Read CHAPTER XVII - THE MYSTERIOUS CAVE.  RETURNING TO UNITY of The Wonder Island Boys: Conquest of the Savages , free online book, by Roger Thompson Finlay, on ReadCentral.com.

“It may be there are some sort of records or tablets somewhere about the buildings which will indicate what they were erected for; but my investigations thus far leave me just as much in the dark as when I first saw them,” remarked John, as they were examining the structures.

“I wonder if they have corner stones?  Sometimes they put records there,” observed Harry.

“I made an examination in that direction also, but the character of the underpinning is the same all around, and the corners have no distinguishing stones.”

“It must be a very old custom to have cornerstones for buildings.”

“It was a custom to have cornerstones, or memorial stones, in all buildings in ancient times.  They were well known in the time of Job, and buildings thousands of years prior to his day contained them.  It is not known from what the custom arose.”

“Didn’t you say that the treasure charts showed the existence of caves to the southeast of the cave we found at the Tuolos’ village?”

“Yes, and that is something that we shall have to investigate to-morrow.  To-day the patients still need our care, but they will be well enough to enable us to be absent to-morrow.”

“I think we ought to make sketches of the plan of this town.  I have a presentiment that we shall know something more about this place in the future,” said George.

“By all means have it prepared during the day.  Later on I may be able to give a pretty good guess what all this means.”  And the boys looked at each other significantly.

If the chiefs, or any of the lower order, knew anything about the origin of the town, they did not make it apparent.

“Do you notice one singular thing about this town and the people in it?” asked John.

Neither of the boys could guess.

“Where are the medicine men, and those who perform the sacred rites at their festivals?”

The boys again looked at each other for an answer.  George replied:  “I think they are at the caves of which the charts give some indication,” finally exclaimed Harry.

“That is the case, undoubtedly.  That is where we shall have the difficulty.  The chiefs will not disclose their hiding places.  Before going on the search we must question the chief.”

In the early morning John and the boys called on the chief in company with Uraso.  A complete change had come over him.  Two days before he was sullen and moody, after the first lesson had been given him.  Now he was different and agreeable.

“Before we start for the village of the Great White Chief there are some questions I would ask you.  How many medicine men have you?”

“Ten.”

“Where are they?”

“In their dark homes.”

“Where are those homes?”

“To the east.  Sama will take you to them, but you cannot go in.”

“Why not?”

“Because you will be destroyed.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they have told us so.”

“Do you believe them?”

“Yes.”

“Do you sacrifice your captives because they tell you the Great Spirit demands it?”

“Yes.”

“Then I must tell you that they lie to you.  The Great Spirit does not tell them to sacrifice.  It is not death to enter their homes.”

“But we know that no one has ever come from them alive.”

“Does the Great Spirit kill them when they go in?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to know whether they tell the truth?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will go in, and show you that the Great Spirit will not harm me.”

“How shall I know that you go in?”

“You must go with me and stand at the opening.”

The chief’s eyes now wandered about.  He was visibly affected at this bold declaration, and John saw hesitation in his demeanor.

Without giving him time to waver, he continued:  “The great Chief Oroto must not show his people that he is afraid.  He must show them that he is greater and wiser than the medicine men, and that the wise men who have told him those tales have not told the truth.”

Turning to Uraso he said:  “Prepare the wagon, and we will start at once.”  The chief and two of the sub-chiefs were taken out and placed in the wagon.  Harry, George, Uraso and Muro, with a picked company of twenty-five men, were selected to accompany them.

The wagon was a curiosity to Oroto.  He enjoyed the ride immensely and admired the manner in which Harry handled and guided the yaks.

Their course was directed due east for a mile, and then moved along a well-beaten path diagonally up the hill in a southern direction.  After proceeding thus for a half mile farther the ground, became rough and cut up by innumerable gullies.

“How much farther must we go?”

“To the place where the great trees are.”  And he pointed to a group of trees less than five hundred feet beyond.  Progress with the team was impossible, and all alighted.  Leaving three of the warriors with the team, the others ascended the slight elevation, and before them was the mouth of the cavern.

The opening was not more than eight feet in height, and not over six feet wide, with irregular sides.  Arriving in front of it, John advanced to Oroto, and said:  “I am about to show you that the Great Spirit will not injure me!” And saying so boldly marched in.

He remained for a full half hour, and the chief became uneasy.  The boys, as well as Uraso and Muro, affected not to be disturbed.  What John did was this:  It was evident to him that the occupants of the cave had no knowledge of the approach of the party.

They knew that the White Chief and the allies had captured the village and the chiefs.  They felt a certain sense of security in their home, because in all the tribal warfares the medicine men and the wise men of the tribes were regarded with fear and reverence.

When John entered the cave, he went in a sufficient distance to be surrounded by total darkness.  He remained concealed long enough so that he could become accustomed to the darkness, and slowly moved toward the interior, as he felt assured the occupants’ presence would sooner or later be revealed by their lights.

In this he was not mistaken, and he was surprised to find them much nearer the entrance than he anticipated.  It would be more impressive to remain for some time than to emerge at once, so he sat down to observe the wise men.

There was the most oppressive silence when he first observed the light, but as he neared them, a more or less animated conversation took place.  Much of this was understood by John, as his knowledge of two of the dialects gave him some key to the words uttered.  From this it was evident that they knew of the rescue of the captives.

The chief had told them of ten belonging to the order.  John could count only eight.  Possibly two were in some other part of the cavern, and he moved along at the opposite side of the large chamber to discover what was beyond.

Brushing along the wall, a hanging stalactite was dislodged, and it fell.  The noise did not give even a momentary start to the company.  John was surprised.  He stopped and reflected, and the reason soon became plain.  They supposed that it was caused by the absent ones returning.

But John waited and the two did not return, and they began to glance about.  At this time he was on the opposite side of the chamber, so that the medicine men were between him and the mouth of the cave.

A half dozen of them had arisen, and John stepped forward with his gun in position.  In a stentorian voice John shouted: 

“I am the Great White Chief.  Go to the door of the cave.  If any refuse he will die.  Go!”

It might be stated that before leaving for the cave Uraso had fully instructed John how to use the above phrases.  His sudden apparition on the side opposite the mouth of the cave was most startling to them.  Not a word was uttered by either.

“Go!” again shouted John.  They seemed to be paralyzed.  By a common impulse they moved toward the entrance, and as they marched out and saw the party there waiting to receive them, together with their own chief, the consternation was most marked on the faces of all.

Addressing the chief, John said:  “Here are your wise men.  The Great Spirit is not there.  They have lied to you.”

It was now apparent from the actions of the chief why he was considered such a power and a terror to his own people and to the tribes.  He was every inch a chief.  He strode forward, and would have crushed them with his own hands, but John interposed.

“We shall take care of them.  They will never again lie to the great chief Oroto.”  And so saying they were ordered bound, and Uraso instructed to take them to the village and carefully guard them.

“You may take the wagon with you, Uraso, as the boys and I want to attend to some matters on our own account, and we shall soon follow you.”

When the cavalcade passed from their sight, John said:  “I suppose we shall now have an opportunity to examine the place.  Have you any candles?”

Harry had not forgotten them, and the boys smiled as John also drew forth several, and thus they entered the cave.  John marched direct to the place where the wise men had their quarters, and their lamps were still burning.

“By the way, we came in too soon.  Two of them are outside, or are somewhere in the cave.  We want them as well as the others.  If they find us here, they will be likely to get away.  But we are here now, and we must find out what we can, and as quickly as possible.”  The lights at the habitable part of the cave were left burning and the three plunged into the passageway which led to the east.

“This is the cave noted in the chart.  How fortunate it is.  You will note that this, like the other cave, has also a cross-shaped formation, and the treasure should be at the south branch.”

“Here it is,” whispered George.

“What, the treasure?” was Harry’s eager question.

“No; the south branch.”

“You are undoubtedly right.  There is no other opening.”

This branch was followed less than a hundred feet, when a solid white wall appeared in front, and it was readily seen that the channel terminated in the chamber.

The floor of this chamber was one mass of uneven projections, entirely unlike the other parts of the cave, and what was more singular still, it was fully six feet higher than the floors of the other portions, but it was absolutely devoid of any treasure, or anything which could contain such a hoard as the chart seemed to indicate.

“It is just as well,” said John, resignedly.  “I suppose we have enough for our purposes.”

While crawling down the rough portion which formed the elevated floor of the chamber Harry slipped, and broke off a portion of the stalagmite overlaying the side.  It was dark beneath.

“This is not calcareous matter,” exclaimed John.

“What is it?” asked both in a breath.

The lights were concentrated on a sample, and as John raised his head he looked at the boys, and slowly uttered one word: 

“Copper!”

The boys did not at first grasp the true significance of the word.  It was marvelous to them that copper should be found there, but John thought of something else.  It offered a possible explanation to the origin of the buildings.  Where were the mines?  Were they in the cave itself?  This was not copper ore.  It was a partly refined product.

It was evident to John, and further verified that the entire chamber, which was fully sixty feet long and fifty feet wide, was covered with a layer of this copper for a height of six feet.  A calculation of the value could be readily made.

John and the boys made their way out and past the fires that were still burning, and which would be relighted no more.  The two absent ones were not found.  They had not returned.  The reason was explained when the village was reached.  They were captured by Uraso before they had left the cave a thousand feet.

During the day and the succeeding night the patients improved each hour.  Both of the invalid boys were able to sit up.  Rogers wanted a full meal, but still none were allowed to indulge.  John announced that a start for home would be made in the morning.

There was intense bustle in the village the next morning.  The chief was informed that he and two of his sub-chiefs would be required to accompany them, together with one hundred of his warriors.  The ten wise (?) men were also to be of the party.

There was mingled feeling of emotion in the minds of the people when they saw their great chief for the first time in the knowledge of the people humbled and taken captive by a foreign tribe.

It was well to leave them with that impression.  They would soon learn otherwise, and for the first time begin to appreciate that the white man’s way is superior to their own.

The boys and Gustave were in the wagon with the Chief Oroto.  The others were on foot.  Occasionally John would take a place and delight in the chatter of the boys, and sometimes would listen to remarks about Oroto, that would not have been pleasant for his ears.

John didn’t blame them a bit for it either.  The pale, drawn faces of the two boys made them pitiable objects, and when he saw them he felt like cursing the chief who would permit such cruelties to innocent boys.  But he remembered that the chief knew no better.  He lived according to the best that was given him.  Why was he to be blamed?

There was hardly a subject but was canvassed by the boys.  The chief soon became interested, and he frequently asked Lolo questions.  Before the journey ended the boys changed their opinions about Oroto.  Perhaps the vivacity of the boys attracted him.

But later on, through Lolo, he began to learn things which astounded him.  Muro had told his son Lolo that Harry was the one who made the wonderful guns, and this was communicated to the chief.  Harry was a hero to him from that time on.  Lolo told the chief about the wonderful things which they were making at the new town, and long before they sighted the place he was interested just like a common mortal.

But the Saboro village was in sight.  “Moro,” asked John, “how long will it take to get your family ready?”

“We shall go on with you this afternoon.”

They were ready and waiting when the train came in sight.  Lolo was out of the wagon and sprang to his mother, just like any other boy would do, and he told her in two minutes what had happened in fifteen days.  An American boy could not have done better than that.

Was Stut’s family going, too?  Certainly!  The boys laughed merrily.  One wagon was given over to the families, containing seven women and fourteen children.  But the wagons were lightened of their heavy loads of provisions and easily accommodated to emigrants.

This was a happy party.  The natives never knew of such an outing.  It was quite a cavalcade.  Just imagine four hundred warriors, the two wagons, the women and the children, the men chanting a peculiar song as they marched, occasionally interspersed with laughter, and a constant flow of talk about the new and wonderful place they were going to, of the great white chiefs, and above all the real and unaffected pleasure that grew out of the knowledge that there would be no more war.

On the second day after leaving the Saboro village, Unity came in sight.  George crawled to the top of the wagon, and, raising his hat and waving it, began to cheer.  Every warrior did likewise when he saw the signal.  It was a bedlam for a few moments.  The Illyas chief saw it and smiled.

Unity heard the cheers.  There was no more work that day.  The men in the fields came in.  Those in the workshops deserted their posts, and lined up along the newly made sidewalks that had been carefully arranged several days before.

The women were out in force, and the children in evidence everywhere.  The two wagons were in advance, Harry being in the lead.  Not a man left the town to rush out and greet them.  The Professor suggested that a more fitting welcome could be given by forming lines to receive the warriors as they filed by.

The wagon was now within five hundred feet of the end of the receiving line of the villagers.  Angel, the orang-outan, was in the line also.  The sight of the wagons was too much for him.  He scampered along the street in that peculiar shuffling gait that all the villagers knew, and started for the wagon.

He was the only one in the town who disobeyed the orders of the Professor.  He knew that George was in the wagon.  He passed the first one, driven by Harry, but he was up in the top of the second in an instant, and he made his way to George’s side, and looked up in his face.  George put his arm around him, as he was accustomed to do, and this was sufficient for him.

The children screamed in delight, but Angel didn’t mind, because he saw that George didn’t.  When George put his arm around Lolo’s little baby sister, Angel looked at George, reproachfully, at first, but when George laughed Angel emitted his well-known chuckle, which always indicated delight, and he knew that all jealousy had vanished.