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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS MARTIN SHAW)

ONE MILE HIGH!

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THE COMPLETE STORY OF AN UP-TO-DATE TREASURE HUNT

Ex Libris

First published in Boys' Life, October 1911

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-10-17

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Illustration

THE wind swept round the shoulder of the great mountain-peak with increasing fury. The aeroplane, with its two occupants—one a bearded man, the other a mere boy—tilted over perilously before the gust. For two seconds it even seemed as though the biplane, with its daring occupants must be hurled to instant destruction on to the jagged rocks that lay six thousand feet below.

But the man who controlled the mechanism of the biplane kept his head. He depressed a lever. The biplane shivered, swooped down like a great bird, righted suddenly, and then sped forward towards the plateau that lay stretched out below—an inaccessible ledge, five thousand feet above the plains.

The roaring drone of the 70 h.p. Gnome engine was a sound that had never before disturbed those mountain solitudes. Above the biplane two mighty eagles soared, croaking hoarsely in their anger. Down, down, down towards the plateau raced the machine.

"We'll have to land now, Bob!" roared Duncan Moore to his son, who occupied the passenger's seat above his head. "It'll be touch and go to avoid those columns. That gust of wind did it. Hold on like grim death!"

Bob set his teeth. The plateau seemed rushing up to meet the aeroplane. He could see the ruined columns of a great temple that had been built on that mountain plateau by men who died a thousand years ago. At that time it had been possible to reach the shrine on foot, but long years afterwards a great fall of rock had swept away the narrow path. Now there was a sheer wall of rock between the temple and the nearest point of approach below.

The machine spun round like a top. Would it clear the pillars? Even as Bob asked himself the question, a side-plane caught one of the pillars as the biplane sped past.

What happened next Bob could never say. The machine crashed to the earth, to lie where it had fallen—a hopeless wreck. Bob was hurled forward—luckily into the fabric of the planes—and his father crashed past him.

For a few moments the pair lay where they had fallen. It seemed impossible to believe that they had not been smashed to atoms. But presently Bob crawled from beneath the wreckage.

"Father," he said in a somewhat quavering voice, "are you hurt?"

"Nasty wrench on the arm, a cut on the shin, and a ball the size of a hen's egg on my head!" was the rueful response. "Otherwise I don't think I'm much the worse. But you, lad? Any bones broken?"

"I don't think so, dad. I came into the middle of the right-hand plane. Bruised a bit. But, good heavens, what are we to do now? The machine's a hopeless wreck. And we're stranded on this plateau in mid air!"

"Well, we must be thankful for one thing," said Duncan Moore, gravely. "And that is, that we've come off with our lives. Our escape was nothing short of miraculous. It was having to make so sudden a descent that did it."

Bob crawled to the edge of the plateau and peered down.

Like a huge wall the great cliff dropped down straight for at least four hundred feet, to a spot where was the last remnant of the old mountain path that had, centuries ago, been pressed by the feet of worshippers ascending to the great temple on the mountain.

"Well, we've got here!" said the boy, in an awestruck voice. "We've reached the place where the great treasure is supposed to be. And now the biplane is a wreck, and it doesn't look as though we were ever going to get away from here again!"

"We won't say that, my son," replied Duncan Moore cheerfully. "While there's life there's always hope. We've got some food—enough to last us for a considerable time if needs be—and we've water in our tins. But in another two hours it will be sunset. Now I propose we utilize all the daylight that is left to seeing where we are, to exploring the temple as much as we can, and to finding a place to sleep in. For it will be cold up here tonight. I've got my patent lighter in my pocket, and we may be able to kindle a fire. And tomorrow we'll tackle the problem anew as to how we're to get away."

Such cheerfulness, in the face of what looked like hopeless disaster, put new heart into Bob.

"Never say die, dad!" he cried. "Always merry and bright—what? You have the chart that was given to you by the old Indian whose life you saved in the mines?"

Duncan Moore was a mining engineer, who had come out to Peru, with his orphan son, on work for a famous New York firm. They had had no thought of treasure-hunting a short while ago. The biplane had been built by father and son in their spire time. And then they had learned the secret of this wonderful Inca Temple on the mountains. If what the Peruvian Indian had told them was true, wealth untold lay somewhere within the recesses of the ruined shrine, perched on the mountain top.

Duncan Moore put his hand into his breast-pocket and drew forth a piece of discolored parchment. The writing on the parchment was in Spanish. Here is an exact translation of the original.

### Quote

"Lima. January 16th, 1597. With my own eyes have I, Pedro Diez, seen the mighty landslide that destroyed and devastated the land. Ay, and it was on the eve of my discovery, even as I had it in mind to scale Calca's heights and find the treasure of the Incas that lies out of man's reach, though the story of it I had from Chuquibambo, the chief. The temple is four-square, girt round, with mighty columns. In the center of the temple is the altar. And beneath the altar lies the treasure. There be four knobs of stone, one on each side of the altar. The knob on the north side is movable. Depress it and a hollow is disclosed. In the hollow beneath the altar is the treasure. And there it will lie for ever more."

"Well," said Duncan, "what do you say? Shall we put it to the test straightaway? I must say I have a longing to know whether we have come here and risked our lives on a wild-goose chase."

He looked ruefully at the wrecked aeroplane. Obviously to repair the machine would he out of the question.

"We're, not done yet, dad," said Bob sturdily, not meaning to let his father see how hopeless he felt the position to be.

For how could they tackle the three or four hundred feet that intervened between them and safety? The finest climbers in the world would have been powerless to clamber down that awful wall of rock.

Father and son moved off towards the ruined temple in the center of the great plateau. The building must, at one time, have been of huge extent. But of the great columns that had formed the outer ring of the temple only six remained intact, and one of these had been broken down by the aeroplane.

The pillars enclosed the great square walls of the temple, access to which was had through a mighty archway, also in ruins.

A moment or two later and father and son were standing inside the great, bare building, the roof of which had long ago disappeared.

Then Bob uttered a low cry.

"The altar is there, dad!" he said. "And look! I can see the knobs of stone or each side. Which is the north side?"

That was an easy thing to settle. Duncan Moore ran forward and gripped the knob on the north side of the altar. It moved sightly before his pressure. He pushed at it with all his strength.

A creaking sound followed. Then, one of the great slabs of stone upon which the altar had been built, fell inwards, to disclose a flight of steps, leading apparently, into the bowels of the earth.

"What marvellous mechanism!" said Duncan Moore. "Think of the ages that have passed since this was constructed. And it works today almost as well as it did all those hundreds of years ago. It really looks as though Pedro Diez spoke the truth. But we must go cautiously, Bob. The air in the vault below may be foul and vitiated."

"I've got my electric-lamp, dad," cried Bob.

He went cautiously down the steps, the glow of his light shining on the smooth steps that led downward.

Suddenly he gave a cry. Something rose out of the earth and dashed into his face, knocking him backwards. A great bat, disturbed by the light, blundered out into the light of the day.

There were fifteen steps. At the end of those the pair of adventurers found themselves in a great vault, bare apparently, though at one end of the vault was a great slab of stone, curiously carved, upon which was set a casket of black wood, also carved.

Nor was that all. At the foot of the slab lay a heap of mouldering human bones, the remains of one who must have died hundreds of years ago.

Duncan Moore lifted up the casket. It was very heavy, and secured with metal hasps.

"We'll take this up into the daylight, Bob," he said hoarsely. "It strikes me that it must contain what we've come to find."

And he was right. What that casket contained was enough to bring a gasp of amazement from the lips of the treasure-seekers.

It was full of wondrous gems! There were great rubies, six in all, each the size of a pigeon's egg, and of that wonderful red, known as pigeon's blood, each without a flaw, twelve diamonds, of a size and luster that even the most expert judge of gems could have told were almost priceless; emeralds, topazes, amethysts, sardonyx—a brilliant heap that caught the rays of the dying sun, and flung them back in the faces of the pair with blending radiance.

Duncan Moore drew in a long breath.

"Great Heaven!" he muttered. "These must he worth millions! I mean it, Bob! One of these rubies means a competence for life. I know something about precious stones, and I tell you that I have never seen any to compare with these And yet, of what good are they to us? How can we escape from this place?"

Bob could not answer. The sun was sinking behind the mountain peaks. It would be dark in a little while. Instinctively he drew nearer to his father.

"We must make our beds inside the vault," said Duncan Moore. "The fabric of the planes will be useful for that. And we'll eat what food we have, and then see if we can sleep. And in the morning we must try and find some way of escape."

He spoke bravely, but he dared not let himself dwell too closely on the situation, which was, indeed, one to make the stoutest heart quail.

So in silence the two ate what provisions they had with them, keeping back a portion of the food for the next day. Then they tore up strips of the fabric that had formed the wings of the now useless aeroplane, and made beds for themselves in the temple vault.

And side by side they slept in the black silence of the vault.

Bob rolled over on his side, opened his eyes, and sat up somewhat abruptly. It was some few minutes before he could shake the sleep from his eyes, and remember where he was.

A curious half-light filled the vault that had been the bedchamber of his father and himself. This light was due to the illumination that filtered into the place through a hole in the roof, where a subsidence in the rock, at some time, had caused a gap.

Duncan Moore was still fast asleep. Bob looked at his watch, which had luckily been unbroken when he and his father had been hurled from the aeroplane. The hands pointed to half-past six.

Bob rose softly to his feet. There was no need to awaken his father yet. He resolved to do a little exploration on his own account to see if it would not be possible to find some way of escape from the plateau.

Suddenly he heard a noise that made his pulses thrill. From somewhere in one corner of the vault came a faint, moaning sound, for all the world like a human being groaning in pain.

What could it be? Surely it was out of the question that a third person should be in the vault? And yet—

Bob rose cautiously to his feet, and made in the direction of the mysterious sound.

As he advanced toward the spot, a cool breeze fanned his face.

The moaning sound continued without cessation and soon the boy solved the mystery.

He came to an arched passage-way, in one corner of the vault, from which opening the sound had come. It was due to no human agency. Through the hole the wind blew strongly, thus causing the sound.

"By Jove," said Bob to himself: "but here's a discovery! Supposing that this is the mouth of a tunnel leading through the mountain? If it is, why, then we've solved the thing."

He determined there and then to explore the tunnel-way.

The passage shelved downwards gradually. It must have been made by human hands. The feeble light of the boy's electric lamp showed him the marks of instruments on the sides of the tunnel, marks that his experience in mines told him must have been made by picks or similar implements.

The further he advanced, the stronger blew the wind in his face. The passage was a funnel up which the breeze was drawn. It might, indeed, have been a ventilating shaft for the temple, as well as a way out from the shrine.

At last he saw ahead of him a tiny pin-point of light. He was approaching the end of the shaft. His excitement grew every moment. Luckily, however, he did not let his zeal outrun his caution.

And well it was for him that he kept his head, or otherwise he would assuredly have been hurled to death. For the tunnel came to an abrupt end.

It ended at a hole that was some sixty feet below the level of the plateau on which the temple had been built. The hole was in the sheer face of the rock, that dropped sheer down for three hundred feet.

So much, then, for Bob's hope of escape! Whatever the tunnel may have been in the past, it was now nothing more than a shaft.

Bob crept to the mouth of the tunnel and peered downwards.

Three hundred feet below he could see the old path that must at one time have led right up to the temple. In all probability the tunnel way, through which he had just crawled, represented the final piece of way that led to the temple itself. But there was small comfort to be derived from pondering over the puzzle. There was nothing for it but that Bob should retrace his steps the way he had come.

His father was still asleep. Bob roused him, and explained to him what he had discovered. Duncan Moore was naturally interested, and himself explored the tunnel, only to admit that, as a means of escape, the passage-way was useless.

"Well, Bob," he said eventually, "let's have breakfast, and then we'll go back on to the plateau and tackle the question anew.

"I've been wondering whether there's any possibility of our patching up the aeroplane, so as to make a glider or parachute of it. The engine, of course, is useless, and I'm afraid the planes are too badly smashed for repair, even if we had any tools, which we haven't!"

An inspection of the biplane soon convinced the pair that it was utterly out of the question to think of any help from this quarter. The biplane had crashed to the ground with such force as to make it a hopeless wreck.

Duncan Moore gave a mirthless laugh.

"Just think of it, lad!" he said. "Here we are, possessed of gems worth an immense sum, stranded on a plateau, three hundred feet high, with scarcely any food, and with no means of getting back to civilization with our wealth. It is hopeless to look for any help from the biplane, and we've no mechanical means whatever of leaving the plateau. We shall have to trust to our own resources, such as they are, to find a way out of the difficulty."

Suddenly Bob gave a loud cry.

"I've got an idea, father!" he said "Perhaps the biplane will save us after all!"

"The biplane?" echoed his father "But it's a hopeless wreck. We've gone into that. It is out of the question that we should patch it up."

"I know—I know!" said Bob. "But we can pull it to pieces still more!"

"Yes, we can do that," replied his father: "But even then, I fail to see what you propose doing!"

"How many feet of wire are there in the stays, how much stout fabric in the planes, how many strong bits of wood and steel?" cried Bob. "Why shouldn't we try and make a ladder? If we go down the tunnel-way in the temple, that'll save us some fifty or sixty feet. It'll be a dreadful thing to try—I know that—but surely it's worth anything to try and get away. If we stay here, we shall only starve to death!"

"By Jove, my son," said Duncan Moore eagerly, "but I believe you've struck it! The wire that has gone to make the stays is the stoutest procurable, and there are all sorts of odds and ends that might go towards the construction of your ladder. Come on! Every moment is worth untold gold to us!"

There is no medicine in all the world like hope. And now that hope had come to the man and boy, they set to work with feverish zeal. The machine was stripped, first of all of its gear, and then they set to work to detach all the wire from the framework of the ruined biplane.

After about an hour's work, the result was to be seen in coils and coils of the strong wire, neatly laid out beside the wreck.

"I should say, Bob," said Duncan Moore, "that we have here at least four hundred feet of wire, so that, if there is a three hundred foot drop before us, we ought to have ample. But, of course, we can't use it double, and it is equally impossible to imagine that we are going down it hand over hand, as though it were a rope. We should cut our hands to bits, even supposing we could hold on, which I'm sure we couldn't! What, then do you suggest now?"

Bob considered the problem with knitted brows for a few minutes.

"I've got it," he said at last. "We must chop the wooden stays of the planes into lengths of about a foot long, and fasten them at intervals all along the wire. It will be a long job, but it's evidently the only thing to be done, and we may find strips of the plane fabric come in useful as well. Luckily we've got a small axe and saw. So we'd better get to work at once—eh, dad?"

"Yes, that's it!" replied Duncan Moore. "That was just the idea I had. While you're chopping up the bits of wood, I'll be splicing the wire together, and fastening the rungs of our ladder."

They worked with feverish energy, but it was three or four hours before they had finished their work, and by that time both were thoroughly exhausted.

But they had triumphed. There was now a long rope or, rather, wire ladder, with rungs at intervals, the wire having been bound firmly round the middle of each piece of wood.

The ladder stood every test the pair could give it, though they tried it carefully foot by foot. True, it looked a mighty frail thing, and each knew that the worst part of the enterprise was still to come.

Bob could hardly repress a shudder as he peered over the side of the plateau and gazed down into the dizzy depths below. To think that all those hundreds of feet intervened between himself and safety—that he would have to fight his way down, inch by inch, foot by foot, on the swaying ladder! Supposing he were to grow faint half-way down? Supposing if, after all their precautions, the ladder were to break?

"And now, Bob," said Duncan Moore, when the experiments with the ladder had been concluded, "we'll finish the rest of our food and drink and have a rest. We've got to tackle this job on the top of our form, so to speak. It's not going to be all beer and skittles. But if we can win through, why, then the doors of the world will be open to us! There's nothing that we desire that we sha'n't be able to get, with all the money that will be ours."

But for the knowledge of the perilous enterprise that lay before them, the two Moores would have found but little to grumble at, as they lay there on that great plateau, while the sun beat down upon them, its heat tempered by the purity of the air.

Below them were the great plains that intervened between them and the coast. In the dim distance they could see the faint line of the sea, though the only sign of life lay in the eagles that circled over their heads, croaking hoarsely, as though in anger that their privacy had been disturbed.

And to think that hundreds of years ago that plateau had been filled with strange people, folk who had worshipped in the mighty temple, now a ruin, who had lived in the days when North America was a mere wilderness, overrun by the tiger ad the bear, long before the dawn of the mightiest republic the world has ever seen.

At last Duncan Moore rose to his feet.

"Well," he said quietly, "we'd better make a start. We'll take the ladder down into the tunnel-way you found. I noticed there was a pillar of rock at the end of the passage, to which we ought to be able to fasten one end of the ladder. And then why, then Fortune favors the brave, my boy!"

Bob nodded. His heart was too full for words. In silence the pair dragged the ladder into the vault, where was the great altar.

Duncan Moore took up the box containing the gems they had risked so much to obtain.

"We'll fill our pockets with these, lad," he said quietly. "It isn't often one gets the chance of stuffing a fortune into one's jacket!"

They made their way down the tunnel. As Duncan Moore had said, there was at the end of the passage a big pillar of rock. With the utmost care the man fastened one end of the swaying ladder to the pillar. Then he flung the wire stairway into space.

He crawled to the edge and peered into the abyss.

"It doesn't quite reach to the bottom," he said; "but I don't think there's a big drop. And now—who's to go first? Which would you rather do, Bob? Will you stay here while I go down, or make the attempt first yourself?"

Bob hesitated. There were beads of perspiration on his brow, not due to fear, but evidence of the fierce excitement that held him in grip.

"I think I'd rather go first, dad," he answered, in a low voice.

Duncan Moore gripped his son's hand.

"Right you are, son," he said, and his quiet calm put new life into the lad. "No need for me to tell you to be careful. Don't look down as you go. Keep your eyes on the rock face, and, if you can, use the face of the rock to help you down. Try to think that you're just clambering down an ordinary ladder, and remember that you come of a race whose motto has always been: 'Never say die.' And when you're at the bottom—but time enough to think of things when you are at the bottom. I shall be watching you from up here. And as soon as you're safe. I'll come after you."

Bob gripped hold of the topmost rung of the frail ladder. Then he threw one swift glance downwards, and as he did so—as he realised the nature of the task before him—it was as much as he could do to brace himself up to the ordeal.

His father saw all the doubts that were passing in his mind.

"It's a grim job," he said, with a smile. "You needn't be ashamed of being nervous. But it's either that, or death up here on the plateau. And think of the reward if we make good!"

Bob set his teeth.

"I'm not going to quit, dad!" he said sturdily.

And a moment later he swung himself over the edge and began the downward descent.

Inch by inch, rung by rung, he fought his way down the swaying ladder. The worst part of the task was the finding of foothold, for the wire had been passed round the center of each piece of wood that formed the rungs. But he remembered his father's advice to use the rock face where he could, and at intervals he was able to find foothold in the wall of rock, as he slowly, laboriously lowered his way down into the abyss.


Illustration

He fought his way down the swaying ladder.


Would he never reach the bottom? When he was not more than half-way down his muscles began to ache, his fingers seemed to be losing their power of grip. He dared not look downwards, dared do nothing, save hold on, hoping, praying, that the time would come when he might he able to swing himself off the last rung, and drop to the firm earth below.

But if he dared not look down, he was able to look up from time to time. It gave him heart as he discovered that his father's form, as the elder Moore leaned over and watched his progress, grew smaller and smaller.

But at last he began to realize that he was coming to an end of his powers of endurance. His head swam dizzily, red spots danced before his eyes, his muscles, his whole body, seemed to become as lead.

Still he fought on—on, until at last he knew he could do no more. He gave a loud cry, his fingers refused to hold the rungs any more, and then—

Then he dropped down, down, and consciousness left him.

When he came to his senses, it was to find himself lying on the ground, with his father bending over him.

"That's better," said Duncan Moore reassuringly. "You gave out when only within a few feet from the bottom. You've had a nasty smack, but no bones are broken. I saw you drop: but, of course, I could do nothing, and from where I was, I couldn't make out whether you had dropped from a height or the reverse. I came down as soon as I could, and, by Jove, I don't think I'd do it again for all the gold in the Indies. It was a terrific task, and I don't wonder at your giving out.

"But the worst part of our troubles is over now. We've only got to follow the winding path down the mountain, and we meet the mule track that takes us back towards Lima. And then, Bob—why, then it's for New York, if we like! It's good-bye to all our troubles. And we've no need to slave for others, but can be our own masters for the rest of our lives. We shall be rich, laddie rich! Just think what that'll mean to us. We can establish workshops for building those wonderful aeroplanes we've talked about so often. We can help to get our country in the front rank of aeronautical nations."

* * * * *

THERE is no need to describe how father and son got back to Lima, how they disposed of their treasure, and how, within a very short time, the whole world was ringing with the story of their wonderful achievement.

Duncan Moore took the straightforward course. He did not try to get rid of the treasure surreptitiously, for well he knew that, were he to offer his gems for sale without announcing how he had come by them, he would have the greatest difficulty in disposing of them.

For such jewels had never been seen. The rubies alone were worth more than three quarters of a million dollars, while the great diamonds were almost priceless.

Where the jewels had come from in the first place, what their history, were questions that no man could ever answer. Duncan Moore went straight to the Peruvian President, who was his friend, and told him the whole story of the treasure, with the result that the Government took its share of the booty, and allowed him to net something like five million dollars.

So Bob Moore and his father went back to the United States where they became the heroes of the hour. And within a year or so the world was further startled by the appearance of the Moore aeroplane, which was a great advance on all existing types of flying-machines.

But, to his dying day Bob Moore will never forget his awful experience in Peru, and even now he sometimes wakes up in the night to find himself bathed in perspiration, having lived over again those awful moments when he fought with death on that swaying ladder, climbing slowly, laboriously down the sheer face of the stupendous wall of rock.


THE END


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