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- The Gold of the Gods - 2/45 -
Norton shrugged his shoulders. "I believe some weird superstitions were connected with it," he replied. "It had a three-sided blade, and, as I told you, both the blade and the hilt were covered with peculiar markings."
There seemed to be nothing more that could be discovered from a further examination of the Museum. It was plain enough that the thief must have let himself out of a side door which had a spring lock on it and closed itself. Not a mark or scratch was to be found on any of the window or door locks; nothing else seemed to have been disturbed.
Evidently the thief had been after that one, to him priceless, object. Having got it, he was content to get away, leaving untouched the other treasures, some of which were even intrinsically valuable for the metal and precious stones in them. The whole affair seemed so strange to me, however, that, somehow, I could not help wondering whether Norton had told us the whole or only half the story as he knew it about the dagger and its history.
Still talking with the archaeologist, Kennedy and I returned to his laboratory.
We had scarcely reached the door when we heard the telephone ringing insistently. I answered, and it happened to be a call for me. It was the editor of the Star endeavouring to catch me, before I started downtown to the office, in order to give me an assignment.
"That's strange," I exclaimed, hanging up the receiver and turning to Craig. "I've got to go out on a murder case--"
"An interesting case?" asked Craig, interrupting his own train of investigation with a flash of professional interest.
"Why, a man has been murdered in his apartment on Central Park, West, I believe. Luis de Mendoza is the name, and it seems--"
"Don Luis de Mendoza?" repeated Norton, with a startled exclamation. "Why, he was an influential Peruvian, a man of affairs in his country, and an accomplished scholar. I--I--if you don't mind, I'd like to go over with you. I know the Mendozas."
Kennedy was watching Norton's face keenly. "I think I'll go, too, Walter," he decided. "You won't lack assistants on this story, apparently."
"Perhaps you can be of some assistance to them, also," put in Norton to Kennedy, as we left.
It was only a short ride downtown, and our cab soon pulled up before a rather ornate entrance of a large apartment in one of the most exclusive sections of the city. We jumped out and entered, succeeding in making our way to the sixth floor, where Mendoza lived, without interference from the hallboy, who had been completely swamped by the rush that followed the excitement of finding one of the tenants murdered.
There was no missing the place. The hall had been taken over by the reporters, who had established themselves there, terrible as an army with concealed pads and pencils. From one of the morning men already there I learned that our old friend Dr. Leslie, the coroner, was already in charge.
Somehow, whether it was through Kennedy's acquaintance with Dr. Leslie or Norton's acquaintance with the Mendozas and the Spanish tongue, we found ourselves beyond the barrier of the door which shut out my rivals.
As we stood for a moment in a handsome and tastefully furnished living room a young lady passed through hurriedly. She paused in the middle of the room as she saw us and eyed us tremulously, as though to ask us why we had intruded. It was a rather awkward situation.
Quickly Norton came to the rescue. "I hope you will pardon me, Senorita," he bowed in perfect Spanish, "but--"
"Oh, Professor Norton, it is you!" she cried in English, recognizing him. "I'm so nervous that I didn't see you at first."
She glanced from him to us, inquiringly. I recollected that my editor had mentioned a daughter who might prove to be an interesting and important figure in the mystery. She spoke in an overwrought, agitated tone. I studied her furtively.
Inez de Mendoza was unmistakably beautiful, of the dark Spanish type, with soft brown eyes that appealed to one when she talked, and a figure which at any less tragic moment one might have been pardoned for admiring. Her soft olive skin, masses of dark hair, and lustrous, almost voluptuous, eyes contrasted wonderfully with the finely chiselled lines of her nose, the firm chin, and graceful throat and neck. Here one recognized a girl of character and family in the depths of whose soul smouldered all the passion of a fiery race.
"I hope you will pardon me for intruding," Norton repeated. "Believe me, it is not with mere idle curiosity. Let me introduce my friend, Professor Kennedy, the scientific detective, of whom you have heard, no doubt. This is his assistant, Mr. Jameson, of the Star. I thought perhaps they might stand between you and that crowd in the hall," he added, motioning toward the reporters on the other side of the door. "You can trust them absolutely. I'm sure that if there is anything any of us can do to aid you in--in your trouble, you may be sure that we are at your service."
She looked about a moment in the presence of three strangers who had invaded the quietness of what had been, at least temporarily, home. She seemed to be seeking some one on whom to lean, as though some support had suddenly been knocked from under her, leaving her dazed at the change.
"Oh, madre de Dios!" she cried. "What shall I do? Oh, my father-- my poor father!"
Inez Mendoza was really a pathetic and appealing figure as she stood there in the room, alone.
Quickly she looked us over, as if, by same sort of occult intuition of woman, she were reading our souls. Then, instinctively almost, she turned to Kennedy. Kennedy seemed to recognize her need. Norton and I retired, somewhat more than figuratively.
"You--you are a detective?" she queried. "You can read mystery-- like a book?"
Kennedy smiled encouragingly. "Hardly as my friend Walter here often paints me," he returned. "Still, now and then, we are able to use the vast knowledge of wise men the world over to help those in trouble. Tell me--everything," he soothed, as though knowing that to talk would prove a safety-valve for her pent-up emotions. "Perhaps I can help you."
For a moment she did not know what to do. Then, almost before she knew it, apparently, she began to talk to him, forgetting that we were in the room.
"Tell me how the thing happened, all that you know, how you found it out," prompted Craig.
"Oh, it was midnight, last night; yes, late," she returned wildly. "I was sleeping when my maid, Juanita, wakened me and told me that Mr. Lockwood was in the living room and wanted to see me, must see me. I dressed hurriedly, for it came to me that something must be the matter. I think I must have come out sooner than they expected, for before they knew it I had run across the living room and looked through the door into the den, you call it, over there."
She pointed at a heavy door, but did not, evidently could not, let her eyes rest on it.
"There was my father, huddled in a chair, and blood had run out from an ugly wound in his side. I screamed and fell on my knees beside him. But," she shuddered, "it was too late. He was cold. He did not answer."
Kennedy said nothing, but let her weep into her dainty lace handkerchief, though the impulse was strong to do anything to calm her grief.
"Mr. Lockwood had come in to visit him on business, had found the door into the hall open, and entered. No one seemed to be about; but the lights were burning. He went on into the den. There was my father--"
She stopped, and could not go on at all for several minutes.
"And Mr. Lockwood, who is he?" asked Craig gently.
"My father and I, we have been in this country only a short time," she replied, trying to speak in good English in spite of her emotion, "with his partner in a--a mining venture--Mr. Lockwood."
She paused again and hesitated, as though in this strange land of the north she had no idea of which way to turn for help. But once started, now, she did not stop again.
"Oh," she went on passionately, "I don't know what it was that came over my father. But lately he had been a changed man. Sometimes I thought he was--what you call--mad. I should have gone to see a doctor about him," she added wildly, her feelings getting the better of her. "But it is no longer a case for a doctor. It is a case for a detective--for some one who is more than a detective. You cannot bring him back, but--"
She could not go on. Yet her broken sentence spoke volumes, in her pleading, soft, musical voice, which was far more pleasing to the ear than that of the usual Latin-American.
I had heard that the women of Lima were famed for their beauty and melodious voices. Senorita Inez surely upheld their reputation.
There was an appealing look now in her soft deep-brown eyes, and her thin, delicate lips trembled as she hurried on with her strange story.
"I never saw my father in such a state before," she murmured. "For
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