Adventures in Peru, Chapter 17

A Nice Little Smack in the Eye

Gold, Silver, Emeralds, and Pearls, Part 2

At Caxamarca, in 1921, I met two Italians who had an experience that should act as a sufficient warning to other treasure hunters. Two years previous to the Great War, as they were working on the tunnel of an old mine that had been lost to sight for many years, they came across a big slab; this, when lifted up, disclosed an iron box which contained an old document. After describing a Conventille not far from where the Italians were working, it continued, “If you dig at the place indicated, you will find, about five feet down, the stone roof of a big cellar. Raise the slabs in the left-hand corner; you will then see a stone stairway. At the bottom there is rich treasure of gold and silver and precious stones.”

The Italians followed the instructions to the letter, and had reached the stairway, when one of the ten Indians they had engaged to assist them, raised the alarm. A squadron of cavalry could be seen topping the horizon! Hastily covering up their excavations, the treasure seekers prepared to make themselves scarce; but were intercepted by the Prefect of the district, who demanded to see the authority under which they pursued their inquiries. Of course none was forthcoming; so they were ordered to clear off. Being in a mortal funk, they obeyed the Prefect’s imperious command, with as little delay as possible. Six months later, when they thought the affair had blown over, they sneaked back again, intending to make a fresh start. Hard lines! They found the Prefect had been busy in the interim, and had unearthed a vast amount of treasure! This would have benefited the Italians, had they but given the usual notice to the Government.

In 1921 the Italians revisited the spot, intending to comply with all the rules and regulations. Alas! they found the Prefect had done his work so effectually that there was nothing left for them. I met them both coming and going, and they told me they had to be content with the £3000 they got for the old mine they had discovered. Even so, they came out better than I did over the old Cheeta mine which I rediscovered in the San Juan province of the Argentine. I was reported and denounced for not complying with the mining laws of the Argentine. Instead of having my full complement of men I had only a caretaker. The man who denounced me put on forty men. Six months later he sold the mine for £7000 cash, his dump and 4 per cent. of the profits resulting from the four years next ensuing, while I got nothing! What our friends across the Channel would call a nice little smack in the eye.

On the Oroya line is a place called Chusica. For hundreds of years it has been in favour as a resort for persons suffering from pulmonary complaints. It is claimed that the beautiful atmosphere will cure consumption if not too far advanced. Bronchial subjects also find it very beneficial. Besides other game, a few deer can be got here. Conspicuous amongst the many lovely flowers that run riot are the various species of Giant Cacti, whose magnificent blooms, as kaleidoscopic as a rainbow, present an unforgettable tableau.

From Chusica the line mounts higher and higher, until Monte Meggs is reached at an altitude of 15,666 ft. John Meggs, after whom the place is named, constructed the line, which includes the Galera tunnel, one of the most remarkable tunnels in the world, and the highest. It is considerably over 17,000 ft. above the level of the sea. On the way up, the train winds round and round, so that the engine may be seen rounding one bend whilst the tail end is negotiating another. When I travelled by it, the conductor, an old Scotsman, always allowed me to change into my winter clothes in his compartment. After passing Monte Meggs, the line begins to fall away, until it pulls up at Oreya (12,178 ft.), 136 miles from Lima.

I used to know Willie Meggs, Meggs’ eldest son, very well, for I had to do with some of his race-horses in Buenos Ayres. Willie and his father once had a few words about money matters. The old man said he could be either junior partner of the firm, or take £10,000 and clear out. Willie chose the alternative, and bought some race-horses. Amongst others he secured Arundel, whose English form was pretty good, for 2600 guineas off G. Haughton. Altogether he laid out a lot of money. But there was one thing he omitted to do: he didn’t renew his stock from time to time, hence it deteriorated, and after awhile became quite groggy, and he with it. One day his charming wife said to him, “Will, you owe a lot of money. What have you in your pockets?” “Twenty-five dollars,” he replied. “Let me have twenty, and I’ll see what I can do with them.” “Right-o,” said Will. Mrs. Meggs purchased two lottery tickets with the money, one for Meggs and one for herself. That was on the Tuesday. Next day but one, just as they were sitting down to dinner, along came a wire informing Meggs that his ticket had won the premier prize of £5000! Will received the good news very coolly; almost as if the winning of a great prize were of but little importance to him. I tried to persuade him to place £4000 in the London and River Plate Bank, on deposit, pay his debts out of the remaining £1000, and with what was left over, purchase a couple of infirm, good-class race-horses. I offered to train them for him, so that we might both make a bit. I’m sorry to say, however, that Will wouldn’t listen to me, but put the whole £5000 to current account; and when I last had news of him he was as hard up as ever.