As we advanced the caves increased in size, until at length we stood in a great apartment, formed of colossal fluted pillars, and roofed high above our heads with depending stalactites which glistened in the light of our torches. Everywhere in this huge cavern the same mineral formation was to be seen, so that we seemed to be standing in a palace composed of glittering gems.
The stream here was wide, moving sluggishly over a bed of black sand. Presently a cry from Janstins brought us to where he was standing beside a heap of what, at first sight, looked like yellow clay, but which, upon closer inspection, proved to be a quantity of gold dust, interspersed with small nuggets. Here, then, was the treasure collected by the fishermen from Lamakera, and abandoned by them in 1467, almost two hundred years before the date of our coming. But the cause of the great trepidation which had come upon them, so that they had been unable to carry the gold away, we had yet to learn.
We had become so intent upon our gold discovery that we had failed to notice a peculiar humming sound, which became louder as it drew nearer, and suddenly we observed descending upon us, from the vaulted roof, what appeared to be white feathery clouds, which, however, speedily resolved themselves into a prodigious number of flying hornets. Bruno was the first to be attacked by these venomous insects. In a moment he was covered with them, and ran screaming into the water of the slowly-moving stream. His cries were pitiful, but we could do nothing to relieve him. In less than a minute he was stung to death.
It now became imperative, if we would save ourselves, to make the best of our way out of the caves without attempting to carry off any of the gold we had found. The fate of the boy Bruno had caused a diversion among the hornets to which we probably owed our lives. In the hope of distracting them still further, we fired off our muskets, which awoke echoes in that silent place the like of which had never been heard before. Had we exploded a barrel of gunpowder, the sound of it would not have been louder nor the concussion greater, than was caused by the discharge of our firearms. Huge masses of stalactites fell from the roof, while the air space around us became filled with bats, and flying creatures with heads like foxes, disturbed from their slumbers by the discharge of our guns. The flapping of their wings drove off the hornets, and greatly aided us in our escape from a horrible death.