I mentioned that at some distance from me I had observed a few of my friends, among whom I had no doubt was my father, hard pressed by a number of the robbers, who seemed intent on their destruction. The latter had now to defend themselves from the Indians; and my father and his party attacking them in return, they were either cut down at once, or attempted to escape by flight. A few of the more determined had fought their way back to where I lay, and I fully expected to receive my death-wound from some of them, as the fight passed over me, when I felt myself lifted in the arms of an Indian who I saw was dressed in the costume of a Peruvian chief; and just as the combatants reached me, he carried me out of the melee, and bore me up the cliff to a spot which none were likely to reach. As he placed me on the ground, I caught a sight of his countenance, and recognised the fugitive whom we had protected, the Indian, Manco Tupac Amaru. Before I had time to utter a word of thanks, he had again leaped down the cliff and joined in the combat. Some ten or a dozen of the robbers, who were still on horseback, and had kept together, were attempting to cut their way along the road among the mass of Indians who opposed them. Being well mounted, and with superior weapons, they had a great advantage; but the Indians were inspired with a courage I little expected to witness. They rushed in upon them, cut their bridles, and dashed their spears in their faces; and seizing them by their clothes, hung on them, in spite of the cuts and thrusts of their swords, till they dragged them from their saddles. No quarter was given; the instant a robber was unhorsed he was speared; and before the tide of the fight had rolled on many yards, not one was left alive. Many of our party had fallen. Indeed I was surprised to observe, nor could I account for it, that the Indians took no pains to preserve the lives of the Spanish travellers, though they did their utmost to protect the Indian guides. The padre and two or three others alone escaped. The road below me indeed presented a sad spectacle; for, as far as I could see, it appeared strewed with the corpses of my late companions—of robbers and Indians, many of whom had fallen in the last desperate struggle. I looked anxiously for my father, and my heart beat with joy as I saw him coming along the road, and evidently looking for me. My preserver, Manco, had observed him; the recognition was mutual, and they soon approached the spot where I lay. I need not describe my father's feelings at finding that I was alive. I endeavoured at first to conceal the pain I suffered, and which made me fancy that my thigh must have been broken. At length, however, I could not help giving expression to the anguish I experienced.
"Wait a few minutes," said the Indian chief, "and when I have performed some duties which are urgently required, I will cause my people to form a litter to transport you to a place of safety. What has occurred must remain secret for a time. I can trust you; but some of the people in your company who have escaped, might betray our proceedings to the authorities. Their lives are safe, but we must keep them prisoners till they can no longer injure us by being at liberty."
Neither my father nor I could understand what he meant, and before we could ask an explanation, he had left us. We watched his movements, and saw him place each of the survivors of our party between a guard of four armed Indians. Some of his followers took charge of the baggage mules; others lifted up the dead bodies of their friends; while the rest were busily employed in collecting the arrows and the other Indian missiles and weapons; and they then again formed in marching order. A few had constructed a litter, and brought it to the foot of the cliff, down which Manco, with my father's aid, now conveyed me.
"I wish to have no sign of our having taken share in the fray," observed the Indian. "The lions and condors will take good care that none shall discover how those men died."
As he spoke, I looked up, and observed several of those mighty monsters of the air hovering above our heads, ready to pounce down on their prey as soon as we should have left them to enjoy their banquet undisturbed.
At a sign from Manco, whom the Indians seemed to obey with the greatest zeal and respect, they lifted up my litter, and bore it along at a rapid rate. My father mounted a horse which was brought him, Manco rode another, and the priest was accommodated with a mule; but the rest of the Spaniards were compelled to walk, except poor Jose, who was carried, as was I, on the shoulders of some Indians; but they did not seem at all to like the office, nor to regard the rest of their prisoners with any feeling of good-will. Every arrangement was made with great promptitude; and as I watched from my litter the Indian warriors filing before me, I could scarcely help thinking that I saw a portion of the very army which the great Incas were accustomed to lead to victory.
We proceeded along what might be called the high road for some miles, when we struck off across the mountains to the left, the latter part of the time being guided by torches, for it had become too dark otherwise to see our way. At last we arrived at a small hut, built on the side of a rugged mountain. It afforded shelter from the cold night-wind; and as many as it could hold took up their quarters within it, while the remainder bivouacked without.
Fortunately for me, the padre was something of a surgeon, and on examining my leg, he assured me that my leg was not broken, but only severely bruised, and that perfect rest with fomentations would recover it. It was impossible, however, to obtain that rest, as we journeyed on without stopping, except for our meals and a few hours' rest at night, for several days; and though I was carried all the time, the jolting of my litter, as we ascended or descended the steep hills, was very inconvenient. But the Indians collected a variety of herbs, and making a decoction of them, fomented my leg whenever we stopped, so that the swelling gradually subsided, and the pain diminished.
At length we reached a collection of deserted huts, among rugged and inaccessible crags, with the snowy peaks of the Andes towering high above us. The lower parts of the mountains were clothed with pine trees; and long grass grew on the borders of several streams which run through the neighbouring valley. With the pine trees the Indians formed rafters to the cottages, and thatches with the long grass and reeds. In a short time they thus rendered them in some degree habitable. I observed that though my father was allowed to go where he liked, the rest of the party were narrowly watched, so that they could not attempt to make their escape. When he spoke to Manco on the subject, and expostulated with him on detaining the rest of the travellers, the Indian chiefs reply was short but firm.
"It is necessary for the sake of Peru that they should be kept prisoners," he observed; "had it not been for you and the padre, they would probably have lost their lives. I can trust you if you will give me your oath not to betray what has occurred or what you suspect, but I cannot trust them. When your son is able to move, you shall proceed on your journey; but they must remain here till it is safe to set them at liberty."
"I do not seek to pry into your secrets, and should be guilty of the greatest ingratitude by saying a word even to injure you or your people," said my father. "I am doubly anxious to reach Cuzco, lest my family not hearing of me from thence, should become alarmed."
"Write a few lines to assure your family of your safety, and it shall reach them long before they could hear from you were you to write from our ancient capital. Trust that to me," answered Manco, and he was afterwards found as good as his word.
The observations which the Indian chief let fall made me suspect that some plan was forming among the Indians to emancipate themselves from the Spanish yoke; and when I mentioned my surmises to my father, I found that he was of the same opinion, but he warned me not to mention my thoughts to any one.
"The less we know on the subject the better for us," he observed. "Living under the protection of the Spanish government, it might be our duty to warn them of danger, while it is equally our duty not to betray those who have trusted us."
"A curious sort of protection they afford us, when they allow bands of robbers, who were near cutting our throats, to scour the country unmolested," I answered. "For my part, I think the Indians would be perfectly right to emancipate themselves from the galling chains which enthral them."
"But were they to make the attempt, they could not do so," said my father. "The discipline and gold of a civilised people will always in the end prevail over a half savage one, in spite of their bravery and resolution."
Our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Manco. No longer a hunted fugitive, he now walked with the air of a chieftain, his costume also being that of an Inca noble of old. Although the dress had long been disused, except on festive occasions, he had now assumed it to give him greater authority among his countrymen.
We found at the huts a considerable number of women and children, some of them belonging to the Indians who were with us, and some, I concluded, related to others who were absent. They were evidently collected here to be beyond the reach of the Spaniards, and to avoid the flagitious Repartimiento and Meta, the more rigid imposition of which was about that time, I knew, causing great discontent among the people. The Spaniards, long accustomed to treat the Peruvians as inferior beings, destitute alike of feeling and courage, forgot that even a worm will at times turn and attempt to bite the foot that presses it.
I had observed at times a larger number of persons than had accompanied us to the village; and I remarked several strangers, dressed in skins and feathers, who came and went, and again speedily returned, as if they had gone only to a short distance. I told our host that I had observed this, and inquired where the people came from.
"From a place where the foot of a white man has never trod," he replied. "If you were strong and well. I might take you to it, and might show you wonders you little expect to behold, so fully do I trust; but the time may come when, free of danger, I may gratify your curiosity."
I expected that he alluded to one of those ancient villages which I had heard of as existing in the heart of the mountains, and never discovered by the Spaniards; where the inhabitants had continued in the enjoyment of liberty, and the laws and customs of their ancestors. I had often wished to visit one of those remnants of antiquity, and I became doubly eager to do so, on finding myself in the proximity of one of them; but Manco assured me that it would be utterly impossible to conduct me there for a long time to come.
We had now spent a week at the huts, and I was so far recovered as to be able to mount a horse and move about on foot with the aid of a stick; and as my father was very anxious to proceed on his journey, we agreed to start the following day. On hearing that we were about to depart, the other travellers wished to accompany us; but the Indians would not hear of it, and, I observed, kept a stricter watch than usual over them. Manco showed great unwillingness to part with us.
"Go as you desire it, my friends," he said. "You are at liberty to do as you judge best; but for your own sake, as well as mine, I would have had you remain. However, as go you must, I will send some of my people to escort you on your way; and one of them shall follow you as your servant till you return home. He will obey you in all things, but you must not blame him if he is absent during a few hours at times from you. You must pay him no wages, but you must not send him from you; and if you are asked where you found him, say in a mountain village, and that he wished to come with you to see the world."
The next morning our new attendant made his appearance. He was a small, active-looking man, of a lightish rusty-red colour. His dress was much as is usually worn at the present day, consisting of loose trousers of coarse brown cloth, fastened round the waist by a girdle, and a woollen shirt of a dark blue colour. His poncho, which served as his outer garment, was of alpaca wool of the same hue as his shirt; and on his head he wore a broad-brimmed hat, while his sandals were of untanned leather, just covering his toes, and secured by a thong round the ankle. He took charge of a mule laden with our clothes and a supply of provisions.
Manco took an affectionate farewell of us as we were mounting our horses at the door of the hut. He pressed our hands as he said—
"We may meet again, dear friends, at some future time, when the children of the sun may dare to lift up their heads in the land where their fathers ruled. Till then, farewell."
We found, a little farther on, a band of a hundred men, well armed with muskets and rifles, ready to escort us; and a young man of the Inca family, their leader, told us that they were to accompany us to help us to cross the difficult barriers which surrounded the spot we were in, and to watch us till we reached the neighbourhood of Cuzco.
Accustomed as I was to mountain scenery, I should not before have thought it possible for any four-footed animals to climb up the rugged precipices, over which the Indians led and pushed our horses and mules. In some places they were literally hauled up with ropes, and let down again on the other side. My kind guides assisted me up and down also, though I had nearly recovered my usual strength. A number of streams crossed our path, adding not a little to its difficulties.
Our animals were generally driven into the water and compelled to swim across, being then hauled up on the other side. We passed by means of a curious kind of bridge called a Huano. It was formed of a thick rope, which is carried by means of a lighter line across the chasm. The lighter line was carried across by some powerful swimmer, or by a man holding on to the mane of one of the horses or mules. On the rope ran a roller, to which was fastened a piece of wood, and to the wood the passenger was secured; the transit was made more easy by two light lines, by which the piece of wood was drawn from side to side. Several of the Indians went first across. I watched them in their dizzy transit, and I thought, if the rope breaks, what will become of them? When it came to my turn to cross, I held my head as high as I could, and crossed my legs over the thick rope, which I grasped with my hands. I did not dare to turn to look into the deep gulf below; for strong as my nerves were, I felt that if I did, I should have let go my hold. I was not sorry to find my head knocking against the shrubs and rocks on the opposite side. My father followed me; and then the whole body, one by one, passed over. Having got into rather less intricate country, the captain of our escort told us that from this place forward we must no longer remain in company, though he had orders from his chief to watch us till all probability of danger was past.
Accordingly, my father and I, and our new Indian servant, prepared to proceed alone. We were still several days' journey from Cuzco. We slept as before at those most wretched of all inns the Indian tambos, though wherever we stopped we could not help remarking that we were treated with more than usual kindness and respect, which we suspected was owing to our being under the special protection of their chief. That also we were not deserted by our guardians, we had reason to know. On more than one occasion I had observed one or two figures hovering on the brow of some hill, or appearing from behind trees, bushes, or rocks. I perceived once one of them started up close to us. I pointed him out to our attendant, who had likewise seen him. With a significant look he answered, "Fear not them—they will not injure us."
We encountered but few travellers, and I do not recollect any other occurrence worthy of being narrated daring our journey.
CUZCO DESCRIBED—WE ARE MADE PRISONERS—ANXIETY FOR THOSE AT HOME.
"Behold Cuzco!" exclaimed our Indian guide, as, throwing himself from his horse, he knelt in adoration of the glorious luminary, whose rays were just then throwing a mantle of gold over the crumbling walls of a mighty fortress, which protected the holy city of his ancestors, the capital of the Incas.
We had just reached the brow of an elevated ridge which forms one side of the fertile and extensive valley in which Cuzco stands, built, like ancient Rome, on a number of hills or slight rises. To the north of the city, on the summit of a lofty eminence, appeared the still dark and frowning fortress of Cyclopean architecture, composed of stones of vast magnitude. When I afterwards visited it, I was surprised to find the extraordinary nicety with which, without any cement, they were joined together; and I cannot tell with what machinery the Peruvians could have raised blocks so enormous to such heights, or how they could have fitted them, shaped as they are in so many various forms, with exactness so remarkable. Had I believed in the existence of giants, I should have supposed that they alone could have lifted such vast masses into the positions they hold. Many of the modern residences of the conquerors stand on the foundations of the ancient buildings of the Peruvians, and from among them we saw towering upwards the spires and towers of the magnificent cathedral, of the convents of Saint Augustine and La Merced, and of a number of other fine churches. We had not long to contemplate this scene of the ruins of the past and of modern splendour, as it was necessary to reach the city before dark; and the setting sun warned us that we had not much time to lose. We were questioned, when we entered, whence we had come; but before we could speak, our Indian attendant stepped forward and gave an answer that satisfied the guard, and we passed on.
The inn we went to was the best in the city, but it could boast of affording us little comfort, though, as we were accustomed to rough fare, that mattered little. At daybreak I was on foot, as I was anxious to see the city; and with our Indian attendant as my guide, I wandered through the larger portion of it before breakfast. We reached a collection of ruined walls, composed of huge masses of rock.
"On this spot," said the Indian, bending reverentially towards the sun, just then rising over the walls of the city, "stood the great temple where our fathers worshipped the God in whom they trusted; away to the right, where now those convent walls appear, were the residences of the beautiful virgins of the sun; and in these fields of corn and lucerne which surround us were once laid out the magnificent gardens of the temple, filled with menageries of all the animals of our country, with aviaries of birds of many-coloured plumage, with fountains, and trees, and flowers, and ornaments of vast size, of gold and silver and precious stones, many in the form of the shrubs and plants among which they stood, and of workmanship so admirable that they seemed to vie with them in elegance and beauty. But the greedy spoiler came, and behold, stranger, what he made it! Alas! this garden is but an example of the condition to which our unhappy country has been reduced."
The Indian was silent, and seemed lost in gloomy reflection. I, too, thought of the past; and as I did so, the magnificent Temple of the Sun appeared before me, with its walls resplendent with the golden ornaments which surrounded them, and its wide courts crowded with votaries in their many-coloured costumes and head-dresses and robes of feathers, eagerly watching for the rising of the luminary they worshipped. I fancied I could hear their voices, and could see the mighty mass below me, their plumes waving in the breeze as they joined the joyous shout raised by their friends above them.
"Yes, a day of bitter retribution will ere long arrive," exclaimed my companion. The deep, low, and concentrated tone of his voice roused me from my reveries, he appeared unconscious that he had spoken. "Come, sir," he said, "we will proceed."
As I walked through the streets of Cuzco. I was struck with the air of antiquity which many of the buildings wore; and I could not help regretting the worse than Gothic cruelty and ignorance of the Spaniards, which had destroyed the numberless magnificent edifices of its former inhabitants. We spent three days in the city, and on the fourth took our departure, accompanied by Ithulpo. I learned that twenty leagues only from the city commence the territories of the unsubdued Indians, who will allow no stranger to enter their country. As I looked towards the distant mountains which form their bulwarks, I fancied that it must be a land full of romance and interest, and I longed to penetrate into it. I was before long to have my wish gratified, through means I little contemplated.
Our course was, however, now in a contrary direction, north and west, towards the sea. We had proceeded two days' journey, when, at the urgent request of Ithulpo, we turned aside to rest at a town among the mountains.
"It is inhabited chiefly by my people," he observed. "To-morrow they perform a ceremony, at which I wish to assist, and which you will like to behold."
We ascended by a narrow and winding path among the mountains to the town, where we were lodged in the best house it possessed, and where the inhabitants vied with each other in paying us attention. The next morning, when I went out, I was surprised to see the place crowded with Indians dressed in the ancient costume of the country, of which certainly the pictures I have since seen in England and France do not give at all a correct idea. They wore feather head-dresses, and their cloaks and trains were likewise trimmed with feathers; and if not quite so picturesque, were more suited to their convenience than the scanty feather kilts in which they are made to appear. Having breakfasted, my father and I followed the crowd at a little distance to see what was going to occur. Among them we observed, raised above their heads, a gaily ornamented litter or covered palanquin, in which sat a person richly dressed with the regal border or red fringe of the Incas on his head. We learnt that he was intended to represent Atahualpa. On pressed the crowd with shouts and songs towards a large square before us; there they halted, when from some buildings in which they had been concealed, appeared another party dressed in armour with guns in their hands, and one or two small pieces of cannon following them. They all wore masks, and were intended to represent Spaniards. One more hideous than the rest was evidently Pizarro, and by his side stood the priest Vicente de Yalverde. They approached the litter, and the monk addressed the Inca in a long harangue. Atahualpa replied, when a terrific shriek was heard; the litter was overthrown, and the Inca was dragged among the Spaniards. A mock combat took place, but the Indians were driven back; and then arose the most melancholy cries and groans ever heard. It was no imitated grief, for to such a pitch had they worked up their imaginations, that they really fancied that their Inca was again torn from them. At last they retired, and a new scene in the drama commenced.
A number of Spaniards came forth from the building to which they had carried off the Inca, and seated themselves as if holding a council. Atahualpa was next brought out. He stood, with downcast looks and hands bound, before his judges, waiting his doom. One man only pleaded his cause, the others brought forth numberless arguments for his condemnation—a good satire on those by which the real Inca was judged to be worthy of death. At length one standing up, pronounced the representative Atahualpa guilty, ordering him to immediate execution. No sooner were the words uttered, than there arose from the crowd such shrieks and cries, that I could scarcely believe them to be feigned. Amid them the Inca was led to the place of execution, already prepared, where stood a man with ferocious aspect with an axe uplifted in his hands. The axe fell, and while the cries and groans increased, as I saw a bloody head lifted up before me, I thought for an instant that the man had really been killed. I soon, however, saw that the bloody head was merely a block of wood, while a piece of cloth was thrown over the person who had represented the Inca to conceal him from view. The Indians, however, appeared to be as deeply affected with grief as if they had really just seen their beloved monarch slaughtered before their eyes, to such a pitch were their imaginations worked up by the scene which had been acted. Had I not witnessed what I describe, I could scarcely have believed it possible; and as the Cholas sang their songs of mourning, the tears streamed down their cheeks, the groans seemed to come from the hearts of the men, and every countenance wore an expression of the most profound sorrow. Just at that moment I saw a man hurrying up the path which led into the village from the valley below. Almost breathless with exertion, he uttered a few words to the first he met. His communication flew like lightning among the crowd. They scattered in every direction, as if a thunderbolt had fallen among them. Masks were torn off and hastily concealed, dresses were changed, and the block and axe, and all the things connected with the representation, were carried away, while the people ran along the streets, and shut themselves up in their houses in evident fright.
We were not long in ascertaining the cause of the commotion. As I watched the approach to the town, I caught sight of the bayonet and shako of a soldier rising above the brow of a hill. Another and another followed, till about twenty men and two Spanish officers formed in the square of the town. That they had come for no good purpose, was soon made manifest by their charging a small party of the Indians who had neglected to escape from the square. So unexpected was the attack, that some were captured, while others were cruelly wounded before they could conceal themselves. The soldiers having thus whetted their thirst for blood, hurried from cottage to cottage, breaking open the doors and dragging out the terrified inmates. Those who were found with a mask, or any portion of the ancient Indian costume about them, proving that they had taken part in the forbidden representation, were without mercy shot, in spite of the entreaties and cries of their wives and children. A considerable number were also dragged from their huts and bound together with ropes, preparatory to being carried off as prisoners.
We had hitherto remained concealed in the house where we had rested for the night, and which had been unvisited by the soldiers. Had we been able to leave the village unobserved, we would gladly have done so to avoid contact with the troops, though we had no reason to apprehend ill-treatment from them. My father had desired Ithulpo to have our horses and baggage ready to start at a moment's notice. While we remained shut up in the house, we could only judge of what was going on by the sounds we heard. The shots and cries had grown fainter, and thinking that the soldiers must have got to a distance, we considered this a good opportunity to set out. Ithulpo had been watching them through a hole in the wall of an enclosure, at a little distance from the cottage within which our animals were to be kept ready. I looked cautiously out of the door of the cottage, and seeing no one near, I ran round to where Ithulpo was posted. I told him that we were ready to start.
"I was coming to tell you that now is our time to start," he replied. "I wish that I was certain that all the soldiers are together, for I am afraid that some may be left to guard the outlet to the village; but we must run the risk."
We accordingly brought the horses round. Our baggage was soon strapped on, and mounting immediately, we set off at a brisk pace, followed by the well-wishes of our host, towards the only outlet to the village. Several houses were in flames, and more than one apparently dead Indian met our view. A short hour had made a sad change in the peaceful village, which now looked as if it had been stormed and sacked by a cruel enemy. We had no time to stop to examine whether any of the prostrate forms we saw were still alive, so we pushed on. Just, however, as we reached the top of the pathway down the mountain, a party of soldiers, with an officer at their head, appeared suddenly before us. It was impossible to escape notice, so we attempted to pass them.
"Stop!" cried the officer, presenting a pistol. "Who are you?"
"English travellers, on the road to Lima," answered my father.
"Say rather English abettors of rebels," exclaimed the officer fiercely. "We find you in a village encouraging the ignorant people by your presence to break the law. You are our prisoners."
My father pleaded in vain that we had no intention of breaking the law, or encouraging others to do so.
"You may make your excuse to the government of Lima," answered the officer; and he ordered us to remain where we were on pain of being shot.
A number of prisoners were collected together, and we had no doubt that he had heard from one of them of our being present at the forbidden ceremony we had witnessed. The bugle now sounded the recall, and soon afterwards the rest of the soldiers returned, dragging after them a number more of wretched prisoners. They appeared to be the principal people in the village; and whether guilty or not of the crimes charged against them, they were dragged away from their homes, to undergo more suffering on their road to their place of trial than they would deserve even if proved guilty.
The unhappy men were lashed together by the wrists two and two, all being likewise joined by a single stout rope; while blows and curses urged them on if they did not move fast enough to please their tyrants. Had the inhabitants of the village united bravely, they might have overpowered the soldiers and rescued their friends; but terror-stricken, they were afraid to show themselves.
Neither my father nor I were in any way molested, but a soldier was placed on each side of us and our Indian attendant, with orders to shoot us if we attempted to escape, a command they seemed very ready to obey. The word was then given to move on, and we commenced our descent of the mountain, a body of eight soldiers bringing up the rear. We addressed the officers several times to learn why we were thus treated, but the only answer the one in command deigned to make was—
"You are found in communication with rebel Indians, and there are suspicions against you."
I thought of our having aided the escape of the Indian chief Manco, and feared that by some means the circumstance might have become known. If such were the case, I trembled for the safety of my dear mother and brothers and sisters. I thought of all the insults and annoyance to which they must have been subjected while our house was being searched, and my father's papers and books being examined, which I knew they would be, by the officers of justice. I did not, however, communicate my thoughts to my father, as I felt that if it suggested the same idea to him, it would cause him much pain and anxiety.
I endeavoured therefore, as we rode on, to amuse him by conversation; but I am afraid I succeeded very ill. Ithulpo was very gloomy and silent, evidently brooding over the wrongs his countrymen had so long endured, and were still receiving, from their oppressors. At the foot of the mountain we found another party of soldiers concealed in a wood, and guarding the horses of our escort. The whole then mounted; and as we proceeded at a more rapid rate, the captive Indians were goaded on more cruelly to keep up with us. Ithulpo still said not a word; but as his eyes were now and then turned towards his countrymen, I observed that looks of intelligence were exchanged between them. Some shrieked with pain; others returned glances of rage at their tormentors; a few almost fainted, till stirred up again to proceed; and two, who had been wounded, actually dropped down, and as they were left in the rear, the report of musketry told what had been their fate. The fear of a similar catastrophe deterred others from giving in while they had any strength remaining to drag onwards their weary limbs.
My father's kind heart was bursting with indignation and grief; but from the surly answers he received, he saw that it would be hopeless to plead for the unhappy beings.
"A day of bitter retribution will come, ere long, for this tyranny," he observed. "Such conduct must arouse even the most long-enduring from their apathy. Even as it is, how entirely has Spain failed to reap any benefit from her apparently glorious conquest of this new world! or rather, I may say, from the mode in which that conquest was conducted, it has brought on her a heavy curse instead of a blessing. Since she gained America, she has gradually declined in wealth, intelligence, and power; and if I mistake not the signs of the times, these beautiful provinces will soon be wrested from her, though, alas, the seeds of misgovernment and bigotry which she planted, will take ages more to eradicate."
Subsequent events, as my readers know, proved the correctness of my father's observations. Spain no longer holds sway over any part of the American continent; and the colonies she has planted, ever since constantly plunged in civil war and anarchy, have been far outstripped in civilisation by those peopled by the Anglo-Saxon race.
ATTEMPT TO CROSS A DESERT—THE DISASTERS WE ENCOUNTERED.
Our journey was irksome and disagreeable in the extreme. We marched on each day as long as the horses and men could move; and we rested at night, sometimes in farm-houses, or in the public tambos; but frequently we took shelter within the ruins of forts or other buildings, and often we were obliged to sleep on the hard ground, with our saddles for our pillows and the starlit sky above our heads. As it was the height of summer, this mattered little. We suffered, however, much from the heat in the day-time, and we were compelled frequently to dismount to lead our horses over the rugged places we had to pass. Day after day the poor captives dropped through fatigue, till their numbers were much thinned; but still we pushed on. We passed through a number of Indian villages, the inhabitants of which looked out from their mat doors with sad eyes on their unhappy countrymen; and we now discovered that the object of the Spaniards in carrying them on was to strike terror into the hearts of the people. When governors cannot manage a people so as to gain their love, they attempt to rule them through their fears; but such a government is never of long duration, and must ultimately bring destruction on itself. We had marched for three days without finding any habitations, when I saw the officers holding consultation together, and evidently much perplexed. A halt was ordered, and inquiries made if anybody knew the road. We had lost our way. The Indians had no knowledge of that part of the country, nor had any of the soldiers. I detected a gleam of intelligence in the countenance of Ithulpo, which made me suspect that he could give the desired information if he chose; but when asked, he denied all knowledge of the way. We took shelter that night within the walls of a ruined village, which, from its appearance, I judged had not been inhabited since the time of the conquest, except as a temporary abode in the same manner as we used it. It must have been a place of some extent, but the greater part was concealed by trees and shrubs, and creeping plants, which had grown up among the walls. Most of the buildings were of sun-dried bricks; but others, within one of which we were placed, were of masses of stone, like the fortress of Cuzco. It had probably been the residence of a chief or noble. It seemed strange that the Spaniards should not have known so remarkable a spot; but though they did not, I was certain that the Indians were well acquainted with it.
The prisoners were all driven together like a flock of sheep within one of the enclosures, and a sentry was placed over them, with orders to shoot any who might attempt to escape. After the horses had been picketed in a grassy spot close to the ruins, the soldiers lighted their fires to dress their evening meal, while the two officers sat themselves down on a fragment of stone and smoked their cigars, taking no notice of us. Our horses and luggage mule had been placed with the others under a guard; so they thought, I suppose, that we should not attempt to escape. Meantime my father and I sat at a little distance, watching the proceedings of our very unwelcome companions, while Ithulpo stood near, casting every now and then towards them glances expressive of the most intense hatred, and a desire of vengeance. The sun was still low, but his rays yet tinged the topmost branches of the trees and the lofty ranges of mountains in the distance. The soldiers had brought skins of wine and plenty of good cheer with them; and when they had eaten, they passed the wine-skins round right merrily, the officers joining in the carouse. Instead of pouring the wine into cups, they lifted the skins high above their heads, and without touching the vessel to their lips, allowed the wine to run down their throat in a gentle stream. As we were close enough to them to be easily watched, the officers, I suppose, thought that we should not attempt to move away. Ithulpo had stowed a sort of knapsack he carried with some dried meat and bread, which he now produced, and it served to satisfy our appetites; but we had no wine, and our surly guards did not deign to offer us any.
"Do not repine, sirs, at the want," he observed. "I will show you a pure stream, the water of which, ere to-morrow's sun has set, those soldiers will value more than the finest wine their country can produce."
The sun went down, and the shades of night came rapidly on, but still the Spaniards continued their debauch. They had apparently forgotten us and their other prisoners; for though by the light of their fires we could clearly see them, sitting as we were under the shadow of a wall, we were no longer visible to them. Ithulpo came and sat himself down beside me.
"Could we not manage to get away from these people?" I asked in a whisper.
"Not now," he answered. "The sentries would give the alarm if we attempted to take the horses, and without them we cannot move. To-morrow we shall have a better opportunity, and we may help some of my poor countrymen to escape at the same time."
"Why do you expect that a good opportunity to escape will occur?" I inquired.
"I cannot at present reply to your question," he said. "Those who now guard us will no longer be able to do so. Trust to me. You will enter Lima as free men, and no one will appear as a witness against you, to support the false accusation these people have made."
I forbore to question him further, but there was something very mysterious in his look and manner; and at first the horrid idea occurred to me that he had by some means contrived to poison the Spaniards, for otherwise I could not account for the confidence with which he pronounced his prediction. However, I endeavoured to banish the suspicion as too dreadful to be entertained. At length the commanding officer seemed to recollect that he had duties to attend to. Fresh guards were set over the prisoners and the horses, wood was collected and the fires were made up, and a sentinel was posted near the spot, under shelter of a wall, which we had selected for our place of rest. Ithulpo got leave to bring us our saddles and horse-trappings to serve us for beds, and he likewise brought us our portmanteaus and saddle-bags, which he placed near us. The soldiers threw themselves on the ground, and were very soon fast asleep. Our sentry also, from the manner his head every now and then gave a sharp nod, was evidently very drowsy. The heat of the weather, the exertion he had undergone, and the wine he had drunk, were quite enough to account for this. I also at last fell asleep. My eyes had been closed for about a couple of hours, when I was awakened by Ithulpo touching my shoulder. I sat up, and observed that he had the wine-skins emptied by the soldiers hanging on his arm.
"Follow me," he whispered. "We are not going to escape; but you are thirsty, and I will show you a pure spring, where you may drink your fill, and you will be better able to endure the heat of to-morrow's sun."
Silently following him, as he led the way among the ruins, I found that we had reached a thick and apparently impenetrable wood. Without stopping, however, he went direct to a spot where the branches yielded easily to his hand. A winding path appeared before us, proceeding along which, we arrived in an open forest glade. On one side rose a high rock, which seemed part of a range of cliffs forming the side of a mountain. The murmuring sound of water met my ear, and by the faint starlight I discovered a stream gushing forth from the rock, and finding its way in a narrow rivulet through the glade.
"The white man thinks that the discovery of a gold mine will bring him all the wealth he can desire; but the time has come when he would gladly exchange all the gold and silver hidden within yon mountains for one draught of that pure stream," muttered Ithulpo, as I stooped my head to drink at the fountain. "Drink—drink while you can," he continued in the same low tone. "It is more than wealth, it is life itself; it fertilises, it invigorates, it cleanses, it blesses. Without it the world would be but a sterile desert, unfit for the habitation of man; while gold, which the white men value so much, has ever proved the curse of our country. They value it because they think it scarce, while we, who know the deep mines where in vast heaps it lies hid from their sight, place it at its true worth, below iron and copper, or even silver or tin."
While Ithulpo was thus speaking, he was employed in washing out and filling the skins he had brought with water. I also filled a couple of flasks with the pure fluid. We then retraced our steps by the way we had come, I assisting him in carrying the somewhat heavy burden. We reached the camp unobserved by the drowsy sentries. I was wondering what the Indian intended doing with the skins, when, begging me to lie down and rest, he took up two of the skins, and crept cautiously away towards the enclosure where his countrymen were confined. After a little time he returned, and again took the path to the fountain to replenish the skins. I was afraid he would have been discovered, but he went about the work so cautiously and silently, that he altogether escaped the observation of the sentries. After he had given the prisoners all the water they required, he came back to where we were lying, and threw himself on the ground near us. The rest of the night passed quietly away; and notwithstanding the painful position in which we were placed, I slept soundly. I was aroused by the sound of a bugle, and found the soldiers getting under arms and preparing to march. Our baggage was replaced by Ithulpo, who I saw watched it carefully. The men mounted, the prisoners were dragged out from their resting-place, and we commenced our day's journey.
An extensive plain was before us, with a few rugged and barren heights scattered over it. As we proceeded vegetation grew more and more scanty, till after we had marched scarcely half a mile, it ceased altogether. We had slept, we found, on the borders of a desert. The ground was at first composed of a mixture of rock and clay, over which the sea had evidently rolled in former ages; but as we proceeded it became more loose and broken, till it changed into a soft shifting sand, into which our horses' feet sank deep at every step they made.
The poor prisoners, already worn out with their long journey, appeared scarcely able to drag on their weary limbs through it. Of its extent we were unable to judge, but the commander seemed to fancy that in a short time we should reach firmer and more fertile ground, where we should find water and halt to breakfast. The sun, which rose in a cloudless sky on our right, showed that we were proceeding in the direction we wished to follow—towards the north.
"Forward, my men," shouted the officer. "In an hour or two we shall be out of this ill-conditioned spot, and find rest and refreshment."
The soldiers lighted their cigars and urged on their horses, while they dealt their blows freely on the backs of the Indians to quicken their speed.
I observed a peculiar smile on the countenance of Ithulpo, as the officer spoke of soon reaching a place of rest. Our attendant had, I found, managed to distribute a supply of the highly prized cacao among his countrymen; and while their features wore a look of sullen indifference as they received the ill-merited blows, I remarked that they seemed to bear up against the fatigue better than they had before done. As the sun rose higher the heat increased, till it became almost insupportable. The officers spoke earnestly together for some time, and were evidently growing anxious as to the road we were taking. At length their voices grew louder and louder, as if disputing on the point, for there was very little semblance of discipline among them. Then they called up several of their men one after the other, but could not gain the information they required. Some of the prisoners were next brought up, but they either could not or would not say whether we were pursuing the proper course, their countenances assuming an expression of the most perfect ignorance and apathy. Still we pushed on, the Spaniards trying to urge their horses still faster through the heavy sand. Before us rose a bright glittering haze, through which objects every now and then appeared seemingly in the far distance—hills, and trees, and rocks, and lakes, and streams of pure water; but as we advanced they vanished, and a few barren mounds and loose stones alone were found, while the supposed water was altogether a mocking deception. To the right hand and to the left, the same inhospitable desert seemed to stretch out far away; and we had already advanced so deeply into it, that the officers probably supposed that there would be as much risk in returning as in going on. On therefore we went, the soldiers having no mercy on the prisoners, whom they urged forward, whenever they attempted to slacken their pace, with the points of their swords, till the blood trickled in streams down the backs of these miserable beings. We were riding just behind the main body of the soldiers, followed by Ithulpo and the baggage mules. The generous, kind heart of my father was almost bursting with indignation, as he saw this piece of cruelty.
At last, as an Indian more weary than the rest sunk to the ground, and a soldier was about to plunge his sword into his body, he could restrain himself no longer.
"Hold, wretch!" he exclaimed. "Add not murder to your cruelty."
The soldier, taken by surprise, did not strike the fatal blow till his horse had carried him past the fainting Indian; but, balked of his prey, his anger was kindled against my father, and turning round, he made a cut at him with his sword. Fortunately I carried a heavy riding-whip, with which I was able to parry the blow. The man did not attempt to repeat it, for the junior officer turning round, observed the act, and called him to order; but it showed us what we were to expect if we excited the anger of our captors. I could not withstand the despairing look the poor wretch cast on us as he thought we were about to pass him and to leave him to his fate; so throwing myself from my horse, I lifted his head from the ground. My father stopped also, and so did Ithulpo.
"On, on!" shouted the rear-guard of the Spaniards. "On, or we will fire at you."
"We will follow immediately," replied my father. "On my word of honour—on the word of an Englishman."
The Spaniards had never known that word broken, so they allowed us to stop to help the Indian. One of our baggage mules was lightly laden, and in spite of the threats of the soldiers we lifted him upon it. I had, as I mentioned, filled a small spirit-flask with water, and unseen I poured a few drops down his parched throat. This much revived him, and by urging on our animals, we were soon able to overtake the already weary horses of the Spaniards.
The time for breakfast had long since passed, but still no signs of a resting-place appeared. On the contrary, the sand became finer and deeper, and the dreary expanse before us seemed to lengthen out to the horizon. As the sun also rose higher in the sky, his unobstructed rays darted down with greater force upon our heads. There had been a slight breeze in the morning, blowing fresh from over the snowy summits of the Cordilleras; but that had now died entirely away, and not a breath of air stirred the stagnant atmosphere. The heat at length became almost insupportable, while our eyes could scarcely bear the glare of the sun on the white glittering sand.
To do the Spaniards credit, they bore up bravely for a long time against the heat and thirst and fatigue which assailed them. The horses, however, which had only been scantily supplied with water the night before, began to knock up—their ears dropped, their heads hung down, and their respiration became thick and fast. Ithulpo had supplied my father and me with cacao, by chewing a piece of which occasionally, we avoided any feeling of hunger; and as we also wetted our lips, when they became parched, with the water from our flasks, we did not suffer much from thirst. Still the sensation of oppression and fatigue was very painful. We received too, ere long, a warning of what might be our fate, in the spectacle which met our sight. The sun had reached his meridian height, and was descending towards the waters of the Pacific, and still it appeared that we had made no more progress than in the morning, when we came upon the bleached bones of several mules and horses, and by their side appeared, just rising above the sand, the skeletons of three human beings. It appeared as if they had all been struck down together by the same fiery blast. The soldiers, as we passed, turned their looks aside, without uttering a word, each one feeling that he might shortly become like those ghastly remnants of mortality. I observed that the heads of the animals were all turned towards the south, by which I judged that thus they had probably travelled over a greater distance of the burning desert than we had yet passed, so that we were yet not half over our difficulties.
"Those skeletons show that we are on the high road across the desert," I remarked to my father.
"I am afraid not, David," he answered. "They may have lost their way, and we have stumbled on them by chance."
Such, I at once saw, was too likely to be the case.
The gauze-like mist of which I had before spoken, now appeared to grow more dense, and to lose its transparent appearance; at the same time that the rays of the sun struck down with fiercer heat, and the atmosphere grew more stagnant and oppressive. Some of the soldiers had lighted their cigars, in the hope that the fumes of tobacco would alleviate their thirst; and as the tiny jets of smoke left their mouths, they went straight up towards the sky, not a breath existing to blow them aside. Suddenly, as I turned my head to the left, I saw what appeared to be a dark cloud rising from the earth. I pointed it out to my father. Ithulpo had at the same time observed it.
"Muffle up your heads in your ponchos, and push on for the love of life," he exclaimed. "It is the sand-drift swept before a whirlwind. On! on! or it will overwhelm us!"
It was indeed an object to appal the stoutest heart. On it came, like a black wall, rising higher and higher, and curling over our heads, till the sky and the sun himself were obscured. The soldiers saw it and trembled, for they knew its deadly power; whole regiments had before been buried beneath that heavy canopy. Their only chance of safety, they fancied, was to gallop through it. With frantic energy they dug their spurs into the sides of their panting steeds. They no longer thought of their miserable prisoners. Without a sensation of commiseration, they left them to the dreadful fate they themselves strove to escape. Neither could we do anything for them: if we stopped, we also should lose our lives. As we followed the soldiers, we found the Indians all huddled together, with looks of despair on their countenances, watching the approach of the sand-drift. They had no prospect of extricating themselves either; for the Spaniards had not even cut the cords which bound them all together. I glanced at the black wall of sand; it was still some way off. Could I leave my fellow-creatures thus to perish horribly, without an attempt to save them? No burning thirst, thanks to Ithulpo's precautions, had yet dried up the sympathies of my heart.
"What are you going to do, David?" asked my father, as he saw me throw myself from my horse.
"To give these poor fellows a chance of life," I answered, drawing out my knife, and cutting away at their cords.
"Your mother and sisters, my lad, must not be forgotten," he muttered; "but stay, I will help you."
As he said this he set to work to release the Indians, in which we were directly joined by Ithulpo; the rear-guard, as they passed by, bestowing many curses and threats of vengeance on our heads for our interference; but they were too anxious to save their own lives to prevent us. Scarcely a minute was lost.
"Mount! mount! and ride on!" cried Ithulpo.
Throwing our knives to the Indians, we leaped on our horses, and again followed the direction we supposed the soldiers had taken. We had not proceeded many yards when the wall of sand seemed to wheel round like an extended line of infantry, and then to advance at double speed. To escape it by galloping from it was now hopeless; so we turned our horses' heads to face it. As we did so, a clear break appeared in one part.
"Let us make for yonder lighter spot," shouted my father.
We did so. On came the dark wall; the sand swept by us, whirling round and round our heads, blinding our eyes, and filling our ears and nostrils. It was with difficulty even that we could breathe, as with each respiration our mouths became choked with the sand. I endeavoured, as well as I was able, to keep close to my father, though for a time it was only by our voices, as we shouted to each other, that we were aware of each other's position. We did our utmost to keep our horses' heads in the direction the sand-storm came from, that we might the more speedily pass through it. They breasted it bravely, though their thick-drawn breath showed the pain they suffered; but they seemed to be as well aware as ourselves of the necessity of exertion. It was with difficulty, however, that we could even keep our seats, as, with our hats pressed over our eyes, our ponchos drawn tight around us, and our bodies bent down over their necks, we encouraged them to proceed with bit and rein. We were making all the time, in reality, but little real progress, as I soon discovered; their utmost exertion being required to lift their legs out of the sand, which was rapidly collecting round us.
On a sudden, a dark mass swept towards us. I know not how it was,—I believe I must have turned to my right,—I kept calling to my father as before; but oh, what horror—what agony seized my soul when he did not answer! and as I endeavoured to pierce the thick mass of sand which surrounded me, I could nowhere see him. I could not tell which way to turn. I felt lost and bewildered, and I believed that my last moment had arrived—a dreadful death was to be my lot. I did not regard myself; it was for my noble father I felt. "O that I could have died with him!" I thought. My brave horse, however, still exerted himself to save his own life and mine, when I had ceased to care what became of me, by continuing to lift his feet above the overwhelming sand-drifts. My only wish was to find my father; but so completely was I bewildered that I knew not whether to turn to the right hand or to the left. His horse might have sunk down, I thought, and then in a few moments he would for ever have been covered up from mortal sight; or, overcome with fatigue and the suffocating atmosphere, he might have fallen, and been unable to regain his steed. Or happily he might have passed through the sand-drift in safety, and have been all the time suffering with anxiety for my sake. But this hope was very transient; the predominant feeling was that my father was lost, and that I was about to share his fate. I was thus giving way to despair, when I was aware of a considerable decrease in the density of the sand-laden atmosphere; the last breath of the fierce whirlwind passed by; the sun shone forth bright and clear, and I stood alone amid a sea of glittering sand. Oh, with what an aching anxious heart I looked around, to see if the one object I sought was visible on that dreary white expanse! Before me, there was nothing; a few mounds and rocks alone were to be seen between me and the horizon; but as I turned round just as the column of sand swept on, not thirty paces behind me, with joy such as I cannot describe, I saw my father stooping down and endeavouring to extricate his horse from the sand, which had partially covered him. I hurried towards him, and leaping to the ground, threw myself into his arms. For the moment all sensations of fatigue or thirst were forgotten in the joy of recovering him.
Knowing that my horse was strong, he had felt less anxiety on my account than I had on his. With some exertion we cleared away the sand, and once more got his horse upon his feet, though the poor animal appeared scarcely able to move, much less to bear a man of my father's weight. We had still one flask of water untouched. We drank a little, and with a portion of the remainder washed the mouths and nostrils of our horses, and poured a few drops down their throats, still keeping a little for any further emergency. This very much revived them; and once more mounting, we endeavoured to find our way across the desert.
Since the sand-drift first overtook us, scarcely as much time had elapsed as it has occupied to read the account I have given; but so dreadful were the sensations I experienced, and so intense my anxiety, that to me it appeared an age. The heat soon became almost as great as before the storm, and the atmosphere as oppressive, warning us that, though thus far preserved, we were still placed in a position of great peril. It was now that I felt the benefit of the firm reliance in the goodness of Providence, which my father had ever inculcated, and which at this juncture supported him.
"Courage, my dear boy," he exclaimed. "God has thus far preserved us. He will still find the means of rescuing us."
As he spoke, the dark wall of sand, which had been receding from us, after whirling in various directions, seemed to settle down in a line of undulating mounds in the distance; and on every side the horizon once more became entirely clear.
We naturally first tried to discover any traces of the Spanish cavalry; and after straining my eyes for some time, I perceived a few dark objects which seemed to be moving on towards the point which, from the position of the sun, we judged to be the north. Some other objects beyond them afforded us a fair hope of being able to find our way out of this dreadful desert. I could not doubt that what I saw were the tops of some tall trees, though at such a distance that their base was not visible; indeed my father, who agreed with me that they were trees, was of opinion that they grew on ground somewhat elevated above the sandy plain.
Towards them, therefore, we steered our course, as the Spaniards were also probably doing. Our horses, we fancied, must have seen them likewise, or their instinct told them that water was to be found in the neighbourhood. We looked round in vain for Ithulpo and the Indians. Not a sign of them could we perceive, and it would have been madness to have attempted to search for them. Indeed, had we found them, we could have rendered them no assistance. I was in hopes, indeed, that Ithulpo, whose horse was strong, and who I suspected knew the country better than he pretended to the Spaniards, would have found some means of escaping, and of aiding his countrymen. We had, in truth, still too much to do in attempting to preserve our own lives, to allow us to think much of others. It would be assuming to be above humanity, did I not confess this.
The sun was already sinking low; and should we be unable to reach the trees before dark, and be compelled to rest on the plain or wander about it all night, we could scarcely hope to survive. The ground we passed over was as smooth as if the receding tide had just left it. Not the sign of a footstep of man or beast was to be seen, though here and there a slight rise showed that some harder substance had offered an impediment to the drifting sand. After toiling onwards for half an hour at a very slow pace, we came upon a horse's head just rising from the sand. He had died probably in attempting to extricate himself. Several heaps showed that others—human beings, too probably—also lay beneath.
They, at all events, were beyond all help. The horse I recognised, from the head-trappings, as belonging to the officer commanding the party. We were passing on, when we observed, a little on the right, a man extended on his back. A movement of his arm showed me that he was not dead, and that probably he was endeavouring to call our attention to himself.
"Though he is one of those who showed no pity to the poor Indians, we must try what we can do for him," said my father; and we turned our horses towards him.
As he saw us approach, he mustered all his strength and tried to rise.
"Water, water!" he muttered. "In mercy give me a drop of water!"
It was the cruel officer himself. Still he was a fellow-creature. We had a small portion of water in the flask. We might want it ourselves, but still we could not leave him thus to die. So I dismounted, and approached him with the flask, while my father held my horse, who showed signs of an eagerness to rush on to the oasis we had discovered. The officer, when he saw the flask, would have seized it, and drained off the whole of its contents; but I held it back, and pouring out a few drops in the cover, let them trickle down his throat. I thought of what Ithulpo had said of water being of more value often than gold. Truly those drops were more precious to the dying man; they had the effect of instantly reviving him. Brightness came back to his glazed eyes, his voice returned, and he was able to sit up, and even to make an attempt to rise on his feet; but to do so was more than his strength would allow.
"Give me more water or I shall die," he said as he saw me replacing the flask in my pocket. "My rascally troopers have deserted me, to try and save their own worthless lives, and I have only you foreigners to depend on."
"I cannot give you more water," I answered. "I have but a few drops left to moisten my father's and my own lips."
"O leave them for me. I will give you your liberty, I will give you all I possess in the world, for that small flask of water," he exclaimed. "You will not require it, for beneath yonder trees, in the distance, you will find a fountain where you may drink your fill. Have mercy, stranger, have mercy!"
It was difficult to withstand the poor wretch's earnest appeal. I poured out a little more water, which he drank off at once. I then gave him a small lump of cocoa; and scraping up a heap of sand, I placed him leaning against it, so that he might feel any breath of air which might blow; promising faithfully to return to bring him to the oasis, if we were fortunate enough to reach it in safety.
"But the voracious condors and the lions will come and destroy me, if I remain here during the night alone," he shrieked out. "O take me with you, generous Englishman, take me with you!"
To do this was utterly impossible. My horse could scarcely carry me, much less another person in addition.
"Come, David," said my father; "you have done your utmost for this miserable man. We risk our own lives by further delay."
In spite, therefore, of the entreaties of the Spaniard, I again mounted my horse. It just then occurred to me that if he had his pistols, he might defend himself against any wild beasts. On my offering to load them for him, he told me that he had thrown them away. So I gave him one of my own, with a little ammunition, that he might reload it, if required. He seized the weapon eagerly as I presented it.
"Then you will not stay to help me, or carry me with you!" he exclaimed fiercely as I rode off. "You will not!—then take that;" and levelling at me the pistol which I had just given, he fired. The ball just grazed my side, but did no further mischief.
"The poor wretch is delirious with fear," observed my father, when he found that I was uninjured. "Let us ride on."
On we rode, but though we made some progress, the oasis was still in appearance as far off as when first seen. The sun was sinking rapidly— it reached the horizon—it disappeared; the short twilight changed into the obscurity of night; and the beacon by which we had hitherto directed our course was no longer to be seen. The stars, however, shone brightly forth; and I had marked one which appeared just above the clump of trees. By that we now steered, though, I had too soon strong proof, the instinct of our horses would have led them towards the oasis without our guidance. Although it was night, the heat was intense; our throats were dry, our lips were parched, and we were experiencing all the terrible sensations of intolerable thirst. We had kept the remnant of the water for a last resource, in case we should not reach the fountain.
I think that for nearly another hour we had ridden on, my father not having spoken a word all that time, when to my horror, without any warning, he fell heavily from his horse. His hands had let go the reins, and the animal, relieved of his burden, set off towards the oasis. I threw myself from my horse. To lift him up and to pour some water down his throat was the work of a moment. It instantly restored him to consciousness. He appeared to have suffered no injury from his fall. While I was thus engaged, my horse escaped from me and set off after his companion. So engrossed, however, was I in tending my father, that I scarcely noticed the occurrence. It was, of course, utterly hopeless to attempt to recover the animals, and thus were we two left in the middle of the desert without a prospect of escaping.
O the horrors of that night! They can never be obliterated from my memory. At first I thought of attempting to reach the oasis by walking; but my father, though having sufficient strength to sit up, and, had he not lost his horse, to ride, felt himself utterly unable to accomplish the distance on foot. I had bitterly, indeed, to regret my momentary carelessness in allowing my horse to escape from me. It might have been the cause of my father's and my destruction. I have often since thought, from being for one instant only off our guard, how much misery and ruin may occur—how much wickedness and suffering may be the result!
The air was still very sultry, and even the sand, on which we rested, was very hot. Our last drop of water was consumed. My father did not know it, but I had given it to him. I had begun to suffer dreadfully from thirst. My throat seemed lined with a coating like the face of a file, and my lips were hard and cracked; while the skin, from the drying effects of the sun, the wind, and the sand, was peeling off my face. My father did not feel so much pain as I did; but my strength, I fancied, had in no way failed me, and I thought that, if I had kept my horse, I could easily have walked by his side till we reached the fountain we expected to find. We sat for some time without speaking. The stars were shining in undimmed brilliancy above our heads from the dark blue sky; not a breath of air was stirring, not a sound was heard. I never endured a silence so profound, so solemn, and so painful. For a time I almost fancied that I had become deaf. At length my father's voice, which sounded deep and hollow, convinced me of the contrary.
"David," he said, "I must not let you, my boy, remain here to die. You may still be able during the night to reach the oasis, and the cool of the morning will bring you renewed strength. If you reach it in safety, you are certain to find our horses there, and you can return with them and the flasks full of water to me. I feel quite certain that I can hold out till then."
I scarcely knew what to answer my father. Though I thought that I might possibly reach the oasis, I saw the great difficulty there would be in again finding him, without any means in that vast plain of marking his position; and I felt far from confident that his strength would endure till my return.
"No, father," I answered; "I cannot leave you now. I should not find you again, so that my going would not preserve you; and I will therefore stay and share your fate."
I need not mention all the arguments my father used to persuade me to leave him, and how I entreated him to allow me to remain. At last he consented that I should stay with him till just before daybreak, which is in that, as in most climates, the coolest time generally of the twenty-four hours. He then proposed that I should plant my whip, with a piece of handkerchief tied to the end of it, on the top of the highest rock or piece of ground I should find near, to serve as a mark for his position, should he not by that time have sufficiently recovered his strength to set out with me.
"Perhaps I may be able to accompany you part of the way, and then you will have a less distance to return to look for me," he observed.
As he spoke, however, I could not help remarking, with grief, that there was a hollow tone in his voice which betokened failing strength, while his words were uttered with pain and difficulty. I could too well judge of his sensations by my own; and gladly would I have given the room full of gold which the unfortunate Inca, Atahualpa, promised to the greedy Spaniards, for a flask of water to quench the burning thirst which was consuming us.
Hour after hour passed away, as we sat side by side on the sand. We spoke but little; indeed I soon fell into a state of dreamy unconsciousness, which was not sleep, though at the same time I could not be said to be awake. All sorts of strange sights passed before me, and strange noises sounded in my ears, though I was sensible that they were not realities. I saw horses galloping before me, some with riders, and others wild steeds with flowing manes. Troops of Indians came by in their feathers and gay dresses, and soldiers marched past with colours flying and bands playing; and hunters, and dogs, and animals of every description. Indeed there appeared no end to the phantom shapes which met my sight.
In vain I endeavoured to arouse myself. A weight I could not throw off pressed me to the ground. I cannot more particularly describe my sensations; I only know that they were very dreadful. I was aware that my father was near me, and that I wished to preserve him from some danger; but I thought sometimes that we were at sea on a raft; at others, that we were sliding down a snowy mountain, and that, though I tried to catch some of the snow in my hand to cool my tongue, it vanished before it reached my mouth; and then I felt that we were sinking into the earth, which, as we sunk, grew hotter and hotter, till it scorched my skin, and I shrieked out with the pain. I started and lifted up my head; a pair of fierce glowing eyes met my view—a huge jaguar or tiger stood before me! We eyed each other for a moment with a fixed gaze. I was more astonished than alarmed; for owing to the state of stupor from which I had been aroused, I had not time to be aware of the peril in which we were placed. Fortunately, when I lay down, I had taken my pistol from my belt, and placed it by my side, ready to grasp it at a moment's warning. My first impulse was to seize it; and while the jaguar still stood apparently considering whether he should spring upon me and carry me off to the mountains to serve him as a banquet, I lifted the weapon and fired it directly in his face. Startled by so unexpected a reception, instead of springing forward, he turned round with a roar of rage and pain, and galloped off across the desert.
The report of the pistol aroused my father, who could scarcely believe what had occurred. I regretted not having been able to kill the brute; for, driven to extremity as we were, we should eagerly have drunk his blood to attempt to quench our thirst. I reloaded my pistol in the expectation of his return; and grown desperate as I was, I almost hoped that he would do so, that I might have another chance of shooting him. The possibility of this served effectually to prevent me from again falling into a drowsy state, and I believe it was of essential service to me.
Another risk now occurred to me. Though at present perfectly calm, the wind might suddenly arise, and should we fall asleep, the sand might be drifted over us, and we should certainly be suffocated. No mariner, whose ship is drifting on an unknown lee-shore, ever more earnestly wished-for daylight than I did for the appearance of dawn, though I was afraid it could but little avail my poor father.
At length a faint streak appeared in the sky. It was a sign that we must attempt to proceed on our way or abandon all hope of escape. I called to my father, whose eyes were closed.
"Yes, my boy," he answered, "I will come;" but when he attempted to rise, I saw that his strength was not equal to the exertion.
I felt also, when I tried, but little able to walk even by myself, much less to help him onward. Still the effort must be made. I got myself on my feet, and raised him also. We staggered onward in the direction, I supposed, of the oasis. With a melancholy foreboding, however, I felt that at the pace we were going we should never be able to reach it. Still I resolved not to give in. Onward we went like two drunken men. Every instant I thought we should fall to rise no more. I was certain that if I quitted my father, it would only be to die apart from him, when death would be doubly bitter. I could no longer see the star which had before guided us. Either clouds had obscured it, or a mist had arisen, or my eyes were growing dim. My father was pressing more heavily on my arm. I tried to support him, but my strength was insufficient. In the attempt we both fell together. All hope abandoned me.
"O God, protect my wife and children!" murmured my father.
I also tried to pray, but with difficulty I could collect my thoughts for a few moments together. I lifted myself on my knees by my father's side, and raised his head from the sand. Daylight was now coming on, and with anguish I saw by the expression of his features that if aid was not speedily afforded, it would be too late to preserve his life.
HOPE REVIVES—LIMA AND ITS SCENES AND CHARACTERS.
As a shipwrecked seaman, on the wild rock in the middle of the ocean, anxiously scans the horizon to search for a sail in sight, so did I cast my eager gaze over the barren sandy waste, to discover if providentially any succour was at hand. The shades of night melting away before the rays of the sun, the wished-for oasis appeared in the distance; and by the marks on the sand, I could not doubt that we had been wandering away instead of approaching it. How eagerly I looked towards the spot where I believed the means of reviving our fast-failing strength could be found! As I gazed at it, it seemed to approach nearer, and tantalised me the more that I knew that I could not reach it.
The sun rose slowly and majestically in the sky, and his burning rays began again to strike down upon our heads. Still I kept my senses; but I felt that death must soon terminate my dear father's sufferings, and mine as well. Once more I cast my glance round the horizon. I gazed steadily—I saw a dark object moving in the distance. O how earnestly I watched it! I could not be mistaken—it was approaching us. As it came on, I discerned the figure of a man on horseback. He was leading another animal with a load on his back. Now he seemed to be verging off to the right hand. He might pass and not observe us. I shouted; but it was folly to fancy that my feeble voice could reach him. Again he turned. I saw him dismount and stoop down on the sand. He stopped, however, but a minute, perhaps not so much, though to me it seemed an age, and he again mounted and came on. He was directing his course, I judged, for the oasis. As he came still nearer, I recognised Ithulpo, and he was leading our baggage mule. I could not doubt, also, but that he was searching for us. Again I tried to shout, but my voice failed me. I lifted up my hand and waved it above my head; but I could no longer stand upright, or I should have attracted his attention. He rode on. He had already passed, when he turned his head and caught sight of the handkerchief I was waving in my hand. He spurred on towards us. To spring from his horse, and to take one of the saddle-bags from the back of the mule, was the work of a moment. From the saddlebag he produced a skin of water. Without speaking, he poured out a cup, from which he allowed a few drops to fall into my father's mouth. When once I felt it to my lips, I could not withdraw it till I had drained it to the bottom. The pure draught so much revived me that I could sit up and help Ithulpo to tend my father. This he did with the greatest care; but human care, alas! seemed to be of little avail. He loosened his dress to admit of perfectly free circulation; he then washed his mouth, and after bathing his temples, he allowed a few more drops to trickle down his throat. This judicious treatment had, after a time, the most beneficial effect. My father languidly opened his eyes, and attempted to sit up; and I saw that his first act of consciousness was to turn them towards me with an inquiring glance. Finding that I was alive, his countenance brightened; and after slowly drinking some more water, in the course of three or four minutes he revived sufficiently to propose proceeding on our way.
"Wait a little longer, Senor," said Ithulpo. "Water has restored you to life, but you require food to give you strength; see, I have brought some."
As he spoke, he opened a basket full of bread and dried meat, and several sorts of the most delicious and cooling fruit. There were figs and grapes and pomegranates, fragrant chirimoyas, yellow bananas, and several pine-apples; indeed many others too numerous to name.
Never shall I forget the exquisite delight with which I ate the first fig Ithulpo handed to me. It cooled my burning thirst more than all the water I had swallowed, and served both for meat and drink. It was a large soft fig with a white pulp. I instantly put out my hand for another, and he gave me a black fig with a red pulp, which vied with the first in excellence. Then he handed me a bunch of juicy grapes, but I still asked for more figs; and when I had finished as many as he thought were good for me, he tore open a chirimoya, and let me eat its snow-white juicy fruit. Outside it did not look tempting, for the skin, though green, was tough and hard, and covered with black spots. The platanos or bananas were cooked; and though I could not have swallowed a piece of dry bread, I was enabled to eat some of them with much relish. Altogether, never was a repast eaten with greater appetite, or, I may add, with more gratitude; for it certainly was the means of preserving my father's life as well as mine. Ithulpo had taken the precaution to tether the animals, so that they could not escape; and as he sat by us, distributing the food, he informed us of what he had done after we had lost sight of him in the sand-storm.
"You must know, Senores," he began, "I was so busy in liberating my poor countrymen from the ropes which bound them, that I did not observe which way you were taking. I shouted after you to turn back, but you did not hear me; and then the dreadful sand-cloud came on, and it was too late. I am well acquainted with this dreadful desert, and I was aware that we were out of the right path; but I also knew where that path was; so, as soon as all the poor fellows were free, we set off towards it. They were all well able to run without the ropes, and out of sight of our tyrants. Fortunately the sand-cloud wheeled round before it reached us, and we were safe.
"You must know that on the previous night I had stowed away the wine-skins full of water in your portmanteaus, and I thus had enough to give a good draught to each of the men, and to my beasts also. Our first care was then to get out of the desert. I knew where the ground was hard, so I led them to it, and we then could travel at a fast rate. About a league beyond where we were, there is a fountain of pure water gushing up out of a hard black rock. Here we were all able to refresh ourselves; and still a little farther on, marks are to be seen, by which I could direct my companions how to escape from the desert. They quickly availed themselves of my advice, and are now on their way to hide themselves among the mountains, where there is no fear of the Spaniards searching for them."
"But what did you do, my friend?" I asked, stretching out my hand for another bunch of tempting grapes.
"Just as I was parting from them I saw a party of fruit-sellers crossing the desert, with several mules laden with fruit. I purchased some, as also some bread and baked platanos, and then set off to search for you. I knew, by the feel of the atmosphere, that there would be no more sand-storms; and hoped, it you had escaped that of yesterday, to find you. I know my way across any part of the desert blindfold, for I can tell by the smell of the sand alone where animals have before passed. As soon as it was daylight I returned to where I last had seen you. I saw where the sand-cloud had settled down, forming huge mounds, beneath which many of the Spaniards, I found, lay overwhelmed. At last I fell in with the tracks of your two horses. I guessed they were yours, for I thought the Spaniards would have kept together. I followed them up steadily. I came to where you had found the Spanish officer, and given him a pistol with which to defend himself."
"What, did he tell you so?" I asked, interrupting Ithulpo.
"Oh no; his voice has ceased for ever," he replied, with a dark smile. "He had been dead some time, and the fowls of the air were feeding on him; but I knew him by his dress, and I recognised your pistol, which he had fired. Here it is. I next reached the spot where you dismounted, and your horses had run away. I began to fear that I was too late to save you; and when following up the track of your footsteps, I saw that a number of the Spanish cavalry had escaped, and had gone towards yonder clump of trees. Several have fallen in the way, as the wings of the condors I could see flapping above the ground, one beyond the other, told me plainly. And now, Senores, it is time to mount and proceed. Two hours' riding beyond those trees will carry us free of the desert; and may you never again enter it without a proper guide."