NICHOLAS GRAYDON RAN INTO STARRETT in Quito. Rather, Starrett sought him out there. Graydon had often heard of the big West Coast adventurer, but their trails had never crossed. It was with lively curiosity that he opened his door to his visitor.

Starrett came to the point at once. Graydon had heard the legend of the treasure train bringing to Pizarro the ransom of the Inca Atahualpa? And that its leaders, learning of the murder of their monarch by the butcher-boy Conquistador, had turned aside and hidden the treasure somewhere in the Andean wilderness?

Graydon had heard it, hundreds of times; had even considered hunting for it He said so. Starrett nodded.

“I know where it is,” he said.

Graydon laughed.

In the end Starrett convinced him; convinced him, at least, that he had something worth looking into.

Graydon rather liked the big man. There was a bluff directness that made him overlook the hint of cruelty in eyes and jaw. There were two others with him, Starrett said, both old companions. Graydon asked why they had picked him out. Starrett bluntly told him—because they knew he could afford to pay the expenses of the expedition. They would all share equally in the treasure. If they didn’t find it, Graydon was a first-class mining engineer, and the region they were going into was rich in minerals. He was practically sure of making some valuable discovery on which they could cash in.

Graydon considered. There were no calls upon him. He had just passed his thirty-fourth birthday, and since he had been graduated from the Harvard School of Mines eleven years ago he had never had a real holiday. He could well afford the cost. There would be some excitement, if nothing else.

After he had looked over Starrett’s two comrades—Soames, a lanky, saturnine, hard-bitten Yankee, and Dancret, a cynical, amusing little Frenchman—they had drawn up an agreement and he had signed it.

They went down by rail to Cerro de Pasco for their outfit, that being the town of any size closest to where their trek into the wilderness would begin. A week later with eight burros and six arrieros, or packmen, they were within the welter of peaks through which, Starrett’s map indicated, lay their road.

It had been the map which had persuaded Graydon. It was no parchment, but a sheet of thin gold quite as flexible. Starrett drew it out of a small golden tube of ancient workmanship, and unrolled it. Graydon examined it and. was unable to see any map upon it—or anything else. Starrett held it at a peculiar angle—and the markings upon it became plain.

It was a beautiful piece of cartography. It was, in fact, less a map than a picture. Here and there were curious symbols which Starrett said were signs cut upon the rocks along the way; guiding marks for those of the old race who would set forth to recover the treasure when the Spaniards had been swept from the land.

Whether it was clew to Atahualpa’s ransom hoard or to something else—Graydon did not know. Starrett said it was. But Graydon did not believe his story of how the golden sheet had come into his possession. Nevertheless, there had been purpose in the making of the map, and stranger purpose in the cunning with which the markings had been concealed. Something interesting lay-at the end of that trail.

They found the signs cut in the rocks exactly as the sheet of gold had indicated. Gay, spirits high with anticipation, three of them spending in advance their share of the booty, they followed the symbols. Steadily they were led into the uncharted wilderness.

At last the arrieros began to murmur. They were approaching, they said, a region that was accursed, the Cordillera de Carabaya, where only demons dwelt Promises of more money, threats, pleadings, took them along a little further. One morning the four awakened to find the arrieros gone, and with them half the burros and the major portion of their supplies.

They pressed on. Then the signs failed them. Either they had lost the trail, or the map which had led them truthfully so far had lied at the last.

The country into which they had penetrated was a curiously lonely one. There had been no sign of Indians since more than a fortnight before, when they had stopped at a Quicha village and Starrett had gotten mad drunk on the fiery spirit the Quichas distill. Food was hard to find. There were few animals and fewer birds.

Worst of all was the change which had come over Graydon’s companions. As high as they had been lifted by their certitude of success, just so deep were they in depression. Starrett kept himself at steady level of drunkenness, alternately quarrelsome and noisy, or brooding in sullen rage.

Dancret was silent and irritable. Soames seemed to have come to the conclusion that Starrett, Graydon and Dancret had combined against him; that they had either deliberately missed the trail or had erased the signs. Only when the pair of them joined Starrett and drank with him the Quicha brew with which they had laden one of the burros did the three relax. At such times Graydon had the uneasy feeling that all were holding the failure against him, and that his life might be hanging on a thin thread.

The day that Graydon’s great adventure really began, he was on his way back to the camp. He had been hunting since morning. Dancret and Soames had gone off together on another desperate search for the missing marks.

Cut off in mid-flight, the girl’s cry came to him as the answer to all his apprehensions; materialization of the menace toward which his vague fears had been groping since he had left Starrett alone at the camp, hours ago. He had sensed some culminating misfortune close—and here it was! He broke into a run, stumbling up the slope to the group of gray-green algarrobas, where the tent was pitched.

He crashed through the thick undergrowth to the clearing.

Why didn’t the girl cry out again, he wondered. A chuckle reached him, thick, satyr-toned.

Half crouching, Starrett was holding the girl bow fashion over one knee. A thick arm was clenched about her neck, the fingers clutching her mouth brutally, silencing her; his right hand fettered her wrists; her knees were caught in the vise of his bent right leg.

Graydon caught him by the hair, and locked his arm under his chin. He drew his head sharply back.

“Drop her!” he ordered.

Half paralyzed, Starrett relaxed—he writhed, then twisted to his feet.

“What the hell are you butting in for?”

His hand struck down toward his pistol. Graydon’s fist caught him on the point of the jaw. The half-drawn gun slipped to the ground and Starrett toppled over.

The girl leaped up, and away.

Graydon did not look after her. She had gone, no doubt, to bring down upon them her people, some tribe of the fierce Aymara whom even the Incas of old had never quite conquered. And who would avenge her in ways that Graydon did not like to visualize.

He bent over Starrett. Between the blow and the drink he would probably be out for some time. Graydon picked up the pistol. He wished that Dancret and Soames would get back soon to camp. The three of them could put up a good fight at any rate… might even have a chance to escape… but they would have to get back quickly… the girl would soon return with her avengers… was probably at that moment telling them of her wrongs. He turned—

She stood there, looking at him.

Drinking in her loveliness, Graydon forgot the man at his feet—forgot all else.

Her skin was palest ivory. It gleamed through the rents of the soft amber fabric, like thickest silk, which swathed her. Her eyes were oval, a little tilted, Egyptian in the wide midnight of her pupils. Her nose was small and straight; her brows level and black, almost meeting. Her hair was cloudy, jet, misty and shadowed. A narrow fillet of gold bound her low broad forehead. In it was entwined a sable and silver feather of the caraquenque—that bird whose plumage in lost centuries was sacred to the princesses of the Incas alone.

Above her elbows were golden bracelets, reaching almost to the slender shoulders. Her little high-arched feet were shod with high buskins of deerskin. She was lithe and slender as the Willow Maid who waits on Kwannon when she passes through the World of Trees pouring into them new fire of green life.

She was no Indian… nor daughter of ancient Incas … nor was she Spanish… she was of no race that he knew. There were bruises on her cheeks—the marks of Star rett’s fingers. Her long, slim hands touched them. She spoke—in the Aymara tongue.

“Is he dead?”

“No,” Graydon answered.

In the depths of her eyes a small, hot flame flared; he could have sworn it was of gladness.

“That is well! I would not have him die—” her voice became meditative—"at least—not this way.”

Starrett groaned. The girl again touched the bruises on her cheek.

“He is very strong,” she murmured.

Graydon thought there was admiration in her whisper; wondered whether all her beauty was, after all, only a mask for primitive woman worshiping brute strength. “Who are you?” he asked.

She looked at him for a long, long moment.

“I am—Suarra,” she answered, at last.

“But where do you come from? What are you?” he asked again. She did not choose to answer these questions.

“Is he your enemy?”

“No,” he said. “We travel together.”

“Then why—” she pointed again to the outstretched figure—"why did you do this to him? Why did you not let him have his way with me?”

Graydon flushed. The question, with all its subtle implications, cut.

“What do you think I am?” he answered, hotly. “No man lets a thing like that go on!”

She looked at him, curiously. Her face softened. She took a step closer to him. She touched once more the bruises on her cheek.

“Do you not wonder,” she said, “now do you not wonder why I do not call my people to deal him the punishment he has earned?”

“I do wonder,” Graydon’s perplexity was frank. “I wonder indeed. Why do you not call them—if they are close enough to hear?”

“And what would you do were they to come?”

“I would not let them have him—alive,” he answered. “Nor me.”

“Perhaps,” she said, slowly—"perhaps that is why I do not call.”

Suddenly she smiled upon him. He took a swift step toward her. She thrust out a warning hand. “I am—Suarra,” she said. “And I am—Death!” A chill passed through Graydon. Again he realized the alien beauty of her. Could there be truth in these legends of the haunted Cordillera? He had never doubted that there was something real behind the terror of the Indians, the desertion of the arrieros. Was she one of its spirits, one of its—demons? For an instant the fantasy seemed no fantasy. Then reason returned. This girl a demon! He laughed.

“Do not laugh,” she said. “The death I mean is not such as you who live beyond the high rim of our hidden land know. Your body may live on—yet it is death and more than death, since it is changed in—dreadful—ways. And that which tenants your body, that which speaks through your lips, is changed—in ways more dreadful still!… I would not have that death come to you.”

Strange as were her words, Graydon hardly heard them: certainly did not then realize their meaning, lost as he was in wonder at her beauty.

“How you came by the Messengers, I do not know. How you could have passed unseen by them, I cannot understand. Nor how you came so far into this forbidden land. Tell me—why came you here at all?”

“We came from afar,” he told her, “on the track of a great treasure of gold and gems; the treasure of Atahualpa, the Inca. There were certain signs that led us. We lost them. We found that we, too, were lost. And we wandered here.”

“Of Atahualpa or of Incas,” the girl said, “I know nothing. Whoever they were, they could not have come to this place. And their treasure, no matter how great, would have meant nothing to us—to us of Yu-Atlanchi, where treasures are as rocks in the bed of a stream. A grain of sand it would have been, among many—” she paused, then went on, perplexedly, as though voicing her thoughts to herself—"But it is why the Messengers did not see them that I cannot understand… the Mother must know of this… . I must go quickly to the Mother… .”

“The Mother?” asked Graydon.

“The Snake Mother!” her gaze returned to him; she touched a bracelet on her right wrist. Graydon, drawing close, saw that this bracelet held a disk on which was carved in bas-relief a serpent with a woman’s head and woman’s breast and arms. It lay coiled upon what appeared to be a great bowl held high on the paws of four beasts. The shapes of these creatures did not at once register upon his consciousness, so absorbed was he in his study of that coiled figure. He stared close—and closer. And now he realized that the head reared upon the coils was not really that of a woman. No! It was reptilian.

Snake-like—yet so strongly had the artist feminized it, so great was the suggestion of womanhood modeled into every line of it, that constantly one saw it as woman, forgetting all that was of the serpent.

The eyes were of some intensely glittering purple stone. Graydon felt that those eyes were alive—that far, far away some living thing was looking at him through them. That they were, in fact, prolongations of some one’s—some thing’s—vision.

The girl touched one of the beasts that held up the bowl. “The Xinii,” she said. Graydon’s bewilderment increased. He knew what those animals were. Knowing, he also knew that he looked upon the incredible.

They were dinosaurs! The monstrous saurians that ruled earth millions upon millions of years ago, and, but for whose extinction, so he had been taught, man could never have developed.

Who in this Andean wilderness could know or could have known the dinosaurs? Who here could have carved the monsters with such life-like detail as these possessed? Why, it was only yesterday that science had learned what really were their huge bones, buried so long that the rocks had molded themselves around them in adamantine matrix. And laboriously, with every modem resource, haltingly and laboriously, science had set those bones together as a perplexed child would a picture puzzle, and put forth what it believed to be reconstructions of these longvanished chimera of earth’s nightmare youth.

Yet here, far from all science it must surely be, some; one had modeled those same monsters for a woman’s; bracelet. Why then—it followed that whoever had done this must have had before him the living forms from which; to work. Or, if not, had copies of those forms set down by ancient men who had seen them. And either or both these things were incredible, Who were the people to whom she belonged? There had been a name—Yu-Atlanchi.

“Suarra,” he said, “where is Yu-Atlanchi? Is it this place?”

“This?” She laughed. “No! Yu-Atlanchi is the Ancient Land. The Hidden Land where the six Lords and the Lords of Lords once ruled. And where now rules only the Snake Mother and—another. This place Yu-Atlanchi!” Again she laughed. “Now and then I hunt here with— the—” she hesitated, looking at him oddly—"So it was that he who lies there caught me. I was hunting. I had slipped away from my followers, for sometimes it pleases me to hunt alone. I came through these trees and saw your tetuane, your lodge. I came face to face with—him. And I was amazed—too amazed to strike with one of these.” She pointed to a low knoll a few feet away. “Before I could conquer that amaze he had caught me. Then you came.”

Graydon looked where she had pointed. Upon the ground lay three slender, shining spears. Their slim shafts were of gold; the arrow-shaped heads of two of them were of fine opal The .third—the third was a single emerald, translucent and flawless, all of six inches long and three at its widest, ground to keenest point and cutting edge.

There it lay, a priceless jewel tipping a spear of gold— and a swift panic shook Graydon. He had forgotten Soames and Dancret. Suppose they should return while this girl was there. This girl with her ornaments of gold, her gem- tipped spears—and her beauty!

“Suarra,” he said, “you must go, and go quickly. This man and I are not all. There are two more, and even now they may be close. Take your spears, and go quickly. Else I may not be able to save you.”

“You think I am—”

“I tell you to go,” he interrupted. “Whoever you are, whatever you are, go now and keep away from this place. To-morrow I will try to lead them away. If you have people to fight for you—well, let them come and fight if you so desire. But take your spears and go.”

She crossed to the little knoll and picked up the spears. She held one out to him, the one that bore the emerald point.

“This,” she said, “to remember—Suarra.”

“No,” he thrust it back. “Go!”

If the others saw that jewel, never, he knew, would he be able to start them on the back trail—if they could find it. Starrett had seen it, of course, but he might be able to convince them that Starrett’s story was only a drunken dream.

The girl studied him—a quickened interest in her eyes.

She slipped the bracelets from her arms, held them out to him with the three spears.

“Will you take these—and leave your comrades?” she asked. “Here are gold and gems. They are treasure. They are what you have been seeking. Take them. Take them and go, leaving that man here. Consent—and I will show you a way out of this forbidden land.”

Graydon hesitated. The emerald alone was worth a fortune. What loyalty did he owe the three, after all? And Starrett had brought this thing upon himself. Nevertheless—they were his comrades. Open-eyed he had gone into this venture with them. He had a vision of himself skulking away with the glittering booty, creeping off to safety while he left the three unwarned, unprepared, to meet—what?

He did not like that picture.

“No,” he said. “These men are of my race, my comrades. Whatever is to come—I will meet it with them and help them fight it.”

“Yet you would have fought them for my sake—indeed, did fight,” she said. “Why then do you cling to them when you can save yourself, and go free, with treasure? And why, if you will not do this, do you let me go, knowing that if you kept me prisoner, or—killed me, I could not bring my people down upon you?”

Graydon laughed.

“I couldn’t let them hurt you, of course,” he said. “And I’m afraid to make you prisoner, because I might not be able to keep you free from hurt. And I won’t run away. So talk no more, but go—go!”

She thrust the gleaming spears into the ground, slipped the golden bracelets back on her arms, held white hands out to him.

“Now,” she whispered, “now, by the Wisdom of the Mother, I will save you—if I can.”

There was the sound of a horn, far away and high in air it seemed. It was answered by others closer by; mellow, questing notes—with weirdly alien beat in them.

“They come,” the girl said. “My followers. Light your fire to-night. Sleep without fear. But do not wander beyond these trees.”

“Suarra—"he began.

“Quiet now,” she warned. “Quiet—until I am gone.”

The mellow horns sounded closer. She sprang from his side and darted away through the trees. From the ridge above the camp he heard her voice raised in one clear shout There was a tumult of the horns about her—elfin and troubling. Then silence.

Graydon stood listening. The sun touched the high snowfields of the majestic peaks toward which he faced, touched them and turned them into robes of molten gold. The amethyst shadows that draped their sides thickened, wavered and marched swiftly forward.

Still he listened, hardly breathing.

Far, far away the horns sounded again; faint echoings of the tumult that had swept about the girl—faint, faint and fairy sweet.

The sun dropped behind the peaks; the edges of their frozen mantels glittered as though sewn with diamonds;

darkened into a fringe of gleaming rubies. The golden fields dulled, grew amber and then blushed forth a glowing rose. They changed to pearl and faded into a ghostly silver, shining like cloud wraiths in the highest heavens. Down upon the algarroba clump the quick Andean dusk fell.

Not till then did Graydon, shivering with sudden, inexplicable dread, realize that beyond the calling horns and the girl’s clear shouting he had heard no other sound—no noise either of man or beast, no sweeping through of brush or grass, no fall of running feet,

Nothing but that mellow chorus of the horns.



STAKRETT HAD DRIFTED OUT OF the paralysis of the blow into a drunken stupor. Graydon dragged him over to the tent, thrust a knapsack under his head, and threw a blanket over him. Then he went out and built up the fire. There was a trampling through the underbrush. Soames and Dancret came up through the trees.

“Find any signs?” he asked.

“Signs? Hell—no!” snarled the New Englander. “Say, Graydon, did you hear somethin’ like a lot of horns? Damned queer horns, too. They seemed to be over here.”

Graydon nodded, he realized that he must tell these men what had happened so that they could prepare some defense. But how much could he tell?

Tell them of Suarra’s beauty, of her golden ornaments and her gem-tipped spears of gold? Tell them what she had said of Atahualpa’s treasure?

If he did, there would be no further reasoning with them. They would go berserk with greed. Yet something of it he must tell them if they were to be ready for the attack which he was certain would come with the dawn.

And of the girl they would learn soon enough from Starrett.

He heard an exclamation from Dancret who had passed on into the tent; heard him come out; stood up and faced the wiry little Frenchman.

“What’s the matter wit’ Starrett, eh?” Dancret snapped. “First I t’ought he’s drunk. Then I see he’s scratched like wildcat and wit’ a lump on his jaw as big as one orange. What you do to Starrett, eh?”

Graydon had made up his mind, and was ready to answer. .

“Dancret,” he said, “Soames—we’re in a bad box. I came in from hunting less than an hour ago, and found Starrett wrestling with a girl. That’s bad medicine down here—the worst, and you two know it. I had to knock Starrett out before I could get the girl away from him. Her people will probably be after us in the morning. There’s no use trying to get away. We don’t know a thing about this wilderness. Here is as good as any other place to meet them. We’d better spend the night getting it ready so we can put up a good scrap, if we have to.”

“A girl, eh?” said Dancret. “What she look like? Where she come from? How she get away?”

Graydon chose the last question to answer.

“I let her go,” he said. ^

“You let her go!” snarled Soames. “What the hell did you do that for? Why didn’t you tie her up? We could have held her as a hostage, Graydon—had somethin’ to do some tradin’ with when her damned bunch of Indians came.”

“She wasn’t an Indian, Soames,” said Graydon, then hesitated.

“You mean she was white—Spanish?” broke in Dancret, incredulously.

“No, not Spanish either. She was white. Yes, white as any of us. I don’t know what she was.”

The pair stared at him, then at each other.

“There’s somethin’ damned funny about this,” growled Soames, at last “But what I want to know is why you let her go—whatever the hell she was?”

“Because I thought we’d have a better chance if I did than if I didn’t.” Graydon’s own wrath was rising. “I tell you that we’re up against something none of us knows anything about. And we’ve got just one chance of getting out of the mess. If I’d kept her there, we wouldn’t have even that chance.”

Dancret stooped, and picked up something from the ground, something that gleamed yellow in the firelight.

“Somet’ing funny is right, Soames,” he said. “Look at this!”

He handed the gleaming object over. It was a golden

bracelet, and as Soames turned it over in his hand there was the green glitter of emeralds. It had been torn from Suarra’s arm, undoubtedly, in her struggle with Starrett.

“What that girl give you to let her go, Graydon, eh?” Dancret spat. “What she tell you, eh?”

Soames’s hand dropped to his automatic.

“She gave me nothing. I took nothing,” answered Graydon.

“I t’ink you damned liar,” said Dancret, viciously. “We get Starrett awake,” he turned to Soames. “We get him awake quick. I t’ink he tell us more about this, oui. A girl who wears stuff like this—and he lets her go! Lets her go when he knows there must be more where this come from—eh, Soames! Damned funny is right, eh? Come now, we see what Starrett tell us.”

Graydon watched them go into the tent. Soon Soames came out, went to a spring that bubbled up from among the trees; returned, with water.

Well, let them waken Starrett; let him tell them whatever he would. They would not kill him that night, of that he was sure. They believed that he knew too much. And in the morning—

What was hidden in the morning for them all?

That even now they were prisoners, Graydon was sure. Suarra’s warning not to leave the camp had been explicit Since that tumult of the elfin horns, her swift vanishing and the silence that had followed, he no longer doubted that they had strayed, as she had said, within the grasp of some power as formidable as it was mysterious.

The silence? Suddenly it came to him that the night had become strangely still. There was no sound either of insect or bird, nor any stirring of the familiar after-twilight life of the wilderness.

The camp was besieged by silence!

He walked away through the algarrobas. There was a scant score of the trees. They stood like a little leafy island peak within the brush-covered savanna. They were great trees, every one of them, and set with a curious regularity;

as though they had not sprung up by chance; as though indeed they had been carefully planted.

Graydon reached the last of them, rested a hand against a bole that was like myriads of tiny grubs turned to soft brown wood. He peered out. The slope that lay before him was flooded with moonlight; the yellow blooms of the chiica shrubs that pressed to the very feet of the trees shone wanly in the silver flood. The faintly aromatic fragrance of the quenuar stole around him. Movement or sign of life there was none.

And yet—

The spaces seemed filled with watchers. He felt their gaze upon him. He knew that some hidden host girdled the camp. He scanned every bush and shadow—and saw nothing. The certainty of a hidden, unseen multitude persisted. A wave of nervous irritation passed through him. He would force them, whatever they were, to show themselves.

He stepped out boldly into the full moonlight.

On the instant the silence intensified. It seemed to draw taut, to lift itself up whole octaves of stillnesses. It became alert, expectant—as though poised to spring upon him should he take one step further.

A coldness wrapped him, and he shuddered. He drew swiftly back to the shadow of the trees; stood there, his heart beating furiously. The silence lost its poignancy, drooped back upon its haunches—watchful.

What had frightened him? What was there in that tightening of the stillness that had touched him with the finger of nightmare terror? He groped back, foot by foot, afraid to turn his face from the silence. Behind him the fire flared. His fear dropped from him.

His reaction from his panic was a heady recklessness. He threw a log upon the fire and laughed as the sparks shot up among the leaves. Soames, coming out of the tent for more water, stopped as he heard that laughter and scowled at him malevolently.

“Laugh,” he said. “Laugh while you can. Maybe you’ll laugh on the other side of your mouth when we get Starrett up and he tells us what he knows.”

“That was a sound sleep I gave him, anyway,” jeered Graydon.

“There are sounder sleeps. Don’t forget it,” Dancret’s voice, cold and menacing came from the tent.

Graydon turned his back to the tent, and deliberately faced that silence from which he had just fled. He seated himself, and after a while he dozed.

He awakened with a jump. Halfway between him and the tent Starrett was charging on him like a madman, bellowing.

Graydon leaped to his feet, but before he could defend himself the giant was upon him. The next moment he was down, overborne by sheer weight. The big adventurer crunched-a knee into his arm and gripped his throat

“Let her go, did you!” he roared. “Knocked me out and then let her go! Here’s where you go, too, damn you!”

Graydon tried to break the grip on his throat. His lungs labored; there was a deafening roaring in his ears, and flecks of crimson began to dance across his vision. Starrett was strangling him. Through fast dimming sight he saw two black shadows leap through the firelight and clutch the strangling hands.

The fingers relaxed. Graydon staggered up. A dozen paces away stood Starrett. Dancret, arms around his knees, was hanging to him like a little terrier. Beside him was Soames, the barrel of his automatic pressed against his stomach.

“Why don’t you let me kill him!” raved Starrett. “Didn’t I tell you the girl had enough green ice on her to set us up the rest of our lives? There’s more where it came from! And he let her go! Let her go, the—”

Again his curses flowed.

“Now look here, Starrett,” Soames’s voice was deliberate. “You be quiet, or I’ll do for you. We ain’t goin’ to let this thing get by us, me and Dancret. We ain’t goin’ to let this double-crossin’ louse do us, and we ain’t goin’ to let you spill the beans by killin’ him. We’ve struck somethin’ big. All right, we’re goin’ to cash in on it. We’re goin’ to sit down peaceable, and Mister Graydon is goin’ to tell us what happened after he put you out, what dicker he made with the girl and all of that. If he won’t do it peaceable, then Mister Graydon is goin’ to have things done to him that’ll make him give up. That’s all. Danc’, let go his legs. Starrett, if you kick up any more trouble until I give the word I’m goin’ to shoot you. From now on I boss this crowd—me and Dane. You get me, Starrett?”

Graydon, head once more clear, slid a cautious hand down toward the pistol holster. It was empty. Soames grinned, sardonically.

“We got it, Graydon,” he said. “Yours, too, Starrett. Fair enough. Sit down everybody.”

He squatted by the fire, still keeping Starrett covered. And after a moment the latter, grumbling, followed suit. Dancret dropped beside him.

“Come over here, Graydon,” said Soames. “Come over here and cough up. What’re you holdin’ out on us? Did you make a date with her to meet you after you got rid of us? If so, where is it—because we’ll all go together.”

“Where’d you hide those gold spears?” growled Starrett “You never let her get away with them, that’s sure.”

“Shut up, Starrett,” ordered Soames. “I’m holdin’ this inquest. Still—there’s something in that. Was that it, Graydon? Did she give you the spears and her jewelry to let her go?”

“I’ve told you,” answered Graydon. “I asked for nothing, and took nothing. Starrett’s drunken folly had put us all in jeopardy. Letting the girl go free was the first vital step toward our own safety. I thought it was the best thing to do. I still think so.”

“Yeah?” sneered the lank New Englander, “is that so? Well, I’ll tell you, Graydon, if she’d been an Indian maybe I’d agree with you. But not when she was the kind of lady Starrett says she was. No, sir, it ain’t natural. You know damned well that if you’d been straight you’d have kept her here till Dane’ and me got back. Then we could all have got together and figured what was the best thing to do. Hold her until her folks came “along and paid up to get her back undamaged. Or give her the third degree until she gave up where all that gold and stuff she was carrying came from. That’s what you would have done, Graydon—if you weren’t a dirty, lyin’, double-crossin’ hound.”

Graydon’s anger flared up. |

“All right, Soames,” he said. “I’ll tell you. What I’ve said about freeing her for our own safety is true. But outside of that I would as soon have thought of trusting a child to a bunch of hyenas as I would of trusting that girl to you three. I let her go a damned sight more for her sake than I did for our own. Does that satisfy you?”

“Aha!” jeered Dancret. “Now I see! Here is this strange lady of so much wealth and beauty. She is too pure and good for us to behold. He tell her so and bid her fly. ‘My hero!’ she say, ‘take all I have and give up this bad company.’ ‘No, no,’ he tell her, t’inking all the time if he play his cards right he get much more, and us out of the way so he need not divide, ‘no, no,’ he tell her. ‘But long as these bad men stay here you will not be safe.’ ‘My hero,’ she say. ‘I will go and bring back my family and they shall dispose of your bad company. But you they shall reward, my hero, oui!’ Aha, so that is what it was!”

Graydon flushed; the little Frenchman’s malicious travesty had shot uncomfortably close. After all, Suarra’s unasked promise to save him could be construed as Dancret had suggested. Suppose he told them he had warned her that whatever the fate in store for them he was determined to share it, and would stand by them to the last? They would not believe him.

Soames had been watching him, closely.

“By God, Danc’,” he said, “I guess you hit it He changed color. He’s sold us out.”

He .raised his automatic, held it on Graydon—then lowered it.

“No,” he said, deliberately. “This is too big a thing to let slip by bein’ too quick on the trigger. If your dope is.right, Dane’, and I guess it is, the lady was mighty grateful. All right—we ain’t got her, but we have got him. As I figure it, bein’ grateful, she won’t want him to get killed. She’ll be back. Well, we’ll trade him for what they got that we want. Tie him up.”

He pointed the pistol at Graydon. Unresisting, Graydon let Starrett and Dancret bind his wrists. They pushed him over to one of the trees and sat him on the ground with his back against its bole. They passed a rope under his arms and hitched it securely around the trunk; they tied his feet.

“Now,” said Soames, “if her gang show up in the morning, well let ‘em see you, and find out how much you’re worth. They won’t rush us. There’s bound to be a palaver. And if they don’t come to terms—well, Graydon, the first bullet out of this gun goes through your guts. That’ll give you time to see what we do to her before you die.”

Graydon did not answer him. He knew that nothing he might say would change them from their purpose. He made himself as comfortable as possible, and closed his eyes. Once or twice he opened them, and looked at the others. They sat beside the fire, heads dose together, talking in whispers, their faces tense, and eyes feverish with the treasure lust. After a while Graydon’s head dropped forward. He slept.



IT WAS DAWN when Graydon awakened.

Some one had thrown a blanket over him during the night, but he was, nevertheless, cold and stiff. He drew his legs up and down painfully, trying to start the sluggish blood. He heard the others stirring in the tent. He wondered which of them had thought of the blanket, and why he had been moved to that kindness.

Starrett lifted the tent flap, passed by him without a word and went on to the spring. He returned and busied himself, furtively, about the fire. Now and then he looked at the prisoner, but seemingly with neither anger nor resentment. He slipped at last to the tent, listened, then trod softly over to Graydon.

“Sorry about this,” he muttered. “But I can’t do anything with Soames and Dancret. Had a hard time persuading ‘em even to let you have that blanket. Take a drink of this.”

He pressed a flask to Graydon’s lips. He took a liberal swallow; it warmed him.

“Sh-h,” warned Starrett. “Don’t bear any grudge. Drunk last night. I’ll help you, if—” He broke off, abruptly; busied himself with the burning logs. Out of the tent came Soames.

“I’m goin’ to give you one last chance, Graydon,” he began, without preliminary. “Come through clean with us on your dicker with the girl, and we’ll take you back with us, and all work together and all share together. You had the edge on us yesterday, and I don’t know that I blame you. But it’s three to one now and the plain truth is you can’t get away with it. So why not be reasonable?”

“What’s the use of going over all that again, Soames?” Graydon asked, wearily. “I’ve told you everything. If you’re wise, you’ll .let me loose, give me my guns and I’ll fight for you when the trouble comes. For trouble is coming, man, sure—big trouble.”

“Yeah!” snarled the New Englander. “Tryin’ to scare us, are you? All right—there’s a nice little trick of drivin’ a wedge under each of your finger nails and a-keepin’ drivin’ ‘em in. It makes ‘most anybody talk after awhile. And if it don’t, there’s the good old fire dodge. Rollin’ your feet up to it, closer and closer and closer. Yeah, anybody’ll talk when their toes begin to crisp up and toast.”

Suddenly he bent over and sniffed at Graydon’s lips.

“So that’s it!” he faced Starrett, tense, gun leveled from his hip pocket. “Been feedin’ him liquor, have you? Been talkin’ to him, have you? After we’d settled it last night that I was to do all the talkin’. All right, that settles you, Starrett. Dancret! Danc’! Come here, quick!” he roared.

The Frenchman came running out of the tent.

“Tie him up,” Soames nodded toward Starrett. “Another damned double-crosser in the camp. Gave him liquor. Got their heads together while we were inside. Tie him.”

“But, Soames,” the Frenchman hesitated, “if we have to fight, it is not well to have half of us helpless, non. Perhaps Starrett he did nothing—”

“If we have to fight, two men will do as well as three,” said Soames. “I ain’t goin’ to let this thing slip through my fingers, Danc’. I don’t think we’ll have to do any fightin’. If they come, I think it’s goin’ to be a tradin’ job. Starrett’s turnin’ traitor, too. Tie him, I say.”

“Well, I don’t like it—” began Dancret; Soames made an impatient motion with his automatic; the little Frenchman went to the tent, returned with a coil of rope, and sidled up to Starrett.

“Put up your hands,” ordered Soames. Starrett swung them up. But in mid- swing they closed on Dancret, lifted him like a doll and held him between himself and the gaunt New Englander.

“Now shoot, damn you!” he cried, and bore down on Soames, meeting every move of his pistol arm with Dancret’s wriggling body. His own right hand swept down to the Frenchman’s belt, drew from the holster his automatic, leveled it over the twisting shoulder at Soames.

“Drop your gun. Yank,” grinned Starrett, triumphantly. “Or shoot if you want. But before your bullet’s half through Dancret here, by Christ, I’ll have you drilled clean.”

There was a momentary, sinister silence—it was broken by a sudden pealing of tiny golden bells.

Their chiming cleft through the murk of murder that had fallen on the camp; lightened it; dissolved it as the sunshine does a cloud. Soames’ pistol dropped; Starrett’s iron grip upon Dancret relaxed.

Through the trees, not a hundred yards away, came Suarra.

A cloak of green covered the girl from neck almost to slender feet. In her hair gleamed a twisted string of emeralds. Bandlets of gold studded with the same gems circled her wrists and ankles. Behind her a snow-white llama paced, sedately. There was a broad golden collar around its neck from which dropped strands of little golden bells. At each of its silvery sides a pannier hung, woven it seemed from shining yellow rushes.

And there was no warrior host around her. She had brought neither avengers nor executioners. At the llama’s side was a single attendant. Swathed in a voluminous robe of red and yellow, the hood of which covered his face. His only weapon was a long staff, vermilion. He was bent, and he fluttered and danced as he came on, taking little steps backward and forward—movements that carried the suggestion that his robes clothed less a human being than some huge bird. They drew closer, and Graydon saw that the hand that clutched the staff was thin and white with the transparent pallor of old, old age.

He strained at his bonds, a sick horror at his heart. Why had she come back—like this? Without strong men to guard her? With none but this one ancient? And decked in jewels and gold? He had warned her; she could not be ignorant of what threatened her. It was as though she had come thus deliberately—to fan the lusts from which she had most to fear.

“Diable!” whispered Dancret—"the emeralds!”

“God—what a girl!” muttered Starrett, thick nostrils distended, a red flicker in his eyes.

Soames said nothing, perplexity and suspicion replacing the astonishment with which he had watched the approach. Nor did he speak as the girl and her attendants halted close beside him. But the doubt in his eyes grew, and he scanned the path along which they had come, searching every tree, every bush. There was no sign of movement, no sound.

“Suarra!” cried Graydon, despairingly, “Suarra, why did you return?”

She stepped over to him, and drew a dagger from beneath her cloak. She cut the thongs binding him to the tree. She slipped the blade beneath the cords that fettered his wrists and ankles; freed him. He staggered to his feet.

“Was it not well for you that I did come?” she asked, sweetly.

Before he could answer, Soames strode forward. And Graydon saw that he had come to some decision, had resolved upon some course of action. He made a low, awkward, mocking bow to the girl; then spoke to Graydon.

“All right,” he said, “you can stay loose—as long as you do what I want you to. The girl’s back and that’s the main thing. She seems to favor you a lot, Graydon. I reckon that gives us a way to persuade her to answer our questions. Yes, sir, and you favor her. That’s useful, too. I reckon you won’t want to be tied up an’ watch certain things happen to her, eh—” he leered at Graydon. “But there’s just one thing you’ve got to do if you want things to go along peaceable. Don’t do any talkin’ to her when

I ain’t close by. Remember, I know the Aymara as well as you do. And I want to be right alongside listenin’ in all the time, do you see? That’s all.”

He turned to Suarra.

“Your visit has brought great happiness, maiden,” he spoke in the Aymara. “It will not be a short one, if we have our way—and I think we will have our way—” There was covert menace in the phrase, yet if she noted it she gave no heed. “You are strange to us, as we must be to you. There is much for us each to learn, one of the other.”

“That is true,” she answered, tranquilly. “I think though that your desire to learn of me is much greater than mine to learn of you—since, as you surely know, I have had one not too pleasant lesson.” She glanced at Starrett.

“The lessons,” he said, “shall be pleasant—or not pleasant, as you choose.”

This time there was no mistaking the menace in the words, nor did Suarra again let it pass. Her eyes blazed sudden wrath.

“Better not to threaten!” she warned. “I, Suarra, am not used to threats—and if you will take my counsel you will keep them to yourself hereafter!”

“Yeah, is that so?” Soames took a step toward her, face grown grim and ugly. There came a dry chuckling from the hooded figure in red and yellow. Suarra started; her wrath vanished, she became friendly once more.

“I was hasty,” she said to Soames. “Nevertheless, it is never wise to threaten unless you know the strength of what it is you menace. And remember—of me you know nothing. Yet I know all that you wish to learn. You wish to know how I came by this—and this—and this—” she touched her coronal, her bracelet, her anklets. “You wish to know where they came from, and if there are more of them there, and if so, how you may possess yourself of as much as you can carry away. Well, you shall know all that. I have come to tell you.”

At this announcement, so frank and open, all the doubt and suspicion returned to Soames. Again his eyes narrowed and he searched the trail up which Suarra had come.

“Soames,” Dancret gripped his arm, and his voice and hand were both shaking, “the baskets on the llama. They’re not rushes—they’re gold, pure gold, pure soft gold, woven like straw! Diable! Soames, what have we struck!”

Soames’s eyes glittered.

“Better go over and watch where they came up, Danc’,” he answered. “I don’t quite get this. It looks too cursed easy to be right. Take your rifle and squint out from the edge of the trees while I try to get down to what’s what.”

“There is nothing to fear,” said the girl, as though she had understood the words, “no harm will come to you from me. If there is any evil in store for you, you yourselves will summon it—not we. I have come to show you the way to treasure. Only that. Come with me and you shall see where jewels like these"—she touched the gems meshed in her hair—"grow like flowers in a garden. You shall see the gold come streaming forth, living, from—” she hesitated; then went on as though reciting some lesson—"come streaming forth like water. You may bathe in that stream, drink from it if you will, carry away all that you can bear. Or if it causes you too much sorrow to leave it, why—you may stay with it forever; nay, become a part of it, even. Men of gold.”

She turned from them, and walked toward the llama.

They stared at her and at each other; on the faces of three, greed and suspicion; bewilderment on Graydon’s.

“It is a long journey,” she faced them, one hand on the llama’s head. “You are my guests—in a sense. Therefore, I have brought something for your entertainment before we start.”

She began to unbuckle the panniers. Graydon was aware that this attendant of hers was a strange servant—if servant he was. He made no move to help her. Silent he stood, and motionless, face covered.

Graydon stepped forward to help the girl. She smiled up at him, half shyly. In the depths of her eyes was a glow warmer than friendliness; his hands leaped to touch hers.

Instantly Soames stepped between them.

“Better remember what I told you,” he snapped.

“Help me,” said Suarra. Graydon lifted the basket and set it down beside her. She slipped a hasp, bent back the soft metal withes, and drew out a shimmering packet She shook it and it floated out on the dawn wind, a cloth of silver. It lay upon the a web of gossamer spun by silver spiders.

Then from the hamper she brought forth cups of gold, and deep, boat-shaped golden dishes, two tall ewers whose handles were winged serpents, their scales made, it seemed, from molten rubies. After them small golden-withed baskets. She set the silver cloth with the dishes and the cups. She opened the little baskets. In them were unfamiliar, fragrant fruits and loaves and oddly colored cakes. All these Suarra placed upon the plates. She dropped to her knees at the head of the cloth, took up one of the ewers, snapped open its lid and from it poured into the cups clear amber wine.

She raised her eyes to them; waved a white hand, graciously.

“Sit,” she said. “Eat and drink.”