The village was composed of huts, made of sticks closely intertwined, and covered with the skins of animals. The chief led them to a large one, evidently his own, and invited them to enter. They found that it was also lined with skins, and others were laid upon the floor. A pile of skin served as a mat and bed. The chief made signs that he placed this at their disposal, and soon left them to themselves.
In a short time he again drew aside the skin which hung across the entrance, and a squaw advanced, evidently in deep terror, bearing some raw meat. Ned received it graciously, and then said to Tom:
"Now we will light a fire, and astonish them again."
So saying, the boys went outside, picked up a dry stick or two, and motioned to the Indians who were gathered round that they needed more. The whole population at once scattered through the grove, and soon a huge pile of dead wood was collected.
The boys now made a little heap of dried leaves, placed a few grains of powder in a hollow at the top and, the flint and steel being put into requisition, the flame soon leaped up, amid a cry of astonishment and awe from the women and children. Wood was now laid on, and soon a great fire was blazing. The men gathered round and sat down, and the women and children gradually approached, and took their places behind them.
The evening was cold and, as the natives felt the grateful heat, fresh exclamations of pleasure broke from them; and gradually a complete babel of tongues broke out. Then the noise was hushed, and a silence of expectation and attention reigned, as the lads cut off slices of the meat and, spitting them on pieces of green wood, held them over the fire. Tom made signs to the chief and those sitting round to fetch meat, and follow their example. Some of the Indian women brought meat, and the men, with sharp stone knives, cut off pieces and stuck them on green sticks, as they had seen the boys do. Then very cautiously they approached the fire, shrinking back and exhibiting signs of alarm at the fierce heat it threw out, as they approached near to it.
The boys, however, reassured them, and they presently set to work. When the meat was roasted, it was cut up and distributed in little bits to the crowd behind, all of whom were eager to taste this wonderful preparation. It was evident, by the exclamations of satisfaction, that the new viand was an immense success; and fresh supplies of meat were soon over the fire.
An incident now occurred which threatened to mar the harmony of the proceedings. A stick breaking, some of the red-hot embers scattered round. One rolled close to Ned's leg, and the lad, with a quick snatch, caught it up and threw it back upon the fire. Seeing this, a native near grasped a glowing fragment which had fallen near him, but dropped it with a shriek of astonishment and pain.
All leaped to their feet, as the man danced in his agony. Some ran away in terror, others instinctively made for their weapons, all gesticulated and yelled.
Ned at once went to the man and patted him assuringly. Then he got him to open his hand, which was really severely burned. Then he got a piece of soft fat and rubbed it gently upon the sore, and then made signs that he wanted something to bandage it with. A woman brought some large fresh leaves, which were evidently good for hurts; and another a soft thong of deer hide. The hand was soon bandaged up and, although the man must still have been in severe pain, he again took his seat, this time at a certain distance from the fire.
This incident greatly increased the awe with which the boys were viewed, as not only had they the power of producing this new and astonishing element, but they could, unhurt, take up pieces of wood turned red by it, which inflicted terrible agony on others.
Before leaving the fire and retiring to their tent, the boys made signs to the chief that it was necessary that someone should be appointed to throw on fresh wood, from time to time, to keep the fire alight. This was hardly needed, as the whole population were far too excited to think of retiring to bed. After the lads had left they gathered round the fire, and each took delight in throwing on pieces of wood, and in watching them consume; and several times, when they woke during the night, the boys saw, by the bright light streaming in through the slits in the deerskin, that the bonfire was never allowed to wane.
In the morning fresh meat was brought to the boys, together with raw yams and other vegetables. There were now other marvels to be shown. Ned had learned, when with the negroes, how to cook in calabashes; and he now got a gourd from the natives, cut it in half, scooped its contents out, and then filled it with water. From the stream he then got a number of stones, and put them into the fire until they became intensely hot. Then with two sticks he raked them out, and dropped them into the water.
The natives yelled with astonishment as they saw the water fizz and bubble, as the stones were thrown in. More were added until the water boiled. Then the yams, cut into pieces, were dropped in, more hot stones added to keep the water boiling, and when cooked, the yams were taken out. When sufficiently cooled, the boys distributed the pieces among the chiefs, and again the signs of satisfaction showed that cooked vegetables were appreciated. Other yams were then cut up, and laid among the hot embers to bake.
After this the boys took a few half-burned sticks, carried them to another spot, added fresh fuel, and made another fire; and then signed to the natives to do the same. In a short time a dozen fires were blazing, and the whole population were engaged in grilling venison, and in boiling and baking yams. The boys were both good trenchermen, but they were astounded at the quantity of food which the Patagonians disposed of.
By night time the entire stock of meat in the village was exhausted, and the chief motioned to the boys that, in the morning, he should go out with a party to lay in a great stock of venison. To this they made signs that they would accompany the expedition.
While the feasting had been going on, the lads had wandered away with two of the Indian bows and arrows. The bows were much shorter than those to which they were accustomed, and required far less strength to pull. The wood of which the bows were formed was tough and good, and as the boys had both the handiness of sailors and, like all lads of that period, had some knowledge of bow making, they returned to the camp, and obtained two more of the strongest bows in the possession of the natives. They then set to work with their knives and, each taking two bows, cut them up, fitted, and spliced them together.
The originals were but four feet long, the new ones six. The halves of one bow formed the two ends, the middle being made of the other bow, doubled. The pieces were spliced together with deer sinews; and when, after some hours' work, they were completed, the boys found that they were as strong and tough as the best of their home-made bows, and required all their strength to draw them to the ear.
The arrows were now too short, but upon making signs to the natives that they wanted wood for arrows, a stock of dried wood, carefully prepared, was at once given them, and of these they made some arrows of the regulation cloth-yard length. The feathers, fastened on with the sinews of some small animals, were stripped from the Indian arrows and fastened on, as were the sharp-pointed stones which formed their heads; and on making a trial, the lads found that they could shoot as far and as straight as with their own familiar weapons.
"We can reckon on killing a stag, if he will stand still, at a hundred and fifty yards," Ned said, "or running, at a hundred. Don't you think so?"
"Well, six times out of seven we ought to, at any rate," Tom replied; "or our Devonshire archership has deserted us."
When they heard, therefore, that there was to be a hunt upon the following day, they felt that they had another surprise for the natives, whose short bows and arrows were of little use at a greater distance than fifty yards, although up to that distance deadly weapons in their hands.
Chapter 12: Across a Continent.
The work upon which the boys were engaged passed unnoticed by the Indians, who were too much absorbed by the enjoyment of the new discovery to pay any attention to other matters. The bows and arrows had been given to them, as anything else in camp for which they had a fancy would have been given; but beyond that, none had observed what was being done.
There were, then, many exclamations of astonishment among them, when Ned and Tom issued from their hut in the morning to join the hunting party, carrying their new weapons. The bows were, of course, unstrung; and Ned handed his to the chief, who viewed it with great curiosity. It was passed from hand to hand, and then returned to the chief. One or two of the Indians said something, and the chief tried its strength. He shook his head. Ned signed to him to string it, but the chief tried in vain, as did several of the strongest of the Indians. Indeed, no man, however powerful, could string an old English bow, unless trained to its use.
When the Indians had given up the attempt as hopeless, the two lads strung their bows without the slightest difficulty, to the intense surprise of the natives. These again took the bows, but failed to bend them even to the length of their own little arrows. The lads then took out their newly-made shafts, and took aim at a young tree, of a foot diameter, standing at about two hundred yards distance; and both sent their arrows quivering into the trunk.
The Indians gave a perfect yell of astonishment.
"It is not much of a mark," Tom said; "Hugh Willoughby, of our village, could hit a white glove at that distance every time; and the fingers of a glove five times out of six. It is the length of the shots, not the accuracy, which astounds these fellows. However, it is good enough to keep up our superiority."
The party now started on their hunt. There was but little difficulty in finding game, for numerous herds could be seen grazing. The task was to get within shot. The boys watched anxiously, to see the course which the Indians would adopt.
First ascertaining which way the wind was blowing, the chief, with ten others, accompanied by the boys, set off to make a circuit, so as to approach one of the herds upwind. When they had reached the point desired, all went down upon their bellies and crawled like snakes, until they reached a clump of low bushes, a quarter of a mile from the herd. Then they lay quiet, waiting for their comrades, whose turn it now was to act.
These, also making a circuit, but in the opposite direction, placed themselves half a mile to windward of the deer, in a long line. Then they advanced toward the herd, making no effort to conceal themselves.
Scarcely had they risen to their feet than the herd winded them. For a minute or two they stood motionless, watching the distant figures; and then, turning, bounded away. The chief uttered an exclamation of disgust, for it was evident at once that, from the direction that they were taking, the herd would not pass, as he hoped, close by the bushes.
The lads, however, were well satisfied; for the line would take them within a hundred and fifty yards. As, in a closely-packed body, they came along, Ned and Tom rose suddenly to their feet, drew their bows to their ears, and launched their arrows. Each had, according to the custom of English archers, stuck two arrows into the ground by the spot where they would stand up; and these they also discharged, before the herd was out of shot. With fair shooting it was impossible to miss so large a mark, and five of the little deer rolled over, pierced through by the arrows; while another, hit in a less vital spot, carried off the weapon.
The Indians raised a cry of joy and surprise, at shooting which to them appeared marvellous, indeed; and when the others came up showed them, with marks of astonishment, the distance at which the animals had fallen from the bush from which the arrows had been aimed.
Two more beats were made. These were more successful, the herds passing close to the places of concealment, and upon each occasion ten stags fell. This was considered sufficient.
The animals were not all of one kind. One herd was composed of deer far larger than, and as heavy as good-sized sheep; while the others were considerably smaller, and the party had as much as their united efforts—except those of Ned and Tom, whose offer to assist was peremptorily declined—could drag back to the village, where the feasting was at once renewed.
The lads, when the natives had skinned the deer, took some of the smaller and finer skins, intending to dry them; but the natives, seeing their intention, brought them a number of the same kind, which were already well cured and beautifully supple. Fashioning needles from small pieces of bone, with sinews for thread, and using their own tattered clothes as patterns, the two lads set to work; and by the following evening had manufactured doublets and trunks of deerskin, which were a vast improvement upon their late ragged apparel; and had, at a short distance, the appearance of being made of a bright brownish-yellow cloth.
By this time the Indians had become quite accustomed to them. The men, and sometimes even the women, came to the hut and sat down and tried to talk with them. The boys did their best to learn, asking the name of every article, and repeating it until they had thoroughly learned it, the Indians applauding like children when they attained the right pronunciation.
The next morning they saw a young Indian starting alone, with his bow and arrow. Anxious to see how he was going to proceed, by himself, the boys asked if they might accompany him. He assented, and together they started off.
After an hour's walking, they arrived at an eminence from which an extensive view could be obtained. Here their companion motioned to them to lie down and watch his proceedings. They did so, and saw him make a wide circuit, and work up towards the herd of deer.
"They will be off long before he can get within bow shot," Tom said. "Look, they are getting fidgety already. They scent danger, and he is four hundred yards away. They will be off in a minute.
"Look, what on earth is he doing?"
The Indian was lying on his back, his body being almost concealed by the grass, which was a foot high. In the air he waved his legs to and fro, twisting and twining them. The boys could not help laughing at the curious appearance of the two black objects waving slowly about. The herd of deer stood staring stupidly at the spectacle. Then, as if moved by a common impulse of curiosity, they began slowly to approach, in order to investigate more closely this singular phenomenon. Frequently they stopped, but only to continue their advance, which was made with a sort of circling movement, as if to see the object from all sides.
Nearer and nearer they approached, until the leaders were not more than fifty yards away; when the native leaped to his feet, and discharged his arrows with such rapidity, and accuracy, that two of the animals fell before they could dart away out of range.
The lads soon joined the native, and expressed their approval of his skill. Then, while he threw one carcass over his shoulder, they divided the weight of the other between them, and so accompanied him into camp.
The next day Ned and Tom, walking to an eminence near the camp, saw in the distance some ostriches feeding. Returning to the huts, they found the young hunter whom they had accompanied on the preceding day, and beckoned to him to accompany them. When they reached the spot from which the ostriches were visible, they motioned to him to come out and shoot them. He at once nodded.
As they were about to follow him back to camp, for their bows and arrows, he shook his head and signed to them to stay where they were; and going off by himself, returned with his bow and arrow and, to the surprise of the boys, the skin of an ostrich.
To show the lads what he intended to do, he put on the skin, sticking one arm up the long neck, his black legs alone showing. He now imitated the motions of the bird, now stalking along, now picking up bits of grass, and this with such an admirable imitation of nature that Ned and Tom shouted with laughter.
The three then set off together, taking a line which hid them from the view of the ostriches. The Indian at last led them to a small eminence, and signed to them to ascend this, and there to lie down and watch the result. On arriving at their post, they found themselves about a quarter of a mile from the group of great birds.
It seemed a long time before they could see any signs of the native, who had to make a long detour so as to approach the birds upwind. About a hundred and fifty yards from the spot where they were feeding was a clump of bushes, and presently the lads suddenly beheld an ostrich, feeding quietly beside this clump.
"There was no bird near those bushes two minutes ago," Tom said. "It must be the Indian."
Very quietly, and by degrees, the ostrich approached the group. When within four yards of them the ostrich, as if by magic, vanished; and an Indian stood in his place. In another moment his bow twanged, and the ostrich next to him fell over, pierced through with an arrow; while the rest of the flock scattered over the plain, at an immense speed.
Ned and Tom now rose to their feet and ran down the slope to the Indian, who was standing by the dead bird. He pulled out the tail feathers and handed them to them; cut off the head and legs; opened and cleaned the body; and then, putting it on his shoulder, started again for the camp.
For another week they remained in the Indian village, and in that time picked up a good many native words. They then determined that they must be starting on their westward journey. They therefore called upon the chief and explained to him by signs, eked out with a few words, that they must leave him and go towards the setting sun.
The grief of the chief was great, as was that of the tribe, when he communicated the tidings to them. There was great talking among the groups round the fire that night, and Ned saw that some question was being debated, at great length. The next morning the chief and several of the leading men came into their hut, and the chief made a speech, accompanied with great gesticulation. The lads gathered that he was imploring them not to leave them, and pointing out that there would be hostile Indians on the road, who would attack them. Then the chief led them to the fires, and signed that if they went out the tribe would be cold again, and would be unable to cook their food.
Already, indeed, on one occasion after a great feast, the tribe had slept so soundly that all the fires were out before morning, and Ned had been obliged to have recourse to his flint and steel. After this, two fires had been kept constantly burning, night and day. Others were lighted for cooking, but these were tended constantly, and Ned saw that there was little chance of their ever going out together, so long as the tribe remained in the village.
Now, however, he proceeded to show them how to carry fire with them. Taking one blazing stick, and starting out as for a journey, he showed that the fire gradually went out. Then he returned to the fire and took two large pieces, and started, keeping them so crossed that the parts on fire were always in contact. In this way, as he showed them, fire could be kept in for a very long time; and that, if two brands were taken from each fire, there would be little difficulty in keeping fire perpetually.
Finally he showed them how, in case of losing fire in spite of all these precautions, it could be recovered by means of friction. He took two pieces of dried wood; one being very hard grained, and the other much softer. Of the former he cut a stick of about a foot long and an inch round, and pointed at both ends. In the other he made a small hole. Then he unstrung one end of a bowstring, twisted it once round the stick, and strung it again. Then he put one point of the stick in the hole in the other piece of wood, which he laid upon the ground. Round the hole he crumbled into dust some dry fungus. On the upper end of the short stick he placed a flat stone, which he bade one of the natives press with moderate force.
Now, working the bow rapidly backwards and forwards, the stick was spun round and round like a drill. The Indians, who were unable to make out what Ned was doing, watched these proceedings with great attention. When a little smoke began to curl up from the heated wood they understood at once, and shouted with wonder. In a few minutes sparks began to fly from the stick, and as these fell on the dried fungus they rapidly spread. Tom knelt down and blew gently upon them, adding a few dried leaves, and in another minute a bright flame sprang up.
The natives were delighted. They had now means of making fire, and could in future enjoy warmth and cooked food, and their gratitude to the lads was unbounded. Hitherto they had feared that, when these strange white beings departed, they would lose their fires, and return to their former cheerless existence, when the long winter evenings had to be spent in cold and darkness. That evening the chief intimated to his visitors that he, and a portion of the men of the tribe, would accompany them for some distance; the women remaining behind, with the rest of the fighting men as their guard. This decision pleased the young men much, for they could not hope to go far without meeting other tribes; and although, as had been found in the present instance, the gift of fire would be sure to propitiate the Indians; it was probable that they might be attacked on the march, and killed without having an opportunity of explanation. Their friends, however, would have the power of at once explaining, to all comers, the valuable benefits which they could bestow.
During the time that they had been staying in the village, they had further improved their bows by taking them to pieces, fitting the parts more accurately together, and gluing them with glue, prepared by boiling down sinews of animals in a gourd. Then, rebinding them with fine sinews, they found that they were, in all respects, equal to their English weapons. They had now no fear as to their power of maintaining themselves with food on the way, and felt that, even when their new friends should leave them, they would have a fair chance of defending themselves against attack, as their bows would carry more than thrice as far as those of the natives.
The following morning the start was made. The chief and twenty picked warriors accompanied them, together with six young Indians, two of whom carried lighted brands. The others dragged light sleighs, upon which were piled skins and long poles, for making tents at night, for the temperature was exceedingly cold after sundown. The whole village turned out to see the party off, and shouts of farewell, and good wishes, rang in the air.
For the first three days no adventures were met with. The party had no difficulty in killing game sufficient for their needs, and at night they halted at streams or pools. Ned observed, however, that at the last halting place the chief, who had hitherto taken no precaution at night, gave some orders to his followers; four of whom, when the rest laid down to rest, glided off in different directions into the darkness.
Ned pointed to them inquiringly, and the chief intimated that they were now entering the hunting grounds of another tribe. The following day the band kept closely together. A vigilant lookout on the plains was kept up, and no straggling was allowed. They had sufficient meat left over, from their spoils of the day before, to last for the day; and no hunting was necessary.
The next evening, just as they had retired to rest, one of the scouts came in and reported that he heard sounds around, which betokened the presence of man. The calls of animals were heard on the plain; and a herd of deer, which had evidently been disturbed, had darted past at full speed.
The chief now ordered great quantities of dried wood to be thrown into the fire, and a vast blaze soon shot up high, illuminating a circle of a hundred yards in diameter. Advancing to the edge of this circle, the chief held out his arms, to show that he was unarmed; and then shouted, at the top of his voice, to the effect that he invited all within hearing to come forward, in peace. The strange appearance that they saw was a boon, given to the Indian people by two great white beings, who were in his camp; and that, by its aid, there would be no more cold.
Three times he shouted out these words, and then retired to the fire and sat down. Presently from the circle of darkness a number of figures appeared, approaching timidly and with an awe-struck air, until within a short distance of the fire.
Then the chief again rose, and bade them welcome. There were some fifty or sixty of them, but Ned and his friend had no fear of any treachery, for they were evidently under the spell of a sense of amazement greater than that which had been excited among those they first met; and this because they first saw this wonder by night.
When the newcomers had taken their seats, the chief explained to them the qualities of their new discovery. That it made them warm and comfortable their own feelings told them; and on the morrow, when they had meat, he would show them how great were its effects. Then he told them of the dancing water, and how it softened and made delicious the vegetables placed in it. At his command one of his followers took two brands, carried them to a distance, and soon lighted another fire.
During the narrative, the faces of the Indians lighted up with joy; and they cast glances of reverence and gratitude towards the young white men. These, finding that amity was now established, retired to sleep to the little skin tents which had been raised for them; while the Indians remained sitting round the fire, engrossed with its wonders.
The young men slept late next morning, knowing that no move could be made that day. When they came out of the tents, they found that the natives had lost no time. Before daybreak hunting parties had gone out, and a store of game was piled near the fire; or rather fires, for a dozen were now burning, and the strangers were being initiated in the art of cooking by their hosts.
Two days were spent here; and then, after much talk, the tribe at which they had now arrived arranged to escort and pass the boys on to their neighbors, while the first party returned to their village. Ned and Tom were consulted before this matter was settled, and approved of it. It was better that they should be passed on, from tribe to tribe, than that they should be escorted all the way by a guard who would be as strange as themselves to the country, and who would naturally be longing to return to their homes and families.
For some weeks the life led by the travelers resembled that which has been described. Sometimes they waited for a few days at villages, where great festivities were held in their honor The news of their coming, in many cases, preceded them; and they and their convoy were often met at the stream, or other mark which formed the acknowledged boundary between the hunting grounds, by large bodies eager to receive and welcome them.
They had, by this time, made considerable progress in the language, knew all the names of common objects, and could make themselves understood in simple matters. The language of savage people is always simple. Their range of ideas is narrow; their vocabulary very limited, and consequently easily mastered.
Ned knew that, at any time, they might come across people in a state of active warfare with each other; and that his life might depend upon the ability to make himself understood. Consequently he lost no opportunity of picking up the language. On the march Tom and he, instead of walking and talking together, each went with a group of natives; and kept up a conversation, eked out with signs, with them; and consequently they made very considerable progress with the language.
Chapter 13: Through the Cordilleras.
After three months of steady travel, the country, which had become more and more hilly as they advanced toward the west, assumed a different character. The hills became mountains, and it was clear that they were arriving at a great range running north and south. They had for some time left the broad plains behind them, and game was very scarce. The Indians had of late been more and more disinclined to go far to the west, and the tribe with whom they were now traveling told them that they could go no farther. They signified that beyond the mountains dwelt tribes with whom they were unacquainted, but who were fierce and warlike. One of the party, who had once crossed, said that the people there had fires like those which the white men had taught them to make.
"You see, Tom," Ned said, "they must have been in contact with the Spaniards, or at least with tribes who have learned something from the Spaniards. In that case our supernatural power will be at an end, and our color will be against us, as they will regard us as Spaniards, and so as enemies. At any rate, we must push on and take our chance."
From the Indian they learned that the track lay up a valley before them, that after a day's walking they would have to begin the ascent. Another day's journey would take them to a neck between two peaks, and the passage of this would occupy at least a day. The native described the cold as great here, even in summer, and that in winter it was terrible. Once across the neck, the descent on the other side began.
"There can be no snow in the pass now, Tom; it is late in December, and the hottest time of the year; and although we must be a very great height above the sea, for we have been rising ever since we left the coast, we are not so very far south, and I cannot believe the snow can now lie in the pass. Let us take a good stock of dried meat, a skin for water—we can fill it at the head of the valley—and make our way forward. I do not think the sea can lie very far on the other side of this range of mountains, but at any rate, we must wait no longer. Captain Drake may have passed already, but we may still be in time."
The next morning they bade adieu to their companions, with whom they had been traveling for a fortnight. These, glad again to turn their faces homeward, set off at once; and the lads, shouldering their packs, started up the valley. The scenery was grand in the extreme, and Ned and Tom greatly enjoyed it. Sometimes the sides approached in perpendicular precipices, leaving barely room for the little stream to find its way between their feet; at others it was half a mile wide. When the rocks were not precipitous the sides were clothed with a luxuriant foliage, among which the birds maintained a concert of call and song. So sheltered were they that, high as it was above the sea, the heat was very oppressive; and when they reached the head of the valley, late in the afternoon, they were glad indeed of a bathe in a pool of the stream.
Choosing a spot of ground near the stream, the lads soon made a fire, put their pieces of venison down to roast, and prepared for a quiet evening.
"It seems strange to be alone again, Tom, after so many months with those Indians; who were ever on the watch for every movement and word, as if they were inspired. It is six months, now, since we left the western coast; and one almost seems to forget that one is English. We have picked up something of half a dozen Indian dialects; we can use their weapons almost as well as they can themselves; and as to our skins, they are as brown as that of the darkest of them. The difficulty will be to persuade the people on the other side that we are whites."
"How far do you think the sea lies on the other side of this range of giant mountains?" Tom asked.
"I have no idea," Ned replied, "and I do not suppose that anyone else has. The Spaniards keep all matters connected with this coast a mystery; but I believe that the sea cannot be many days' march beyond the mountains."
For an hour or two they chatted quietly, their thoughts naturally turning again to England, and the scenes of their boyhood.
"Will it be necessary to watch, think you?" Tom asked.
"I think it would be safer, Tom. One never knows. I believe that we are now beyond the range of the natives of the Pampas. They evidently have a fear of approaching the hills; but that only shows that the natives from the other side come down over here. I believe that they were, when the Spaniards landed, peaceable people; quiet and gentle. So at least they are described. But those who take to the mountains must be either escaped slaves, or fugitives from the cruelty of the Spaniards; and even the gentlest man, when driven to desperation, becomes savage and cruel. To these men our white skins would be like a red rag to a bull. They can never have heard of any white people, save the Spaniards; and we need expect little mercy if we fall into their hands. I think we had better watch, turn about. I will take the first watch, for I am not at all sleepy, and my thoughts seem busy tonight, with home."
Tom was soon fast asleep, and Ned sat quietly watching the embers of the fire, occasionally throwing on fresh sticks, until he deemed that nearly half the night was gone. Then he aroused his companion and lay down himself, and was soon fast asleep.
The gray light was just beginning to break when he was aroused by a sudden yell, accompanied by a cry from Tom. He leaped to his feet, just in time to see a crowd of natives rush upon himself and his comrade, discharging as they did so numbers of small arrows, several of which pierced him as he rose to his feet. Before they could grasp their bows, or any other weapons, the natives were upon them. Blows were showered down with heavy clubs and, although the lads made a desperate resistance, they were beaten to the ground in a short time. The natives at once twisted strong thongs round their limbs; and then, dragging them from the fire, sat down themselves and proceeded to roast the remains of the boys' deer meat.
"This is a bad business indeed, Tom," Ned said. "These men doubtless take us for Spaniards. They certainly must belong to the other side of the mountains, for their appearance and language are altogether different to those of the people we have been staying with. These men are much smaller, slighter, and fairer. Runaways though no doubt they are, they seem to have more care about their persons, and to be more civilized in their appearance and weapons, than the savages of the plains."
"What do you think they will do with us, Ned?"
"I have no doubt in the world, Tom, that their intention is either to put us to death with some horrible torture, or to roast us. The Spaniards have taught them these things, if they did not know them before; and in point of atrocities, nothing can possibly exceed those which the Spaniards have inflicted upon them and their fathers."
Whatever were the intentions of the Indians, it was soon evident that there would be some delay in carrying them out. After they had finished their meal, they rose from the fire. Some amused themselves by making arrows from the straight reeds that grew by the stream. Others wandered listlessly about. Some threw themselves upon the ground and slept; while others, coming up to the boys, poured torrents of invective upon them, among which they could distinguish in Spanish the words "dog" and "Spaniard," varying their abuse by violent kicks. As, however, these were given by the naked feet, they did not seriously inconvenience the boys.
"What can they be waiting for?" Tom said. "Why don't they do something if they are going to do it."
"I expect," Ned answered, "that they are waiting for some chief, or for the arrival of some other band, and that we are to be kept for a grand exhibition."
So it proved. Three days passed, and upon the fourth another band, smaller in numbers, joined them. Upon the evening of that day the lads saw that their fate was about to be brought to a crisis. The fire was made up with huge bundles of wood; the natives took their seats around it, with gravity and order; and the boys were led forward by four natives, armed with spears. Then began what was a regular trial. The boys, although they could not understand a word of the language, could yet follow the speeches of the excited orators. One after another arose and told the tale of the treatment that he had experienced. One showed the weals which covered his back. Another held up his arm, from which the hand had been lopped. A third pointed to the places where his ears once had been. Another showed the scar of a hot iron on his arms and legs. Some went through a pantomime, which told its tale of an attack upon some solitary hut, the slaughter of the old and infirm, and the dragging away of the men and women into slavery. Others spoke of long periods of labor, in a bent position, in a mine, under the cruel whip of the taskmaster. All had their tale of barbarity and cruelty to recite and, as each speaker contributed his quota, the anger and excitement of the rest rose.
"Poor devils!" Ned said; "no wonder that they are savage against us. See what they have suffered at the hands of the white men. If we had gone through as much, you may be sure that we should spare none. Our only chance is to make them understand that we are not Spanish; and that, I fear, is beyond all hope."
This speedily proved to be the case. Two or three of the natives who spoke a few words of Spanish came to them, calling them Spanish dogs.
Ned shook his head and said, "Not Spanish."
For all reply the natives pointed to the uncovered portions of their body, pulled back the skins which covered their arms and, pointing to the white flesh, laughed incredulously.
"White men are Spaniards, and Spaniards are white men," Tom groaned, "and that we shall have to die, for the cruelty which the Spaniards have perpetrated, is clear enough.
"Well, Ned, we have had more good fortune than we could have expected. We might have been killed on the day when we landed, and we have spent six jolly months in wandering together, as hunters, on the plain. If we must die, let us behave like Englishmen and Christians. It may be that our lives have not been as good as they should have been; but so far as we know, we have both done our duty; and it may be that, as we die for the faults of others, it may come to be considered as a balance against our own faults."
"We must hope so, Tom. I think we have both done, I won't say our best, but as well as could be expected in so rough a life. We have followed the exhortations of the good chaplain, and have never joined in the riotous ways of the sailors in general. We must trust that the good God will forgive us our sins, and strengthen us to go through this last trial."
While they had been speaking the natives had made an end of their deliberation. Tom was now conducted, by two natives with spears, to a tree; and was securely fastened. Ned, under the guard of the other two, was left by the fire. The tree was situated at a distance of some twenty yards from it, and the natives mostly took their place near the fire. Some scattered among the bushes, and presently reappeared bearing bundles of dry wood. These were laid in order round the tree, at such a distance that the flames would not touch the prisoner, but the heat would gradually roast him to death.
As Ned observed the preparations for the execution of his friend, the sweat stood in great drops on his forehead; and he would have given anything to be able to rush to his assistance, and to die with him. Had his hands been free he would, without hesitation, have snatched up a bow and sent an arrow into Tom's heart, to release him from the lingering death which awaited him; and he would then have stabbed himself with a spear. But while his hands were sufficiently free to move a little, the fastenings were too tight to admit of his carrying out any plan of that sort.
Suddenly an idea struck him, and he began nervously to tug at his fastenings. The natives, when they seized them, had bound them without examining their clothes. It was improbable that men in savage attire could have about them any articles worth appropriating. The knives, indeed, which hung from their belts had been cut off; but these were the only articles which had been touched.
Just as a man approached the fire and, seizing a brand, stooped forward to light the pyre, Ned succeeded in freeing his hands sufficiently to seize the object which he sought. This was his powder flask, which was wrapped in the folds of the cloth round his waist. With little difficulty he succeeded in freeing it and, moving a step closer to the fire, he cast it into the midst of it, at the very moment the man with the lighted brand was approaching Tom. Then he stepped back as far as he could from the fire. The natives on guard over him, not understanding the movement, and thinking he meditated flight, closed around him.
An instant later there was a tremendous explosion. The red hot embers were flaming in all directions, and both Ned and the savages who stood by him were, with many others, struck to the ground. As soon as he was able, Ned struggled up again.
Not a native was in sight. A terrific yell had broken from them at the explosion, which sounded to them like one of the cannons of their Spanish oppressors; and, smarting with the wounds simultaneously made by the hot brands, each, without a moment's thought, had taken to his heels. Tom gave a shout of exultation, as Ned rose. The latter at once stooped and, with difficulty, picked up one of the still blazing brands, and hurried towards the tree.
"If these fellows will remain away for a couple of minutes, Tom, you shall be free," he said, "and I don't think they will get over their scare as quickly as that."
So saying, he applied the end of the burning brand to the dry withes with which Tom was bound to the tree. These at once took fire and flared up, and the bands fell to the ground.
"Now, Tom, do me the same service."
This was quickly rendered, and the lads stood free.
"Now, let us get our weapons."
A short search revealed to them their bows, laid carefully aside, while the ground was scattered with the arms which the natives, in their panic, had dropped.
"Pick them all up, Tom, and toss them on the fire. We will take the sting out of the snake, in case it tries to attack us again."
In a minute or two a score of bows, spears, and others weapons were thrown on the fire; and the boys then, leaving the place which had so nearly proved fatal to them, took their way up the mountain side. It was a long pull, the more so that they had the food, water, and large skins for protection from the night air to carry. Steadily as they kept on, with only an occasional halt for breath, it was late before they emerged from the forest and stood upon a plateau between two lofty hills. This was bare and treeless, and the keen wind made them shiver, as they met it.
"We will creep among the trees, Tom; and be off at daybreak, tomorrow. However long the journey, we must get across the pass before we sleep, for the cold there would be terrible."
A little way down the crest it was so warm that they needed no fire, while a hundred feet higher, exposed to the wind from the snow-covered peaks, the cold was intense. They kept careful watch, but the night passed quietly. The next morning they were on foot, as soon as the voices of the birds proclaimed the approach of day. As they emerged from the shelter of the trees they threw their deer skins round them, to act as cloaks, and stepped out at their best pace. The dawn of day was yet faint in the east; the stars burning bright as lamps overhead, in the clear thin air; and the cold was so great that it almost stopped their breathing.
Half an hour later the scene had changed altogether. The sun had risen, and the air felt warm. The many peaks on either side glistened in the flood of bright light. The walking was easy, indeed, after the climb of the previous day; and their burdens were much lightened by their consumption of food and water. The pass was of irregular width, sometimes but a hundred yards, sometimes fully a mile across. Long habit and practice with the Indians had immensely improved their walking powers and, with long elastic strides, they put mile after mile behind them. Long before the sun was at its highest a little stream ran beside them, and they saw, by the course of its waters, that they had passed the highest part of the pass through the Cordilleras.
Three hours later they suddenly emerged, from a part where the hills approached nearer on either side than they had done during the day's walk, and a mighty landscape opened before and below them. The boys gave, simultaneously, a loud shout of joy; and then dropped on their knees, in thanks to God, for far away in the distance was a dark level blue line, and they knew the ocean was before them.
"How far off should you say it was, Ned?" Tom asked, when they had recovered a little from their first outburst of joy.
"A long way off," Ned said. "I suppose we must be fifteen thousand feet above it, and even in this transparent air it looks an immense distance away. I should say it must be a hundred miles."
"That's nothing!" Tom said. "We could do it in two days, in three easily."
"Yes, supposing we had no interruption and a straight road," Ned said. "But we must not count our chickens yet. This vast forest which we see contains tribes of natives, bitterly hostile to the white man, maddened by the cruelties of the Spaniards, who enslave them and treat them worse than dogs. Even when we reach the sea, we may be a hundred or two hundred miles from a large Spanish town; and however great the distance, we must accomplish it, as it is only at large towns that Captain Drake is likely to touch."
"Well, let us be moving," Tom said. "I am strong for some hours' walking yet, and every day will take us nearer to the sea."
"We need not carry our deer skins any farther," Ned said, throwing his down. "We shall be sweltering under the heat tomorrow, below there."
Even before they halted for the night, the vegetation had assumed a tropical character, for they had already descended some five thousand feet.
"I wish we could contrive to make a fire tonight," Ned said.
"Why?" Tom asked. "I am bathed in perspiration, now."
"We shall not want it for heat, but the chances are that there are wild beasts of all sorts in this forest."
Ned's premises turned out correct, for scarcely had night fallen when they heard deep roarings, and lost no time in ascending a tree, and making themselves fast there, before they went to sleep.
In the morning they proceeded upon their journey. After walking a couple of hours, Ned laid his arm upon Tom's shoulder.
"Hush!" he whispered. "Look there."
Through the trees, at a short distance off, could be seen a stag. He was standing, gazing intently at a tree, and did not appear to have heard their approach.
"What can he be up to?" Tom whispered. "He must have heard us."
"He seems paralyzed," Ned said. "Don't you see how he is trembling? There must be some wild beast in the tree."
Both gazed attentively at the tree, but could see nothing to account for the attitude of the deer.
"Wild beast or no," Ned said, "he will do for our dinner."
So saying, he unslung his bow, and fitted an arrow. There was a sharp twang, and the deer rolled over, struck to the heart. There was no movement in the tree, but Ned placed another arrow in place. Tom had done the same.
They stood silent for a few minutes, but all was still.
"Keep your eyes on the tree and advance slowly," Ned said. "Have your sword ready in case of need. I cannot help thinking there is something there, though what it is I can't make out."
Slowly, and with the greatest caution, they approached the tree. All was perfectly still.
"No beast big enough to hurt us can be up there," Ned said at last. "None of the branches are thick enough to hide him.
"Now for the stag."
Ned bent over the carcass of the deer, which lay a few feet only from the tree. Then suddenly there was a rapid movement among the creepers which embraced the trunk, something swept between Ned and Tom, knocking the latter to the ground, while a cry of alarm and astonishment rose from Ned.
Confused and surprised, Tom sprang to his feet, instinctively drawing his sword as he did so. For a moment he stood, paralyzed with horror. A gigantic snake had wound its coils round Ned's body. Its head towered above his, while its eyes flashed menacingly, and its tongue vibrated with a hissing sound as it gazed at Tom. Its tail was wound round the trunk of the tree. Ned was powerless, for his arms were pinioned to his side by the coils of the reptile.
It was but a moment that Tom stood appalled. He knew that, at any instant, by the tightening of its folds the great boa could crush every bone of Ned's body; while the very closeness of its embrace rendered it impossible for him to strike at it, for fear of injuring its captor. There was not an instant to be lost. Already the coils were tightening, and a hoarse cry broke from Ned.
With a rapid spring Tom leaped beyond his friend, and with a blow, delivered with all his strength, severed the portion of the tail coiled round the tree from the rest of the body.
Unknowingly, he had taken the only course to save Ned's life. Had he, as his first impulse had been, struck at the head as it raised itself above that of Ned, the convulsion of the rest of the body would probably have crushed the life out of him; but by cutting off the tail, he separated the body from the tree which formed the fulcrum upon which it acted. As swiftly as they had enclosed him the coils fell from Ned, a writhing mass upon the ground; and a second blow from Tom's sword severed the head from the body. Even now, the folds writhed and twisted like an injured worm; but Tom struck, and struck, until the fragments lay, with only a slight quivering motion in them, on the ground.
Then Tom, throwing down his cutlass, raised Ned; who, upon being released from the embrace of the boa, had fallen senseless. Alarmed as Tom was at his comrade's insensibility, he yet felt that it was the shock, and the revulsion of feeling which caused it, and not any serious injury which he had received. No bones had been heard to crack and, although the compression had been severe, Tom did not think that any serious injury had been inflicted.
He dashed some water from the skins over Ned's face, rubbed his hands, spoke to him in a loud voice, and ere long had the satisfaction of seeing him open his eyes.
"Thank God!" Tom exclaimed fervently. "There, don't move, Ned. Take it quietly. It's all right now. There, drink a little water."
He poured a few drops down Ned's throat, and the latter, whose eyes had before had a dazed and wondering expression, suddenly sat up and strove to draw his sword.
"Gently, Ned, gently. The snake is dead, chopped up into pieces. It was a near shave, Ned."
Chapter 14: On the Pacific Coast.
"A close shave, indeed," Ned said, raising himself with difficulty from the ground. "Another moment, and I think my ribs would have given in. It seemed as if all the blood in my body had rushed to my head."
"Do you feel badly hurt?" Tom asked, anxiously.
"No," Ned said, feeling himself all over. "Horribly bruised, but nothing broken. To think of our not seeing that monstrous boa!
"I don't think," he continued, "that I can walk any farther today. I feel shaken all over."
"Then we will camp where we are," Tom said cheerfully. "We have got a stag, and he will last us for some days, if necessary. There is plenty of fruit to be picked in the forest, and on this mountain side we are sure to be able to find water, within a short distance."
Lighting a fire, the deer was soon cut up, and the lads prepared to spend a quiet day; which was all the more welcome inasmuch as, for the last three weeks, they had traveled without intermission. The next day Ned declared himself well enough to proceed on his journey; but his friend persuaded him to stop for another day.
Late in the evening Ned exclaimed, "What is that, Tom, behind that tree?"
Tom seized his bow, and leaped to his feet.
"I see nothing," he said.
"It was either a native, or a gigantic monkey. I saw him, quite plainly, glide along behind the tree."
Tom advanced cautiously, but on reaching the tree he found nothing.
"You are sure you were not mistaken?" he asked.
"Quite certain," Ned said. "We have seen enough of Indians, by this time, to know them. We must be on the lookout, tonight. The natives on this side are not like those beyond the mountains. They have been so horribly ill treated, by the Spaniards, that they must hate any white face; and would kill us without hesitation, if they got a chance. We shall have difficulty with the Spaniards, when we fall into their hands; but they will at least be more reasonable than these savages."
All night they kept up their fire, and sat up by turns, on watch. Several times they thought that they heard slight movements, among the fallen leaves and twigs; but these might have been caused by any prowling beast. Once or twice they fancied that they detected forms, moving cautiously just beyond the range of the firelight; but they could not be certain that it was so.
Just as morning was breaking, Ned sprang to his feet.
"Wake up, Tom!" he exclaimed; "we are attacked;" and as he spoke, an arrow quivered in the tree just over his head.
They had already discussed whether it would be better to remain, if attacked, in the light of the fire, or to retreat into the shadow; and concluding that the eyes of the natives would be more accustomed to see in darkness than their own, they had determined to stay by the fire, throwing themselves down on their faces; and to keep the natives at bay beyond the circle of the light of the flames, till daylight. They had, in readiness, heaped a great pile of brushwood; and this they now threw upon the fire, making a huge pyramid of flame, which lit the wood around for a circle of sixty yards. As the light leaped up, Ned discharged an arrow at a native, whom he saw within the circle of light; and a shrill cry proclaimed that it had reached its mark.
There was silence for a while in the dark forest and, each moment that passed, the daylight became stronger and stronger.
"In ten minutes we shall be able to move on," Ned said; "and in the daylight, I think that the longer range of our bows will enable us to keep them off. The question is, how many of them are there?"
A very short time sufficed to show that the number of the savages was large; for shrill cries were heard, answering each other, in the circle around them; and numbers of black figures could be seen, hanging about the trees in the distance.
"I don't like the look of things, Ned," Tom said. "It is all very well. We may shoot a good many before they reach us, and in the open no doubt we might keep them off. But by taking advantage of the trees, they will be able to get within range of their weapons; and at short distances, they are just as effective as are our bows."
As soon as it was broad daylight, the lads started through the forest, keeping up a running fight with the natives.
"It is clear," Tom said, "we cannot stand this much longer. We must take to a tree."
They were on the point of climbing, when Ned exclaimed:
"Listen! I can hear the sound of bells."
Listening intently, they could make out the sound of little bells, such as are carried by horses or mules.
"It must be a train to one of the mines. If we can reach that, we shall be safe."
Laying aside all further thought of fighting, the boys now ran, at headlong pace, in the direction of the sounds. The natives, who were far fleeter of foot, gained fast upon them; and the arrows were flying round them, and several had inflicted slight wounds, when they heard ahead of them the cry of:
"Soldiers on guard. The natives are at hand. Fire in the bushes."
The boys threw themselves upon their faces as, from the thickets ahead, a volley of musketry was heard.
"Load again," was the order, in Spanish. "These black rascals must be strong, indeed, to advance to attack us with so much noise."
Crawling forward cautiously, Ned exclaimed, in Spanish:
"Do not fire, senors. We are two Spaniards who have been carried away from the settlements, and have for long been prisoners among the natives."
A cry of surprise was heard, and then the Spaniard in command called them to advance, fearlessly. This they did. Fortunately they had, long before, settled upon the story that they would tell, when they arrived among the Spaniards. To have owned themselves Englishmen, and as belonging to the dreaded buccaneers, would have been to ensure their imprisonment, if not execution. The imperfection of Ned's Spanish, and the fact that Tom was quite ignorant of the language, rendered it difficult for them to pass as Spaniards. But they thought that, by giving out that they had been carried away in childhood—Tom at an earlier age than Ned—their ignorance of the language would be accounted for.
It had been a struggle, with both of them, to decide upon telling an untruth. This is a point upon which differences of opinion must always arise. Some will assert that under no circumstances can a falsehood be justified. Others will say that to deceive an enemy in war, or to save life, deceit is justifiable, especially when that deceit injures no one. It was only after very great hesitation that the boys had overcome their natural instincts and teaching, and agreed to conceal their nationality under false colors Ned, indeed, held out for a long time; but Tom had cited many examples, from ancient and modern history, showing that people of all nations had, to deceive an enemy, adopted such a course; and that to throw away their lives, rather than tell a falsehood which could hurt no one, would be an act of folly. Both, however, determined that, should it become necessary to keep up their character as Spaniards by pretending to be true Catholics, they would disclose the truth.
The first sight of the young men struck the captain of the Spanish escort with astonishment. Bronzed to the darkest brown by the sun of the plains and by the hardships they had undergone, dressed in the skins of animals, and carrying weapons altogether uncouth and savage to the Spanish eye, he found it difficult to believe that these figures were those of his countrymen.
His first question, however, concerned the savages who had, as he supposed, attacked his escort. A few words from Ned, however, explained the circumstances; and that the yells he had heard had been uttered by the Indians pursuing them, and had no reference, whatever, to the convoy. This consisted of some two hundred mules, laden with provisions and implements on its way to the mines. Guarded by a hundred soldiers were a large number of natives; who, fastened together as slaves, were on their way up to work for their cruel taskmasters.
When the curiosity of the captain concerning the natives was allayed, he asked Ned where he and his comrade had sprung from. Ned assured him that the story was a very long one; and that, at a convenient opportunity, he would enter into all details. In the first place he asked that civilized clothes might be given to them; for, as he said, they looked and felt, at present, rather as wild men of the woods than as subjects of the King of Spain.
"You speak a very strange Spanish," the captain said.
"I only wonder," Ned replied, "that I speak in Spanish at all. I was but a child, when I was carried away; and since that time I have scarcely spoken a word of my native tongue. When I reached the village to which my captors conveyed me, I found my companion here; who was, as I could see, a Spaniard, but who must have been carried off as an infant, as he even then could speak no Spanish, whatever. He has learned now from me a few words; but beyond that, is wholly ignorant."
"This is a strange story, indeed," the captain said. "Where was it that your parents lived?"
"I know not the place," Ned said. "But it was far to the rising sun, across on the other ocean."
As it seemed perfectly possible that the boys might have been carried away, as children, from the settlements near Vera Cruz, the captain accepted the story without the slightest doubt, and at once gave a warm welcome to the lads; who had, as he supposed, escaped after so many weary years of captivity.
"I am going up now," he said, "to the mines, and there must remain on duty for a fortnight, when I shall return in charge of treasure. It will be dangerous, indeed, for you to attempt to find your way to the coast without escort. Therefore you had better come on with me, and return under my protection to the coast."
"We should be glad of a stay with you in the mountains," Ned said. "We feel so ignorant of everything European that we should be glad to learn, from you, a little of the ways of our countrymen before we venture down among them. What is the nearest town on the coast?"
"Arica," the captain said, "is the port from which we have come. It is distant a hundred and thirty miles from here, and we have had ten days' hard journeying through the forest."
For the next fortnight, the lads remained at the mines. These were worked by the Spaniards entirely by slave labor Nominal wages were, indeed, given to the unfortunates who labored there. But they were as much slaves as if they had been sold. The Spaniards, indeed, treated the whole of the natives in the provinces occupied by them as creatures to be used mercilessly for labor, and as having no more feeling than the lower animals. The number of these unfortunates who perished in the mines, from hard work and cruel treatment, is beyond all calculation. But it may be said that, of the enormous treasures drawn by Spain from her South American possessions, during the early days of her occupation, every doubloon was watered with blood.
The boys, who had for nearly six months lived among the Indians, and had seen their many fine qualities, were horrified at the sights which they witnessed; and, several times, had the greatest difficulty to restrain their feelings of indignation and horror. They agreed, however, that it would be worse than useless to give vent to such opinions. It would only draw upon them the suspicion of the Spaniards, and would set the authorities at the mine and the captain of the escort against them, and might prejudice the first report that would be sent down to Arica, concerning them.
During the first few days of their stay, the boys acted their parts with much internal amusement. They pretended to be absolutely ignorant of civilized feeding, seized the meat raw and tore it with their fingers, sat upon the ground in preference to chairs, and in every way behaved as persons altogether ignorant of civilization. Gradually, however, they permitted themselves to be taught, and delighted their entertainers by their docility and willingness. The Spaniards were, indeed, somewhat surprised by the whiteness of their skin, where sheltered from the sun; and by the lightness of their hair and eyes. The boys could hear many comments upon them, and wondering remarks why they should be so much fairer than their countrymen in general. As, however, it was clearly useless to ask them, none of the Spaniards thought of doing so.
The end of the fortnight arrived and, under the charge of the escort, the lads set out, together with twenty mules laden with silver, for the coast. They had no longer any fear of the attacks of the natives, or any trouble connected with their food supply; an ample stock of provisions being carried upon spare mules. They themselves were mounted, and greatly enjoyed the journey through the magnificent forests.
They were, indeed, a little uneasy as to the examination which they were sure to have to undergo at Arica, and which was likely to be very much more severe and searching than that to which the good-natured captain had subjected them. They longed to ask him whether any news had been heard of the arrival of an English squadron upon the western coast. But it was impossible to do this, without giving rise to suspicion; and they had the consolation, at least, of having heard no single word concerning their countrymen uttered in the conversations at the mine. Had Captain Francis Drake and his companions arrived upon the coast, it was almost certain that their presence there would be the all-absorbing topic among the Spanish colonists.
Upon their arrival at Arica, the boys were conducted at once to the governor—a stern and haughty-looking Spaniard, who received the account given by the captain with an air of incredulity.
"This is a strange tale, indeed," he said, "and passes all probability. Why should these children have been kidnapped on the eastern coast, and brought across the continent? It is more likely that they belong to this side. However, they could not be malefactors who have escaped into the forest, for their age forbids any idea of that kind. They must have been stolen. But I do not recall any such event as the carrying off of the sons of Spaniards, here, for many years back.
"However, this can be inquired into when they learn to speak our language well. In the meantime, they had better be assigned quarters in the barracks. Let them be instructed in military exercises, and in our language."
"And," said an ecclesiastic who was sitting at the table, "in our holy religion; for methinks, stolen away as they were in their youth, they can be no better than pagans."
Tom had difficulty in repressing a desire to glance at Ned, as these words were spoken. But the eyes of the governor were fixed so intently upon them, that he feared to exhibit any emotion, whatever. He resolved mentally, however, that his progress in Spanish should be exceedingly small; and that many months should elapse, before he could possibly receive even rudimentary instruction in religious matters.
The life in the barracks at Arica resembled, pretty closely, that which they had led so long on board ship. The soldiers received them with good feeling and camaraderie, and they were soon completely at home with them. They practiced drill, the use of the pike and rapier; taking very great care, in all these exercises, to betray exceeding clumsiness. With the bow, alone, they were able to show how expert they were.
Indeed, the Spaniards were, in no slight degree, astonished by the extraordinary power and accuracy of their shooting. This Ned accounted for, to them, by the long practice that he had had among the Indians; declaring that, among the tribes beyond the mountains, he was by no means an exceptionally good shot—which, indeed, was true enough at short distances, for at these the Indians could shoot with marvellous dexterity.
"By San Josef!" exclaimed one of the Spanish officers, after watching the boys shooting at a target, two hundred yards distant, with their powerful bows; "it reminds me of the way that those accursed English archers draw their bows, and send their arrows singing through the air. In faith, too, these men, with their blue eyes and their light hair, remind one of these heretic dogs."
"Who are these English?" Ned asked, carelessly. "I have heard of no such tribe. Do they live near the seacoast, or among the mountains?"
"They are no tribe, but a white people, like ourselves," the captain said. "Of course, you will not have heard of them. And, fortunately, you are not likely ever to see them on this coast; but if you had remained where you were born, on the other side, you would have heard little else talked of than the doings of these pirates and scoundrels; who scour the seas, defy the authority of his sacred majesty, carry off our treasures under our noses, burn our towns, and keep the whole coast in an uproar."
"But," said Ned, in assumed astonishment, "how is it that so great a monarch as the King of Spain, and Emperor of the Indies, does not annihilate these ferocious sea robbers? Surely so mighty a king could have no difficulty in overcoming them."
"They live in an island," the officer said, "and are half fish, half men."
"What monsters!" Ned exclaimed. "Half fish and half men! How then do they walk?"
"Not really; but in their habits. They are born sailors, and are so ferocious and bloodthirsty that, at sea, they overcome even the soldiers of Spain; who are known," he said, drawing himself up, "to be the bravest in the world. On land, however, we should teach them a very different lesson; but on the sea it must be owned that, somehow, we are less valiant than on shore."
Every day a priest came down to the barracks, and for an hour endeavored to instill the elements of his religion into the minds of the now civilized wild men. Ned, although progressing rapidly in other branches of his Spanish education, appeared abnormally dull to the explanations of the good father; while Tom's small stock of Spanish was quite insufficient to enable him to comprehend more than a word, here and there.
So matters might have remained, for months, had not an event occurred which disclosed the true nationality of the lads. One day the ordinarily placid blue sky was over-clouded. The wind rose rapidly and, in a few hours, a tremendous storm was blowing on the coast. Most of the vessels in the harbor succeeded in running into shelter. But, later in the day, a cry arose that a ship had just rounded the point of the bay, and that she would not be able to make the port. The whole population speedily gathered upon the mole, and the vessel, a small one employed in the coasting trade, was seen struggling with the waves, which were rapidly bearing her towards a reef, lying a quarter of a mile from the shore.
The sea was, at this time, running with tremendous force. The wind was howling in a fierce gale, and when the vessel struck upon the rocks, and her masts at once went by the board, all hope of safety for the crew appeared at an end.
"Cannot a boat be launched," said Ned to the soldiers standing round, "to effect the rescue of these poor fellows in that wreck?"
"Impossible!" they all said. "No boat could live in that sea."
After chatting for a time, Tom and Ned drew a little apart from the rest of the crowd, and watched the ill-fated vessel.
"It is a rough sea, certainly," Ned said; "but it is all nonsense to say that a boat could not live. Come along, Tom. Let us push that shallop down. There is a sheltered spot behind that rock where we may launch her, and methinks that our arms can row her out to yonder ship."
Throwing off their doublets, the young men put their shoulders to the boat, and soon forced it into the water. Then, taking their seats and putting out the oars, they rowed round the corner of the sheltering rock, and breasted the sea which was rolling in. A cry of astonishment broke from the crowd on the mole as the boat made its appearance, and the astonishment was heightened when it was declared, by the soldiers, that the two men on board were the wild men of the wood, as they were familiarly called among themselves.
It was a long struggle before the boys reached the wreck, and it needed all their strength and seamanship to avoid being swamped by the tremendous seas. At last, however, they neared it and, catching a line thrown to them by the sailors, brought the boat up under the lee of the ship; and as the captain, the four men who composed his crew, and a passenger, leaped one by one from the ship into the sea, they dragged them on board the boat, and then turned her head to shore.
Chapter 15: The Prison of the Inquisition.
Among the spectators on the mole were the governor and other principal officers of Arica.
"It seems almost like a miracle from heaven," the priest, who was standing next the governor, exclaimed.
The governor was scowling angrily at the boat.
"If there be a miracle," he said, "good father, it is that our eyes have been blinded so long. Think you, for a moment, that two lads who have been brought up among the Indians, from their childhood, could manage a boat in such a sea as this? Why, if their story were true they could, neither of them, ever have handled an oar; and these are sailors, skillful and daring beyond the common, and have ventured a feat that none of our people here on shore were willing to undertake. How they got here I know not, but assuredly they are English sailors. This will account for their blue eyes and light hair, which have so puzzled us; and for that ignorance of Spanish, which they so craftily accounted for."
Although the assembled mass of people on the beach had not arrived at the conclusions to which the governor had jumped, they were filled with astonishment and admiration at the daring deed which had been accomplished; and when the boat was safely brought round behind the shelter of the rock, and its occupants landed on the shore, loud cheers broke from the crowd; and the lads received a perfect ovation, their comrades of the barracks being especially enthusiastic. Presently the crowd were severed by two soldiers, who made their way through it and, approaching Ned and Tom, said:
"We have the orders of the governor to bring you to him."
The lads supposed that the governor desired to thank them, for saving the lives of the shipwrecked men; for in the excitement of the rescue, the thought that they had exposed themselves by their knowledge of seamanship had never crossed their minds. The crowd followed tumultuously, expecting to hear a flattering tribute paid to the young men who had behaved so well. But the aspect of the governor as, surrounded by his officers, he stood in one of the batteries on the mole, excited a vague feeling of astonishment and surprise.
"You are two English seamen," he said, when the lads approached. "It is useless lying any longer. Your knowledge of seamanship, and your appearance, alike convict you."
For an instant the boys were too surprised to reply, and then Tom said, boldly:
"We are, sir. We have done no wrong to any man, and we are not ashamed, now, to say we are Englishmen. Under the same circumstances, I doubt not that any Spaniard would have similarly tried to escape recognition. But as chance has betrayed us, any further concealment were unnecessary."
"Take them to the guard house," the governor said, "and keep a close watch over them. Later, I will interrogate them myself, in the palace."
The feelings of the crowd, on hearing this unexpected colloquy, were very mixed. In many, the admiration which the boys' conduct had excited swallowed up all other feeling. But among the less enthusiastic minds, a vague distrust and terror was at once excited by the news that English sailors were among them. No Englishman had ever been seen on that coast, and they had inflicted such terrible losses, on the West Indian Islands and on the neighboring coast, that it is no matter for surprise that their first appearance on the western shores of South America was deemed an omen of terrible import.
The news rapidly spread from mouth to mouth, and a large crowd followed in the rear of the little party, and assembled around the governor's house. The sailors who had been rescued had many friends in the port, and these took up the cause of the boys, and shouted that men who had done so gallant a deed should be pardoned, whatever their offense Perhaps, on the whole, this party were in the majority. But the sinister whisper that circulated among the crowd, that they were spies who had been landed from English ships on the coast, gradually cooled even the most enthusiastic of their partisans; and what at one time appeared likely to become a formidable popular movement, gradually calmed down, and the crowd dispersed.
When brought before the governor, the boys affected no more concealment; but the only point upon which they refused to give information was respecting the ships on which they had sailed, and the time at which they had been left upon the eastern coast of America. Without absolutely affirming the fact, they led to the belief that they had passed some years since they left their vessels.
The governor presently gazed sharply upon them, and demanded:
"Are you the two whites who headed the negro revolt in Porto Rico, and did so much damage to our possessions in that island?"
Ned would have hesitated as to the answer, but Tom at once said, firmly:
"We are not those two white men, sir, but we know them well; and they were two gallant and loyal Englishmen who, as we know, did much to restrain the atrocities of the Indians. We saw them, when they regained their ships."
It was lucky, indeed, that the governor did not put the question separately, instead of saying, "Were you two the leaders?" for in that case Ned would have been forced to acknowledge that he was one of them.
The outspokenness of Tom's answer allayed the governor's suspicions. A great portion of his questioning was directed to discovering whether they really had crossed the continent; for he, as well as the populace outside, had at first conceived the idea that they might have been landed on the coast as spies. The fact, however, that they were captured far up among the Cordilleras; their dress and their appearance; and their knowledge of the native tongues—which he tested by bringing in some natives, who entered into conversation with them—convinced him that all this portion of their story was true.
As he had no fear of their escaping he said that, at present, he should not treat them as prisoners; and that their gallant conduct, in rowing out to save the lives of Spaniards in danger, entitled them to every good treatment; but that he must report their case to the authorities at Lima, who would of course decide upon it.
The priest, however, urged upon the governor that he should continue his instructions to them in the Catholic religion; and the governor then pointed out to Ned, who alone was able to converse fluently in Spanish, that they had now been so long separated from their countrymen that they might, with advantage to themselves, become naturalized as Spaniards; in which case he would push their fortunes to the utmost and, with his report in their favor, they might rise to positions of credit and honor; whereas, if they insisted upon maintaining their nationality as Englishmen, it was but too probable that the authorities at Lima would consider it necessary to send them, as prisoners, to Spain. He said, however, that he would not press them for an answer, at once.
Greatly rejoiced at finding that they were not, at present, to be thrown into prison; but were to be allowed to continue their independent life, in the barracks; the lads took their departure from the governor's house, and were most cordially received by their comrades.
For a short time everything went smoothly. The suspicion that they were spies had now passed away, and the remembrance of their courageous action made them popular among all classes in the town. A cloud, however, began to gather slowly round them. Now that they had declared their nationality, they felt that they could no longer even pretend that it was likely that they might be induced to forsake their religion; and they accordingly refused, positively, to submit any longer to the teaching of the priests. Arguments were spent upon them in vain and, after resorting to these, threats were not obscurely uttered. They were told, and with truth that, only two or three months before, six persons had been burned alive, at Lima, for defying the authority of the church; and that, if they persisted in their heretical opinions, a similar fate might fall upon them.
English boys are accustomed to think with feelings of unmitigated horror, and indignation, of the days of the Inquisition; and in times like these, when a general toleration of religious opinion prevails, it appears to us almost incredible that men should have put others to death, in the name of religion. But it is only by placing ourselves in the position of the persecutors, of the middle ages, that we can see that what appears to us cruelty and barbarity, of the worst kind, was really the result of a zeal; in its way as earnest, if not as praiseworthy, as that which now impels missionaries to go, with their lives in their hands, to regions where little but a martyr's grave can be expected. Nowadays we believe—at least all right-minded men believe—that there is good in all creeds; and that it would be rash, indeed, to condemn men who act up to the best of their lights, even though those lights may not be our own.
In the middle ages there was no idea of tolerance such as this. Men believed, fiercely and earnestly, that any deviation from the creed to which they, themselves, belonged meant an eternity of unhappiness. Such being the case, the more earnestly religious a man was, the more he desired to save those around him from this fate. The inquisitors, and those who supported them, cannot be charged with wanton cruelty. They killed partly to save those who defied the power of the church, and partly to prevent the spread of their doctrines. Their belief was that it was better that one man should die, even by the death of fire, than that hundreds should stray from the pale of the church, and so incur the loss of eternal happiness. In the Indies, where the priests in many cases showed a devotion, and heroic qualities, equal to anything which has ever been displayed by missionaries, in any part of the world, persecution was yet hotter than it ever was in civilized Europe. These men believed firmly that it was their bounden duty, at any cost, to force the natives to become Christians; and however we may think that they were mistaken and wrong, however we may abhor the acts of cruelty which they committed, it would be a mistake, indeed, to suppose that these were perpetrated from mere lightness of heart, and wanton bloodthirstiness.
The laws of those days were, in all countries, brutally severe. In England, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, the loss of an ear was the punishment inflicted upon a man who begged. The second time he offended, his other ear was cut off. A third repetition of the offense, and he was sold into slavery; and if he ran away from his master, he was liable to be put to death by the first person who met him. The theft of any article above the value of three shillings was punishable by death, and a similar code of punishment prevailed for all kinds of offenses Human life was then held in such slight regard that we must remember that, terrible as the doings of the Inquisition were, they were not so utterly foreign, to the age in which they were perpetrated, as would appear to us, living in these days of moderate punishment and general humanity.
By the boys, however, brought up in England, which at that time was bitterly and even fiercely anti-Catholic—a state of things which naturally followed the doings in the reign of Queen Mary, and the threatening aspect maintained by Spain towards this country—popery was held in utter abhorrence, and the Inquisition was the bugbear with which mothers frightened their children, when disobedient.
The thought, therefore, of falling into the hands of this dreaded tribunal was very terrible to the boys. They debated, between themselves, whether it would not be better for them to leave Arica secretly, to make for the mountains, and to take up their lot, for life, among the natives of the plains, who had so hospitably received them. They had, indeed, almost arrived at the conclusion that this would be their best plan of procedure.
They lingered, however, in the hope, daily becoming fainter, of the arrival of Drake's fleet; but it seemed that, by this time, it must have failed in its object of doubling the Horn. Nearly six months had elapsed, since they had been left on the eastern coast; and, according to their calculation of distance, two months should have amply sufficed to enable them to make the circuit of Southern America.
They could not tell that the fleet had been delayed by extraordinary accidents. When off the Cape they had met with storms, which continued from the 7th of September to the 28th of October, without intermission; and which the old chronicler of the expedition describes as being "more violent, and of longer continuance, than anything since Noah's flood." They had to waste much time, owing to the fact that Captain Winter with one of the ships had, missing his consorts in the storm, sailed back to England, that two other ships were lost, and that Captain Drake with his flagship, which alone remained, had spent much time in searching for his consorts, in every inlet and island.
Among those saved, in the boat from the Spanish ship, was a young gentleman of rank and fortune, and owner of large estates near Lima, who had come down upon some business. He took a great affection for the young Englishmen, and came each day to visit them, there being no let or hindrance on the part of the governor. This gentleman assured them that he possessed great influence at Lima; and that, although he doubted not that the military authorities would treat them with all courtesy, after the manner in which they had risked their lives to save subjects of his majesty; yet that, should it be otherwise, he would move heaven and earth in their favor.
"There is but one thing I dread," he said, and a cloud came over his handsome face.
"You need hardly say what it is," Ned said, gravely. "You mean, of course, the Inquisition."
The Spaniard signified his assent by a silent movement of the head.
"We dare not speak, above our breath, of that dreaded tribunal," he said. "The very walls appear to have ears; and it is better to face a tiger, in his den, than to say ought against the Inquisition. There are many Spaniards who, like myself, loathe and abhor it; but we are powerless. Their agents are everywhere, and one knows not in whom he dare confide. Even in our families there are spies, and this tyranny, which is carried on in the name of religion, is past all supporting.
"But, even should the 'holy office' lay its hands upon you, keep up heart. Be assured that I will risk all that I am worth, and my life, to boot, to save you from it."
"Would you advise us to fly?" Ned said. "We can without doubt escape from here, for we are but lightly guarded; and the governor, I am sure, is friendly towards us."
"Whither would you fly?" asked the young Spaniard.
"We would cross the mountains to the plains, and join the Indians there."
"It would be a wretched life," the Spaniard said, "and would cut you off from all kindred, and friends. I can give you no advice. To me, I confess, death would be preferable, even in its worst forms. But to you, fond of exercise, and able to cause yourself to be respected, and feared, by the wild Indians of the Pampas, it might be different.
"However, you need not decide, yet. I trust that, even should the worst befall you, I may be able, at the last moment, to give you the opportunity of choosing that life, in preference to death in the dungeons of the Inquisition."
It was about ten days from the date of the governor's writing that a ship came in from Lima, and the same evening the governor came in to them, with a grave face. He was attended by two officials, dressed in the deepest black.
"Senors," he said, "it is my duty, in the first place, to inform you that the governor of Lima, acting upon the report, which I sent him, of the bravery which you manifested in the matter of the wreck here, has agreed to withdraw all question against you, touching your past connection with the English freebooters; and to allow you freedom, without let or hindrance, and to further your passage to such place as opportunity may afford, and where you may be able to meet with a ship from your own country. That is all I have to say to you."
Then the men in black stepped forward and said, "We arrest you, in the name of the holy Inquisition, on the charge of heresy."
The young men glanced at the governor, believing that he was sufficiently their friend to give them a sign, if resistance would be of any avail. He replied to the unspoken question by an almost imperceptible shake of the head; and it was well that the boys abandoned the idea, for the door opened and a guard of six men, armed to the teeth, although in plain dark clothes, entered. These were the alguazils of the holy office, the birds of night, whose appearance was dreaded even by the most bigoted Spaniards; and at whose approach mothers clasped their children closer to their breast, and men crossed themselves, at the thought that their passage boded death to some unhappy victim. For it must be remembered that the Inquisition, framed at first only for the discovery and punishment of heresy, later became an instrument of private vengeance. Men denounced wives of whom they wished to be rid, wives husbands; no relations of kin were sufficient to ensure safety. The evidence, sometimes true, was more often manufactured by malice and hate; until at last even the most earnest and sincere Catholics trembled when they thought that, at any moment, they might be denounced and flung into the dungeons of the Inquisition.
Brave as the lads were, they could not avoid a thrill of horror, at the presence of the familiars of this dreaded body. They were, however, cheered by the thought of the promises of the young Spaniard, in whose honesty and honor they had great faith; and with a few words of adieu to the governor, and thanks to him for what he had done in their behalf, they followed the officers of the Inquisition along the streets of Arica, and suffered themselves to be placed on board the boat, which lay alongside the mole.
Although it was late in the evening, their passage was not unobserved. Many of the soldiers recognized, in the two men marching, surrounded by the black guard of the Inquisition, their late comrades; and, confident in their numbers, these did not hesitate to lift their voices, in loud protest, against this seizure of men who had behaved so gallantly. In the darkness, too, they feared not that their faces would be recognized, and their curses and threats rose loud in the air.
People looking out from their doors, to hear the cause of the uproar, were variously affected. Some joined in the movement of the soldiers; but more shrank back with dread into their houses, rather than be compromised with so dreaded a body.
The threats, however, did not proceed to open violence; and as the young men, themselves, gave no sign of attempting an effort for freedom, their comrades contented themselves with many shouts of good wishes, mingled with curses upon their captors; and the lads were embarked, without the alguazils having to use the swords which they had drawn in readiness for the expected fray.
"You are witness, senor officer," Ned said, "that we came without resistance; and that, had we chosen, we could, with the assistance of the soldiers, have easily broken from the hold of your men. We are willing, however, to proceed with you to Lima; where we doubt not that the justice of our judges will result in our acquittal. No one can blame us that we are of the religion of our fathers. Had we been born Catholics, and then relapsed into heresy, it would have been reasonable for you to have considered our case; but as we but hold the religion which we have been taught, and know indeed of no other, we see not how, in any man's eyes, blame can rest upon us."
"I take note," the officer said, "of the docility with which you have remained in our hands; and will so far testify in your favor Touching the other matter, it is beyond my jurisdiction."
The vessel in which the boys were embarked was a slow one and, two days after leaving Arica, they saw a small sailing craft pass them, at no great distance, sailing far more rapidly than they themselves were going. The boys gave no thought to this occurrence, until they arrived at the harbor of Lima. A large number of ships were here anchored and, after the solitude of the sea, which they had endured during their voyage from England, this collection of fine galleons greatly pleased the boys, who had never seen so large a number of ships collected together, there being nigh forty sail then in harbor.
As the officers of the Inquisition scarcely ever pass through the streets in the daytime, owing to the known hostility of the mass of the population, no attempt at a landing was made, until nightfall. The officer in charge was however surprised, upon reaching the landing place, to find a large crowd assembled, who saluted his party with hisses and groans, and loud cries of "shame!" Those behind pressed forward, and those in front were forced into the ranks of the alguazils; and it seemed, at one time, as if the prisoners would be separated from their guards.
A man in a rough peasant's dress was forced in contact with Ned, and said hastily, in a low voice to him:
"Keep up your heart. When preparations are made, I will act."
Ned recognized the voice of the young Spanish gentleman, whom he had left at Arica; and guessed immediately that he had taken passage in the swift-sailing caravel, in order to be able to reach Lima before the vessel containing the prisoners. Ned had, in confidence, in his talks with him, informed him that he still hoped, although his hopes had now fallen almost to zero from the long tarrying of the fleet, that the English admiral would arrive; and that he should be able to go on board, and so rejoin his countrymen. This expectation, indeed, it was which had prevented Ned and Tom making their escape, when they could have done so, and taking to the mountains; for it was certain that some time, at least, would elapse before stringent measures would be taken against them. Another effort would, without doubt, be made to persuade them to abandon their religion; and every day might bring with it the arrival of the English vessels.
The young men were conducted to a dark and sombre building, which bore the appearance of a vast monastery. The interior was even more dismal in its appearance than the walls without. A solitary figure met them at the doorway. Their guards entered, and the gates were closed behind.
The officer in charge handed to the newcomer a paper; and the latter, receiving it, said, "I accept the charge of the prisoners, and your duties are at an end, concerning them."
Motioning them to follow, he led them through some long dark corridors, into a room much better furnished and provided than they had expected. Here, placing a lamp upon the table, and pointing to two manchets of bread and a vessel of water, which stood on the table; and to two truckle beds, in the corner of the room, he left them without a word. Ned had already agreed with his companion that they would not, when once within the building, say a word, to each other, which they would not have heard by their jailors; for they were well aware that these buildings were furnished with listening places, and that every word which prisoners said would be overheard, and used against them. They comforted themselves, therefore, with general observations as to their voyage, and to the room in which they now were; and to the hopes, which they entertained, that their judges would take a favorable view of their conduct.
Then, with a sincere prayer to God, to spare them through the dangers and trials which they might have to undergo, they lay down for the night; and, such is the elasticity and strength of youth, they were, in spite of the terrible position in which they were placed, in a few minutes fast asleep.
The next day the door of the apartment opened, and two attendants, dressed in black from head to foot, and bearing white wands, entered, and motioned to them to follow them. Through more long corridors and passages they went, until they stopped at some thick curtains, overhanging a door. These were drawn aside, the door behind them was opened, other curtains hanging on the inside were separated, and they entered a large apartment, lighted artificially by lamps from above.
At a table at the end of the room were seated three men, also in black. They were writing, and for some time did not look up from their work. The attendants stood motionless by the side of the lads; who, in spite of their courage, could not but shudder at the grim silence of this secret tribunal.
At last the chief inquisitor laid down his pen and, lifting his eyes towards them, said:
"Your names are Edward Hearne and Thomas Tressilis. You are English sailors who, having crossed from the other side of the continent, made your way to Arica; where you did, as I am told, a brave action, in saving the lives of some Spanish sailors."