreadful to dwell upon. Suarez's voice came again out of the blackness.

"So you are beginning to understand, English dog!" he cried. "Ah, but you will have plenty of time to think it over, and realize what happens to one who dares to lay hands upon such as I. You are strong and healthy; you have food for a day. With care you may make it last for three, you may even live for ten. And each day I shall be here to enjoy my revenge, to listen to your groans, your prayers for help. And at last, when it is over, then you can think of me standing over your wasted body, crushing your dead face with my boot."

The malignity of these last words was so appalling that Rob fairly shivered. As for Ned, Rob heard him mutter.

"The man's mad. He's crazy as a loon."

Suarez spoke again.

"And now that you know your fate I will bid you au revoir," he jeered. "I am about to work the lever. You will be able to hear the slab descend into its socket." Sure enough, there came a creaking sound followed by a sort of faint grinding.

"Turn the light on, Rob," whispered Ned sharply. "Let's see if it's really true."

Rob did so. There before their eyes a great curtain of rock was slowly descending across the passage close to the head of the stairs.

"It's true enough," muttered Rob. "The beggar's done us all right, Ned."

The last thing they heard as the huge slab settled into position was the harsh, jeering laughter of their enemy, Suarez.

"Mad as a hatter," remarked Ned quietly—almost thoughtfully. "But these dagoes are rather apt to go off their rocker when they've been man-handled. And you did boot him properly that night, Rob."

"And I'd do it again if I had the chance," growled Rob in his throat.

"I'm rather afraid you won't get it, old son," Ned answered. "Well, what are we going to do about it?"

"That'll take a bit of thinking over," Rob answered. "The only thing I know is that we're not going to give that dago a chance of doing the gloat he's promising himself."

"No, by Jove, we're not! I'd rather chuck myself down that pit trap in the steps, Rob."

"Might as well have a look at that," said Rob, as he turned up the light, and walked back towards the steps. Four had sunk away, leaving a square shaft of such depth that they could not see the bottom. Ned found a loose bit of stone, and dropped it down.

"It's not so very deep," he said as the sound came back.

"About thirty feet, I should reckon," replied Rob. "And dry. Yes, now I've got the light better focused, I can see the bottom."

"We've a rope. I wonder if it would be worth while to go down and see if there's any way out at the bottom. It looks to me as if these Inca gentlemen had honeycombed the whole blessed cliffs."

Rob nodded.

"It might be a good egg, but only as a last resource. First, we'd best see if there's any other way out of this blessed dungeon."

Ned agreed, and they turned away in the opposite direction. Sure enough, a passage led out of this rock chamber, and travelling along this the two found themselves diving deeper and deeper into the heart of the cliffs.

"There might be another way out," said Ned hopefully.

"Suarez didn't think so," replied Rob rather briefly. "And judging by his knowledge of those trap doors and things, he knows this place well."

Ned set his teeth.

"Never mind. We'll try." Then he pulled up. "Hulloa, the passage splits. Which way do we go?"

Rob shrugged his shoulders.

"What does it matter?"

"Not much, I suppose. But we'd best mark our way."

He took a candle end from his pocket, lit it, and made a smoke mark on the smooth rock wall. Then they went on. Soon they found themselves in a perfect maze of criss-cross passages. It was almost terrifying to think how these ancient people must have worked to bore all these miles of tunnels in the hard rock, and that without the aid of explosives.

But this rock was softer than nearer the mouth of the cave, or else the workings were older, for now the boys kept on running into places where the passages were half blocked by roof falls. Sometimes they had to turn back and try other ways, and these, oddly enough, would often bring them back into a passage which they had been through already. There seemed no order of method in this tangle of tunnels, and it was only by carefully marking each turn they took with candle smoke that they were able to keep their direction at all.

At last after twice getting back to exactly the same spot, a place where the tunnel was blocked nearly to the roof, Ned stopped short.

"I've got it, Rob," he declared. "This is a maze."

Rob whistled softly.

"I believe you're right. But what did they make a maze for? They must have had some reason."

There was a sudden flash in Ned's eyes, and his voice was a little sharp as he answered.

"I think I know the reason, Rob. I believe this is one of the Inca Treasure Caves."

Rob pulled up short and gazed hard at his companion.

"Treasure! One of the old hiding places like those you told me of?"

Ned nodded.

"That's what I mean. You know that even their cooking pots were made of gold, and that, when the Spaniards seized their king, Atahualpa, they offered to ransom him with a roomful of gold. Then when they found that the Spaniards were after gold and nothing else, they started to hide all they had in these caves, thinking that if there was no more gold, the Spaniards would go away and leave them in peace."

Rob stood silent a moment or two. Then he laughed ruefully.

"But even a roomful of gold would not be much use to us, Ned. A roomful of grub would be better."

"We might bribe the dago to let us out," suggested Ned, but Rob shook his head vehemently.

"No. I'd sooner starve than let that swab have a penny piece," he declared. Then he laughed. "But we're talking as if we'd found the stuff, and as a matter of fact we haven't struck a colour, let alone a roomful. What's more, even if you are right and there is treasure somewhere in this blessed burrow, how are we to get at it? This passage is completely blocked."

Ned looked at the pile of rock which barred their way. He began to climb up on it.

"Steady!" said Rob sharply. "The roof is horribly dicky. If you're not careful, you'll have the whole thing down on you."

Ned climbed carefully back.

"I can see over the top," he said. "There's room for us to get over if we lift out a few of those blocks."

"I'll have a look," said Rob. "Hold the lantern."

Up he went. One or two of the loose blocks came rattling down, but Rob kept his foothold. Ned held his breath as he saw his friend feeling the broken roof with his hands. Presently he came down again.

"You're right, Ned. We can get over safely enough. The roof's not so bad as I thought it was. But see here. We've had a pretty good doing this morning. Let's rest a few minutes, have a mouthful of grub and a drink, then we'll tackle the job."

It was good sense, for Ned, now that he came to think of it, was decidedly weary, and the strain on the nerves of them both since their last meeting with Suarez had been a pretty heavy one. So the two sat down flat on the dusty floor of the ancient tunnel, opened their haversack, and Rob doled out two biscuits apiece, and about half a pint of cold coffee. They ate and drank slowly and rested afterwards for another quarter of an hour; then feeling much refreshed, they got up and started on their task.

It was risky work, shifting the loose blocks from the top of the heap of fallen rock, but Rob insisted upon doing it all himself. As he said, he knew more about that particular sort of work than Ned did. Once or twice fragments fell from the big hollow up above. But they were small and did no harm. At last the job was done, and with Rob leading, the two crept cautiously through the gap and arrived covered with dust and dripping with perspiration on the far side.

"And that's that," said Rob with a sigh of relief. "It was taking big chances, Ned, and I only hope we don't have to go back the same way."

Ned did not answer. He was wondering what would happen if they found another block of the same kind or perhaps worse. They pushed on, the bright rays of their acetylene lamp stabbing the gloom of the deep tunnel along which they travelled. The passage sloped gently downwards, and it was not pleasant to think how deep they were burrowing below the surface, but now there were no more cross passages.

"We've got beyond your maze, Ned," said Rob presently.

"It looks like it," agreed Ned, "but where on earth are we going? It looks as if we were tramping right down into the centre of the earth."

"We must keep on. There's no choice," Rob answered. "One thing encourages me quite a lot. The air is still as good as ever."

"I spotted that," agreed Ned. "I suppose that means there must be some ventilation at the other end."

"There's no doubt about that, but don't build on it, Ned. It doesn't follow that there's another way out."

Ned did not answer at once, and the two went steadily on. After a minute or two Ned spoke again. "Funny Suarez not knowing anything about this," he remarked.

"Not at all," replied Rob. "I have no doubt he went as far as that place where the roof had fallen, but I don't suppose it occurred to him for a moment that anyone could cross it. I didn't think so myself until I had had a good look at it."

Ned gave a short laugh.

"Nasty sell for him when he pays his call tomorrow."

Rob half stopped.

"I hadn't thought of that. Ned, it's just on the cards we might manage to trick the beggar."

"What—wait for him at the fall, you mean?" said Ned eagerly.

"Something of the kind, but we'll think it out. Meantime let's push on. We're going to the end of this blessed blind burrow before we turn back."

The passage began to curve to the left, and all of a sudden ended in another flight of broad steps carved in the solid rock.

"Rob, I believe we're on it," said Ned in a voice that was suddenly hoarse.

Rob did not speak at all, but held the lantern up so that its strong light flooded the steps. Below, they could see a chamber similar to the first one which they had found, but much larger and with a vaulted roof.

"What's that along the far wall?" demanded Ned in the same queer voice.

Rob hurried forward, and Ned followed. A moment later and they were on a broad level floor. The cave itself, it seemed, was a natural one, for the roof was rough and the shape irregular, but the floor had been artificially levelled. But these details they did not notice till later. Their eyes saw nothing but the bars that were piled against the opposite wall. These were short, not more than two feet long, and about three inches square, and were stacked with perfect regularity in piles with a space between each. The piles were each of about a man's height. The metal was very dark in colour and of course thick with dust.

"Struck an iron foundry, haven't we?" said Ned, but Rob was already handling one of the bars.

"Iron," he repeated. "Feel the weight."

Ned lifted one of the bars, and almost dropped it. Then he did drop it, and snatching his knife from its sheath, applied the sharp steel to the squared edge of the bar. It cut like lead, and beneath glowed out an unmistakable rich deep yellow.

"Gold!" cried Rob. "Gold. Tons of it! Enough to buy the Bank of England!"

"It's gold all right," said Ned more soberly, and then suddenly began to laugh.

"Stop that," snapped Rob. "What are you laughing at?"

"What, can't you see the joke?" retorted Ned. "Gold enough to load a ship, and no more good than if it was lead."

Rob saw that Ned was overwrought. For that matter, he himself had an odd feeling that he hardly knew whether he was standing on his head or his heels. It hardly seemed possible that this find could be real, and that each of those dull black bars represented the year's income of a rich man. He spoke more quietly.

"It's a bit upsetting, old chap, but try to put the gold out of your head for the present, and let's concentrate on getting out. Just keep this in mind. The air here is as good as ever, and that means an outlet of some sort. Let's concentrate on finding that, and afterwards we can think about the gold."

His quiet advice had a good effect on Ned, who stopped laughing and looked a little ashamed of himself.

"Right you are, Rob," he said. "Lead on." Together they walked along the wall of the cave, passing pile after pile of the priceless bars. Further on were other treasures, large flat plates and great pots like cauldrons, all of the same precious metal. Beyond these again were piled up spearheads made apparently of bronze or some copper alloy, and there was also a quantity of metal images, some representing the sun god with rays around his head, others men and women, others, again, animals. These appeared to be all made of gold and beautifully wrought. There were such quantities that they were beyond counting, and as for their value it was simply inestimable. The boys' senses grew dull with the endless array of riches.

But by this time they had got over their first excitement, and it was not fresh masses of treasure, but a way out for which they were looking. They had nearly reached the end of the cave, and their hopes were beginning to fail when Rob gave a quick cry.

"I feel a draught. Don't you?"

"Yes, plainly," Ned answered and hurried towards the wall.

"Hurray!" he almost shouted. "Here's a passage," and pointed to a narrow rift in the wall.

Next minute they were both scrambling up a steep and rough ascent. No made passage this, but a natural rift in the rock, yet down it the air blew fresh and cool, and their hearts leaped with delight.

Up and up they scrambled. In some places they had actually to climb, pulling themselves up by projections from the sides of the narrow passage. Then the ascent became less steep, and all of a sudden they were in a second chamber. This was a natural cave only about a score of yards across and roughly circular in shape. Panting with the climb, they pulled up on the level, and Rob flashed the light all round. He gave a gasp of dismay.

"No way out!" he said breathlessly.

Ned's eyes wandered round the circle of rock which enclosed them.

"No way out!" he echoed—and then suddenly, "Cut off the light, Rob."

Rob did so, and as the slide cut off the strong glare he gave a cry of surprise.

"Why, it's not dark. Ned, it's daylight."

"Look up!" said Ned, and Rob raised his head and stared upwards. High overhead and almost hidden by branches and foliage, a tiny patch of blue sky was visible. The two stared hungrily at the daylight which, for hours past, they had hardly hoped to see again. Then Rob turned to Ned.

"But what's the good?" he said bitterly. "There's forty feet of sheer rock between us and the top. We can never climb it."

Ned was silent. Indeed, there was nothing to say, for what Rob had said was only too true. The walls of the curious pit which they had reached were perfectly sheer, so sheer that even a squirrel could not have climbed them. The disappointment was too bitter for words, and for the first time since the beginning of their wanderings Rob felt the cold touch of despair at his heart. He dropped down on a lump of rock which had at some past time fallen from above, and sat there limply, the picture of dejection.

It was Ned's turn to try to console his friend. He walked slowly round the pit. As he did so dry bones crackled under his feet, bones of creatures which had fallen into this pit and evidently died of starvation. It was not an encouraging sight. But there was more than bones. Quantities of twigs and dead leaves and branches also lay on the floor, and these gave Ned an idea.

"Rob, let's light a fire. Some of our people might see the smoke and come to look for us."

"Try it if you like," said Rob dully, then as Ned set to work, "I'm sorry, old chap," he said quickly. "I mustn't give up like this," and got up to help.

Soon a column of smoke was rising up and eddying slowly among the green branches so far above. They kept the fire going, but the time dragged on and nothing happened.

The light began to fade; it was clear that the tropic day was fading to its close, and by this time their stock of fuel was nearly exhausted. The two had become very silent. Indeed, their last hopes had almost gone when suddenly a voice came echoing down from above. At first the boys hardly dared believe their ears, but next moment a figure appeared on the upper rim of the pit.

"Pedro! It's Pedro, Rob!" cried Ned.

"So I have found you, Señores," came the voice of the Indian.

"Thank goodness, you have," replied Rob heartily. "Have you a rope, Pedro?"

"I have a rope, Señor," replied the Indian, but in a tone so grave and strange that both the boys were completely puzzled.

"Quick, then! Let it down," shouted Rob.

Pedro made no movement.

"You have been in the cave of my fathers?" he questioned.

"The Treasure Cave. Yes, of course. But what does that matter?"

"It matters greatly, Señores," replied the Indian very gravely. "That treasure is stored against the day when my people rise again to their old greatness. Great as is the debt I owe to you, the laws of my people forbid that I should risk white men laying hands on the hidden gold of the people of the Sun."


HERE was a moment's silence, then Rob spoke.

"Will you tell us exactly what you mean, Pedro?" he said. "Do you intend to leave us here to perish?"

"Señores, it would break my heart to be forced to do so terrible a thing," replied the Indian, and there was a quiet dignity in his words which carried conviction. "Yet the laws of my people, of which you white men know nothing, forbid that the treasure should be touched except by those who are in the Inner Council."

"Then why should it be touched?" asked Rob simply. "White men do not take that which does not belong to them."

Pedro was silent.

"Point of view that's a bit hard for him to swallow," put in Ned dryly. "You don't know white men in this country, Rob."

Pedro spoke.

"Señor Roberto, you have saved my life and you have protected me from my enemy. Therefore if you give me your word to remain silent regarding the treasure, I will take it."

"You have our word, Pedro," replied Rob quietly. "But wait! Are you sure that Suarez knows nothing of this hoard of gold?"

"Of that I am certain," was the answer. "He, least of all, would trust himself within the perils of the twisted passages."

Without another word, he uncoiled a long rope of raw hide, and dropped the end into the pit.

"You first, Ned," said Rob. "You are lighter than I."

He helped to make the rope end into a sort of sling. Pedro meantime slung his end over a tree branch so as to get a purchase, then started to haul. For a small man and one not young his strength was amazing, and Ned rose slowly but steadily out of the pit. Rob sighed with relief when he saw him safe at the top; then the rope dropped again, and with Ned's assistance he, too, was quickly hauled out of the trap. The first thing he did was to grasp Pedro's hand.

"Thank you, Pedro," he said warmly. "We owe you our lives. But for you, we should never have got out of that horrible place. As for the treasure, that is forgotten. It is as if we had never seen it."

A faint smile crossed the Indian's grave face.

"It is well, Señor," he answered. "Now we return to the camp."

"Wait," said Rob with decision. "Suarez must not know that we have escaped."

"He will not know, Señor," replied Pedro. "He has returned to his house."

Rob shook his head.

"The news is sure to reach him, and it is the one thing that must not happen."

Ned looked at his friend in surprise.

"What's in your head, Rob? What plan have you got now?"

"I hardly know, Ned, yet I feel sure that in some way we can use our escape to score off that scoundrel."

Ned's face lit up.

"Yes, of course we can. We can hide in the cave and catch him as he comes in again to­morrow."

Rob shook his head.

"That's not quite it, Ned. I want to scare him, to put the wind up him thoroughly."

"Then it was Suarez who trapped you, Señor?" put in old Pedro.

"Yes," said Rob, and briefly explained what had happened. "And now I want to get back on him," he ended.

"Yes, Señor," agreed Pedro. "I understand, and it is in my mind that this can be done."

"But how?" questioned Rob.

"Señor, it was by the pretence of being a ghost that this evil fellow terrified your men into refusing to work. It is in the same way that we shall frighten him."

Ned broke in quickly.

"You'll never scare a chap like that with a ghost, Pedro."

"But yes, Señor. That dog is as superstitious as any mestizo, and the ghosts with which you shall terrify him are those of your own selves."

The boys stared a moment. Then Ned slapped his leg with the palm of his hand.

"He's got it, Rob. 'Pon my Sam, it's the goods."

Rob's tight lips parted in a slight smile.

"I almost think he has. That is, if we can hide on the other side of the stone door."

"That is what I mean, Señor," said Pedro. "You shall hide in the very spot where he himself hid this morning. I, Pedro, will show you."

"Then we mustn't be seen by anybody first," put in Rob quickly. "Tell you what. We will wait in the woods until it is dark, then go round to the river entrance and hide ourselves in the inner cave. We have plenty of food to last us, and though it will be a bit uncomfortable it will be well worth it."

"I should jolly well think it would," agreed Ned with enthusiasm. "And it's precious near dark now. Let's get to the edge of the wood before the light goes. We don't want to run into our old acquaintance the big panther, in the dark."

Pedro agreed that this was the best thing to do, and they started. They met nothing either human or animal, and just at dark slipped quietly into the river end of the tunnel, and from there gained the entrance of the Treasure Cave. Here Rob pulled up, and lit the acetylene lamp.

"There is one thing we have not thought of, Pedro," he said. "That is how to rig ourselves up as ghosts. We shall want some white sheets and some luminous paint."

"These I will procure for you from the camp, Señor," Pedro answered.

"Sheets, yes," said Rob, "but I doubt if there is luminous paint."

"Matches will do," put in Ned. "Soak the heads of a box or two, and we shall have all the phosphorus we need."

"Matches I will fetch," Pedro declared. "And none shall know where I am taking them. But before I leave you I will show you the hiding place."

It was no wonder they had not seen this on their way in, for the entrance to it was very narrow and hidden by a kind of curtain of rock; but once they were in it they found plenty of room, and though they had no bedding the place was dry and warm, so there was no particular hardship in having to spend the night there.

Having seen them safe, Pedro went off to fetch the things they required. In about an hour he was back, bringing not only the sheets and matches but also a quantity of fresh fruit which was just what the boys wanted after their long, hard day. Then he left them to their own devices, and vanished ghost-like up the passage.

* * * * *

IN spite of their hard beds, the boys slept well, and having eaten a good breakfast made ready for the approach of their enemy. Each got himself up like the regular old-fashioned bogey by draping himself in a white sheet. The match heads they kept ready to daub on at the last moment. Then they put out their light and waited.

It was pretty trying waiting there in the black darkness. Of course they had no idea when Suarez would come, but they thought it would be early in the morning, seeing that the dago was not likely to risk being seen entering the cave. But early or late, they had to watch for him, for they must be ready before he got anywhere near them. As time went on both began to feel nervous.

"I wonder if he'll come at all," whispered Ned.

"I'm sure he will come," replied Rob, "but the question is whether he will be scared. This sheet and phosphorus is a kid's game after all."

"Oh, I think he'll be scared right enough," Ned said. "If Pedro is right, Suarez hasn't the faintest notion that there is any way out of that trap he left us in. Whether he thinks we are dead or alive he's bound to get a nasty shock when he finds we are this side of the stone door. You see—"

He stopped short, for Rob's fingers had tightened suddenly on his arm.

"Hush!" whispered Rob. "I believe I hear steps."

For a moment or two both sat absolutely still, listening intently. Then Ned spoke in the lowest possible whisper.

"You're right, Rob. Someone's coming. Quick with that phosphorus stuff."

A kid's game, Rob had called it, but as they quickly rubbed the phosphorus over their sheeted robes and faces, the effect in that black darkness was enough to make each of them shiver. Meantime the steps came steadily down the long rock passage, and Ned grew nervous.

"Hurry, Rob," he whispered. "He'll be past before we can get out."

"That's what I want," was Rob's answer. "You wait till I move."

The light from Suarez's lantern threw its rays along the passage, and a faint reflection struck into the recess where the boys were hidden. Rob felt a sudden alarm lest the man should turn and walk in upon them, but he did not, and both caught a glimpse of his dark and evil face as he passed by.

Rob, peering out, watched him keenly, and presently saw him stop and lay down his lantern. He was quite close to the spot where the passage was closed by the great stone slab. Suarez turned to the left hand wall, and threw his weight upon a knob of stone which projected from the wall.

There came a grating noise, and almost at once the slab began to rise. Once it started, it went on rising by itself, and it flashed across Rob's brain that the ancient mechanism must be well worth investigation. The next thing Suarez did was to switch off his light, and a grim smile crossed Rob's lips. This was exactly what he had hoped for. He touched Ned on the arm.

"Now!" he whispered, and the two stepped quickly out into the passage.

Any noise they made was cloaked by the slow grind of the rising slab.

"Stand quite still," whispered Rob in Ned's ear.

The grinding ceased. The fact that there was no light evidently puzzled Suarez. He waited a moment, then spoke.

"So you are playing dead, my young friends?" he said in his detestable sneering tone. "But you do not deceive me. I can hear you, if I cannot see you."

"That's a dirty lie," growled Ned under his breath.

Rob pinched Ned's arm for silence, and for some moments there was not a sound in that deep underground place. Suarez apparently was listening with all his ears. They heard him give an uncertain grunt. He was evidently decidedly upset at the apparent absence of his victims.

Now came the critical moment. If Suarez switched on his light again it was quite likely that he would discover the trick that was being played upon him. Rob did not think he would do so, for he reasoned that he would be afraid of being shot at from the prison cave below. Still, there; was always the chance, so Rob took the bull by the horns and suddenly uttered a low, deep groan.

He heard Suarez out there in the dark make a quick movement; then pealed out such a ghastly shriek as sent cold shivers running down his spine. Next instant came a clatter, then a heavy thud. Ned jumped forward, but Rob caught and held him.

"He's fallen down the steps," hissed Ned.

"Perhaps he has, but wait an instant. He may be foxing."

"Not after a yell like that. Man, we've scared the soul out of him."

Still Rob waited a moment or two; then as there was not another sound, he switched on his torch.

"Told you so," cried Ned.

Sure enough, they could no longer see Suarez at all, though his torch lay where he had dropped it. The two boys ran forward, and as they neared the opening there was their enemy lying in a huddled heap on the third step from the top, and only two from the great pitfall which yawned between the fifth and ninth steps.

"He's dead," gasped Ned. "Ugh, Rob, look at his face."

Suarez's face was certainly not a pretty sight, for it was quite livid, and there was foam on his lips. His eyes were staring wide. Rob was beside him in a moment, and pulling open his shirt, put his hand on his heart.

"No, he's not dead," he told Ned. "He's in some sort of a fit. Where's the water bottle?"

Ned unslung the canteen from his shoulder.

"Pity he didn't go two steps further," he grunted. "What are you going to do about it now?"

Before Rob could answer, a sound behind made Ned start up pistol in hand. But the pistol was not raised.

"So it's you, Pedro," said Ned quietly.

Pedro, panting a little with the speed at which he had come, looked down on Suarez with a bitter little smile.

"The plan has worked, Señores," he said.

"Tophole," agreed Rob, "And now we were just wondering what was the next move in the game."

Pedro glanced at the gulf below.

"Drop him into that pit, Señor. I know the lever which closes it."

Rob shook his head.

"Can't do that, Pedro," he said with decision. "You know that as well as we do."

Pedro shrugged his shoulders. He had seen enough of white men to know that they had odd ideas. For himself, he would not have hesitated for a moment in taking such a Heaven-sent chance of being rid of his enemy.

"Will the Señor let him go?" he asked with a touch of sarcasm.

"Certainly not. He has tried to murder us. I shall keep him in prison and hand him over to justice."

Pedro's lips curled.

"You do not remember, Señor. This man has friends in high places. No court here will convict him."

"That's quite true, Rob," agreed Ned. "It's you who would get into trouble, not Suarez."

Rob frowned.

"Then what the mischief are we going to do? I'll not have this ruffian interfering any more until I have finished my job."

"Why trouble your mind, Señor?" said Pedro quietly. "Here is a prison better than any built of brick. And the key is known only to us three. Let us leave him here until the work is finished."

"It's a good egg, Rob," said Ned. "Lift him down into the lower cave. Leave him grub and a light. We'll keep him there till the line is finished."

Rob considered a moment.

"It seems as good a plan as any. Pedro, can you close the gap?"

Pedro nodded and stepped back into the passage. There was a grinding sound, and the four steps swung into place. They carried Suarez down the steps, first taking away from him his arms which consisted of a pistol and an ugly knife. As they laid him on the floor he began to recover. They did not wait for him to recognize them, but hurried away. Pedro worked the level, and the great slab closed down.

As it sank into place they felt as if a load had rolled off their shoulders. Then all three went quickly back to camp. Just as they left the tunnel, Ned spoke to Rob.

"I say, old chap, does it strike you we've still got to lay the ghost?" he remarked.


"YOU were right, Ned," said Rob gloomily. "The peons flatly refuse to go back to their work."

It was two hours after the capture of Suarez. The boys had had a sorely-needed bath and some hot coffee, and Rob had just returned from an unsuccessful interview with the foreman of the gangs.

"They are scared stiff," he continued, "and nothing I can say makes any difference."

Ned looked grave.

"I was afraid of it. Even if we could tell them that the ghost was Suarez it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

"Then in Heaven's name what are we going to do? This is the second day we've lost, and we can't afford the time."

"I wish I knew," said Ned. "Have you talked to Pedro?"

"I can't find him. He's not in the camp."

"That's odd. I say, I wonder if he's gone back to finish off Suarez."

Rob started sharply.

"Heavens, I never thought of that. Do you think he would?"

"The very thing he would do if you ask me. Suarez has wronged him badly, and he hates him like poison."

Rob whistled.

"We'd better go and see. Brute as the fellow is, we can't have him murdered in cold blood. Come on, Ned."

The peons watched the two idly as they made their way back into the tunnel. The boys had lights and their pistols with them.

"I say, Rob, do you think that we can work that door?" said Ned as the pair turned into the Bat Cave.

"I think so. I watched Suarez."

They reached the door, and found it shut. "I don't believe Pedro is here at all," said Rob. "He'd never have left the door down."

"He may have been and gone," Ned answered. "We'd best have a look." As he spoke he got hold of the great stone lever and put his weight on it.

Nothing happened. Rob lent his weight. Still no good.

"Pull sideways," he said. They did, and to their great relief the huge slab began to rise.

"There's no light the other side," said Ned and stooped to see.

As he did so something leaped upon him out of the inner darkness, flung him aside with such force that he went crashing down, and was away like a flash up the passage. In his fall Ned knocked Rob sideways, and before he could regain his balance Suarez was gone.

* * * * *

AN hour later the two boys, Ned with a bump on his head the size of an egg, and both very much upset, arrived back in the camp. This time Suarez had defeated them completely, and, what was worse, had got clean away. They had tried to track him but failed completely.

"Nice way Pedro will be in when we tell him," said Ned disconsolately.

"And the worst of it is that we have to tell him why we lifted the door," groaned Rob. "Goodness, we have made a mess of it! The men on strike, Suarez loose! I'm not fit to be in charge of any kind of a job."

There came a sound of footsteps outside the tent, and both boys turned as Pedro himself came running in. The Indian's brown face was alive with excitement. He looked so different from his usual grave, impassive self that the boys could only stare in silence.

Pedro came up to the rough mess table, and taking a packet of papers from inside his shirt laid them down.

"Señores," he said, and even his voice had changed, "your troubles are ended. The Tablada is yours."

Rob gazed in blank amazement. For a moment he really believed that the Indian had lost his senses. Pedro seemed to read his mind. He smiled.

"No, Señor, I am not mad. As soon as Suarez was safe I went straight to his house. Always I had believed that he had cheated me out of my property, and always I longed for a chance to find out. Here I have the proofs, and I beg that you will read them."

Still half dazed, Rob took up the papers, and began to read them through. After a bit he shook his head and handed them to Ned.

Ned took them eagerly, and ran through them. Rob saw Ned's eyes begin to shine.

"Pedro is right," cried Ned suddenly. "These papers are forged. This is not the Alcalde's seal. The whole thing is a swindle."

"You're sure?" said Rob.

"Dead certain. Go to any lawyer, and he will tell you I am right."

"But then the land is still yours, Pedro," said Rob.

"And at your service, Señor. I will take a fair price for the whole land or such of it as you desire."

Rob gripped Pedro's hand.

"You're the whitest man I know," he said warmly. Then he turned to Ned. "I shall go straight to see Dad," he said with decision. "He will put the business through. Ned, you tell Pedro about Suarez and try your best to find him."

* * * * *

ROB was away just twenty-four hours. When he returned Ned was waiting for him at the rail head.

"We've found Suarez," were his first words.

"What have you done with him?"

"Buried him," replied Ned quietly.

"Buried him?"

"Yes, what was left of him. The pintado got him."

"The big panther?"

"Yes. The same, I should think. Caught him in the strip of woods beyond the cliff as Suarez was making his way to the river." Ned shivered slightly as he spoke.

"Did you see the panther?"

"No, and I hope we shan't. The creature has done us a good turn, and I don't want to have to shoot him."

Rob nodded.

"I don't suppose we shall ever see him again. I am abandoning the tunnel, and going back to throw the bridge from the Tablada. And, Ned, Dad says Clandon is to go, and you are to take his job."

Ned's face worked oddly.

"I—I can't thank you," he stammered.

"Then don't," smiled Rob, slipping his arm into his pal's. "Now come over to the Tablada and let's plan out the bridge."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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