“But Hernando Pizarro, brother of the great Pizarro, suspected a delay in the carriers of gold. From Pachacamac he came with twenty horsemen, sowing terror in the mountains, carrying eighty loads of gold. Across the Juaja River and past Lake Chinchaycocha they came, till they arrived at the city of Huanuco.
“There were temples and gold and priests and soldiers. But when the soldiers of the Inca saw the horses of the Spaniards and heard the guns, they became frightened and ran away like little children, carrying their gold. Never before had they seen white men, or guns, or horses.
“With them came many priests and women, to the snow of the mountains. And after many days of suffering they came to a cave, wherein they disappeared and no more were seen, nor could Hernando Pizarro and his twenty horsemen find them to procure their gold.
“And before they entered the cave they scaled a rock near its entrance and carved thereon the likeness of a horse to warn their Inca brethren of the Spaniards who had driven them from Huanuco. That is his story, senor.”
“But who told you all this, Felipe?”
The arriero shrugged his shoulders and glanced about, as much as to say, “It is in the wind.”
“But the cave?” cried Desiree. “Where is the cave?”
“It is there, senora,” said Felipe, pointing through a passage to the right.
Then nothing would do for Desiree but to see the cave. The arriero informed her that it was difficult of access, but she turned the objection aside with contempt and commanded him to lead.
Harry, of course, was with her, and I followed somewhat unwillingly; for, though Felipe’s history was fairly accurate, I was inclined to regard his fable of the disappearing Incas as a wild tradition of the mountains.
He had spoken aright—the path to the cave was not an easy one. Here and there deep ravines caused us to make a wide detour or risk our necks on perilous steeps.
Finally we came to a small clearing, which resembled nothing so much as the bottom of a giant well, and in the center of one of the steep walls was an opening some thirty or forty feet square, black and rugged, and somehow terrifying.
It was the entrance to the cave.
There Felipe halted.
“Here, senor. Here entered the Incas of Huanuco with their gold.”
He shivered as he spoke, and I fancied that his face grew pale.
“We shall explore it!” cried Desiree, advancing.
“But no, senora!” The arriero was positively trembling. “No! Senor, do not let her go within! Many times have my countrymen entered in search of the gold, and americanos, too, and never did they return. It is a cave of the devil, senor. He hides in the blackness and none who enter may escape him.”
Desiree was laughing gaily.
“Then I shall visit the devil!” she exclaimed, and before either Harry or I could reach her she had sprung across the intervening space to the entrance and disappeared within.