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- The Gold of the Gods - 45/45 -


He paused. No one seemed to be disposed to answer and he went on, "Who else than the man who sought to sell the secret on its blade, in return for Inez for whom he had a secret passion? I have reasoned it all out--the offer, the quarrel, the stabbing with the dagger itself, and the escape down the stairs, instead of by the elevator."

"And I," put in Lockwood, "coming to report to Mendoza my failure to find the dagger, found him dead--and at once was suspected of being the murderer!"

Inez had revived and her quick ears had caught her lover's voice and the last words.

Weak as she was, she sprang up and fairly ran into the next room. "No--Chester--No!" she cried. "I never suspected--not even when I saw the shoe-prints. No--that is the man,--there--I know it--I know it!"

I hurried after her, as she flung herself again between Lockwood and the rest of us, as if to shield him, while Lockwood proudly caressed the stray locks of dark hair that fluttered on his shoulder.

I looked in the direction all were looking.

Before us stood, unmasked at last, the scientific villain who had been plotting and scheming to capture both the secret and Inez-- well knowing that suspicion would rest either on Lockwood, the soldier of fortune, or on the jealous Indian woman whose son had been rejected and whose brother he had himself already, secretly, driven to an insane suicide in his unscrupulous search for the treasure of Truxillo.

It was Professor Norton, himself--first thief of the dagger which later he had hidden but which Whitney's detectives had stolen in turn from him; writer of anonymous letters, even to himself to throw others off the trail; maker of stramonium cigarettes with which to confuse the minds of his opponents, Whitney, Mendoza, and the rest; secret lover of Inez whom he demanded as the price of the dagger; and murderer of Don Luis.

Senora de Moche and Alfonso, behind me, could only gasp their astonishment. Much as she would have liked to have the affair end in a general vindication of the curse she could not control a single, triumphant thrust.

"His blood," she cried, transfixing Norton with her stern eyes, "has cried out of Titicaca for vengeance from that day to this!"

"Want any help?"

We all turned toward the door as Burke, dust-covered and tired, stamped in, followed by a man whose face was bandaged and bloody.

"I heard shots. Is it all over?"

But we paid no attention to Burke.

There was Whitney, considerably banged up by the fall, but lucky to be alive.

"I tried to shake him," he explained, catching sight of Norton. "But he stuck to us, even on our detours. Finally he grew desperate--forced my car off the road. What happened after that, I don't know. He must have carried me some miles, insensible, and dumped me in the bushes again. I was several miles up the hill, tramping along, looking for a road-house, when this gentleman found me and said I had gone too far."

Senora de Moche turned from Lockwood and Inez who were standing, oblivious to the rest of us, and stared at Whitney's bruised and battered face.

"It is the curse," she muttered. "It will never--

"Just a moment," interrupted Craig, drawing the dagger from his pocket, and turning toward Inez. "It was to your ancestor that the original possessor of the secret promised to give the 'big fish,' when he was killed."

He paused and handed the dagger to her. She touched it shuddering, but as though it were a duty.

"Take it," he said simply. "The secret is yours. Only love can destroy the curse on the Gold of the Gods."

THE END


The Gold of the Gods - 45/45

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