But I was soon to learn how the wealth of the world is for ever encompassed by dangers that we wot not of. A shout drew my attention, and on looking up a sight met my gaze which drove all thoughts of ruby-hunting from my mind, and made self-preservation my only concern. The rope by which I had descended, relieved of my weight, swayed like a serpent endowed with life, and for this reason, perhaps, it was being fiercely attacked, about midway from the top, by a flock of white eagles which tore at the hemp with beak and claws. I ran to the cradle; but I had barely come to it when the rope parted, a hundred feet or more of it falling down to where I stood scarcely able, as yet, to realize the extent of the disaster which had overtaken me. A return to the ship for a fresh rope would occupy, I knew, six hours at the least, provided my companions were not molested on their way by hostile savages, and I shuddered to think what my sufferings must be during such a period of enforced solitude in this dreadful place. I shouted to my comrades on top of the cliff, who answered me, but it was impossible to understand what was said. I noticed, however, that some had already set off on a return to the ship, as I conjectured, for a fresh rope; while others continued to watch me. Thus I did not feel so deserted as I would otherwise have done, though I dreaded the weary hours before me, particularly when it should become dark, as would happen sooner here than above.
And now, to add to my terrors, I became aware of a low, hissing sound which seemed to come from all around me, first from one quarter and then from another. The air seemed to menace me with the hisses that were borne upon it. Then, in spite of the gloom, by straining my eyes I could see the cause of this hissing. A number of serpents were crawling out of the crevices of the rocks around, and making toward me. I shouted in the hope of frightening them away, but, although they paused, irresolute, at the sound of my voice, they came on again, drawing closer every minute. They were of all sizes, some of great length, black and venomous-looking. One monstrous reptile of the constrictor species continued to watch me from an adjacent rock upon which it lay, its forked tongue darting in and out of its mouth. I felt that my reason was leaving me. Endurance has its limits—I could bear no more. Death or madness awaited me.
Then a miracle happened. The white eagles, the cause of my mishap, now proved my salvation. They descended upon the serpents like bolts from above, carrying them off in their talons to the mountain tops, there to be devoured at their leisure. The dark valley became alive with flapping white wings and squirming serpents, in the midst of which pandemonium I mercifully lost consciousness.
When I came to myself Hartog was beside me. It was pitch dark, but he carried a ship’s lantern in his hand.