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- The Gold of the Gods - 5/45 -


Kennedy was the first to speak, and to Norton.

"Do you know anything more about these men, Lockwood and de Moche?" he queried, as we sped uptown.

"I don't know a thing," he replied cautiously. "I--I'd much prefer not to talk of suspicions."

"But the dagger," insisted Kennedy. "Have you no suspicions of what became of it and who took it?"

"I'd prefer not to talk of mere suspicions," he repeated.

Little was said as we turned in at the campus and at last drew up before Norton's wing of the Museum.

"You will let me know of any development, no matter how trivial?" asked Kennedy, as we parted. "Your dagger seems to have stirred up more trouble than there was any reason to suppose when you came to me first."

"I should say so," he agreed. "I don't know how to repay the interest you have shown in its recovery. If anything else materializes, I shall surely get word to you immediately."

As we turned to leave, I could not help thinking of the manner of Lockwood and Norton toward each other. The name Stuart Whitney ran through my head. Stuart Whitney was a trustee of the University who had contributed heavily, among other things, to Norton's various expeditions to South America. Was it that Norton felt a peculiar loyalty to Whitney, or was he jealous that any one else should succeed in interesting his patron in things South American?

The actions of the two young men, Lockwood and de Moche, recurred to me. "Well," I remarked, as we walked along, "what do you think it is--a romance or a simple crime-hunt?" "Both, I suspect," replied Craig abstractedly. "Only not simple."

III

THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL DETECTIVE

"I think I'll go into the University Library," Craig remarked, as we left Norton before his building. "I want to refresh my mind on some of those old Peruvian antiquities and traditions. What the Senorita hinted at may prove to be very important. I suppose you will have to turn in a story to the Star soon?"

"Yes," I agreed, "I'll have to turn in something, although I'd prefer to wait."

"Try to get an assignment to follow the case to the end," suggested Craig. "I think you'll find it worth while. Anyhow, this will give you a chance for a breathing space, and, if I have this thing doped out right, you won't get another for some time. I'll meet you over in the laboratory in a couple of hours."

Craig hurried up the long flight of white-marble steps to the library and disappeared, while I jumped on the subway and ran downtown to the office.

It took me, as I knew it would, considerably over a couple of hours to clear things up at the Star, so that I could take advantage of a special arrangement which I had made, so that I could, when a case warranted it, co-operate with Kennedy. My story was necessarily brief, but that was what I wanted just now. I did not propose to have the whole field of special-feature writers camping on my preserve.

Uptown I hurried again, afraid that Kennedy had finished and might have been called away. But when I reached the laboratory he was not there, and I found that he had not been. Up and down I paced restlessly. There was nothing else to do but wait. If he was unable to keep his appointment here with me, I knew that he would soon telephone. What was it, I wondered, that kept him delving into the archaeological lore of the library?

I had about given him up, when he hurried into the laboratory in a high state of excitement.

"What did you find?" I queried. "Has anything happened?"

"Let me tell you first what I found in the library," he replied, tilting his hat back on his head and alternately thrusting and withdrawing his fingers in his waistcoat pockets, as if in some way that might help him to piece together some scattered fragments of a story which he had just picked up.

"I've been looking up that hint that the Senorita dropped when she used those words peje grande, which mean, literally, 'big fish,'" he resumed. "Walter, it fires the imagination. You have read of the wealth that Pizarro found in Peru, of course." Visions of Prescott flashed through my mind as he spoke.

"Well, where are the gold and silver of the conquistadores? Gone to the melting-pot, centuries ago. But is there none left? The Indians in Peru believe so, at any rate. And, Walter, there are persons who would stop at nothing to get at the secret.

"It is a matter of history that soon after the conquest a vast fortune was unearthed of which the King of Spain's fifth amounted to five million dollars. That treasure was known as the peje chica--the little fish. One version of the story tells that an Inca ruler, the great Cacique Mansiche, had observed with particular attention the kindness of a young Spaniard toward the people of the conquered race. Also, he had observed that the man was comparatively poor. At any rate, he revealed the secret of the hiding-place of the peje chica, on condition that a part of the wealth should be used to advance the interests of the Indians.

"The most valuable article discovered was in the form of a fish of solid gold and so large that the Spaniards considered it a rare prize. But the Cacique assured his young friend that it was only the little fish, that a much greater treasure existed, worth many times the value of this one.

"The sequel of the story is that the Spaniard forgot his promise, went off to Spain, and spent all his gold. He was returning for the peje grande, of which he had made great boasts, but before he could get it he was killed. Prescott, I believe, gives another version, in which he says that the Spaniard devoted a large part of his wealth to the relief of the Indians and gave large sums to the Peruvian churches. Other stories deny that it was Mansiche who told the first secret, but that it was another Indian. One may, I suppose, pay his money and take his choice. But the point, as far as we are concerned in this case, is that there is still believed to be the great fish, which no one has found. Who knows? Perhaps, somehow, Mendoza had the secret of the peje grande?"

Kennedy paused, and I could feel the tense interest with which his delving into the crumbling past had now endowed this already fascinating case.

"And the curse?" I put in.

"About that we do not know," he replied. "Except that we do know that Mansiche was the great Cacique or ruler of northern Peru. The natives are believed to have buried a far greater treasure than even that which the Spaniards carried off. Mansiche is said to have left a curse on any native who ever divulged the whereabouts of the treasure, and the curse was also to fall on any Spaniard who might discover it. That is all we know--yet. Gold was used lavishly in the temples. That great hoard is really the Gold of the Gods. Surely, as we have seen it so far in this case, it must be cursed."

There was a knock on the laboratory door, and I sprang to open it, expecting to find that it was something for Kennedy. Instead there stood one of the office boys of the Star.

"Why, hello, Tommy," I greeted him. "What seems to be the matter now?"

"A letter for you, Mr. Jameson," he replied, handing over a plain envelope. "It came just after you left. The Boss thought it might be important--something about that story, I guess. Anyhow, he told me to take it up to you on my way home, sir."

I looked at it again. It bore simply my name and the address of the Star, not written, but, strange to say, printed in ungainly, rough characters, as though some one were either not familiar with writing English or desired to conceal his handwriting.

"Where did it come from--and how?" I asked, as I tore the envelope open.

"I don't know where, sir," replied Tommy. "A boy brought it. Said a man uptown gave him a quarter to deliver it to you."

I looked at the contents in blank amazement. There was nothing in the letter except a quarter sheet of ordinary size note paper such as that used in typewritten correspondence.

Printed on it, in characters exactly like those on the outside of the envelope, were the startling words:

"BEWARE THE CURSE OF MANSICHE ON THE GOLD OF THE GODS."

Underneath this inscription appeared the rude drawing of a dagger in which some effort had evidently been made to make it appear three-sided.

"Well, of all things, what do you think of that?" I cried, tossing the thing over to Kennedy.

He took it and read it; his face puckered deeply. "I'm not surprised," he said, a moment later, looking up. "Do you know, I was just about to tell you what happened at the library. I had a feeling all the time I was there of being watched. I don't know why or how, but, somehow, I felt that some one was interested in the books I was reading. It made me uncomfortable. I was late, anyhow, and I decided not to give them the satisfaction of seeing me any more--at least in the library. So I have had a number of the books on Peru which I wanted reserved, and they'll be sent over later, here. No, I'm not surprised that you received this. Would you remember the boy?" he asked of Tommy.


The Gold of the Gods - 5/45

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