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- The Gold of the Gods - 6/45 -


"I think so," replied Tommy. "He didn't have on a uniform, though. It wasn't a messenger."

There was no use to question him further. He had evidently told all that he knew, and finally we had to let him go, with a parting injunction to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut.

Kennedy continued to study the note on the quarter sheet of paper long after the boy had gone.

"You know," he remarked thoughtfully, after a while, "as nearly as I can make the thing out with the slender information that we have so far, the weirdest superstitions seem to cluster about that dagger which Norton lost. I wouldn't be surprised if it took us far back into the dim past of the barbaric splendour of the lost Inca civilization of Peru."

He waved the sheet of paper for emphasis. "You see, some one has used it here as a sign of terror. Perhaps somehow it bore the secret of the big fish--who knows? None of the writers and explorers have ever found it. The most they can say is that it may be handed down from father to son through a long line. At any rate, the secret of the hiding-place seems to have been safely kept. No one has ever found the treasure. It would be strange, wouldn't it, if it remained for some twentieth-century civilized man to unearth the thing and start again the curse that historians say was uttered and seems always to have followed the thing?"

"Kennedy, this affair is getting on my nerves already."

While Craig was speaking the door of the laboratory had opened without our hearing it, and there stood Norton again. He had waited until Craig had finished before he had spoken.

We looked at him, startled, ourselves.

"I had some work to do after I left you," went on Norton, without stopping. "In my letter-box were several letters, but I forgot to look at them until just now, when I was leaving. Then I picked them up--and--look at this thing that was among them."

Norton laid down on the laboratory table a plain envelope and a quarter sheet of paper on which were printed, except for his own name instead of mine, an almost exact replica of the note which I had received.

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

Kennedy and I looked at him. Already, evidently, he had seen that Kennedy held in his hand the note that had come to me.

"I can't make anything out of it," went on Norton, evidently much worried. "First I lose the dagger. Next you say it was used to murder Mendoza. Then I get this. Now, if any one can get into the Museum to steal the dagger, they could get in to carry out any threat of revenge, real or fancied."

Looked at in that respect, I felt that it was indeed a real cause of worry for Norton. But, then, it flashed over me, was not my own case worse? I was to be responsible for telling the story. Might not some unseen hand strike at me, perhaps sooner than at him?

Kennedy had taken the two notes and was scanning them eagerly.

Just then an automobile drew up outside, and a moment later we heard a tap at the door which Kennedy had closed after the entrance of Norton. I opened it.

"Is Professor Kennedy here?" I heard a voice inquire. "I'm one of the orderlies at the City Hospital, next to the Morgue, where Dr. Leslie has his laboratory. I've a message for Profesor Kennedy, if he's in."

Kennedy took the envelope, which bore the stamp of Dr. Leslie's department, and tore it open.

"My dear Kennedy," he read, in an undertone. "I've been engaged in investigating that poison which probably surrounds the wound in the Mendoza case, but as yet have nothing to report. It is certainly none of the things which we ordinarily run up against. Enclosed you will find a slip of paper and the envelope which it came in--something, I take it, that has been sent me by a crank. Would you treat it seriously or disregard it? Leslie."

As Kennedy had unfolded Leslie's own letter a piece of paper had fluttered to the floor. I picked it up mechanically, and only now looked at it, as Craig finished reading.

On it was another copy of the threat that had been sent to both Norton and myself!

The hospital orderly had scarcely gone when another tap came at the door.

"Your books from the library, Professor," announced a student who was employed in the library as part payment of his tuition. "I've signed the slip for them, sir."

He deposited the books on a desk, a huge pile of them, which reached from his outstretched arms to his chin. As he did so the pressure of his arms released the pile of books and the column collapsed.

From a book entitled "New and Old Peru," which fell with the pile, slipped a plain white envelope. Kennedy saw it before either of us, and seized it.

"Here's one for me," he said, tearing it open.

Sure enough, in the same rude printing on a quarter sheet were the words:

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

We could only stare at each other and at that tell-tale sign of the Inca dagger underneath.

What did it mean? Who had sent the warnings?

Kennedy alone seemed to regard the affair as if with purely scientific interest. He took the four pieces of paper and laid them down before him on the table. Then he looked up suddenly.

"They match perfectly," he said quietly, gathering them up and placing them in a wallet which he carried. "All the indentures of the tearing correspond. Four warnings seem to have been sent to those who are likely to find out something of the secret."

Norton seemed to have gained somewhat of his composure now that he had been able to talk to some one.

"What are you going to do--give it up?" he asked tensely.

"Nothing could have insured my sticking to it harder," answered Craig grimly.

"Then we'll all have to stick together," said Norton slowly. "We all seem to be in the same boat."

As he rose to go he extended a hand to each of us.

"I'll stick," repeated Kennedy, with that peculiar bulldog look of intensity on his face which I had come to know so well.

IV

THE TREASURE HUNTERS

Norton had scarcely gone, and Kennedy was still studying the four pieces of paper on which the warning had been given, when our laboratory door was softly pushed open again.

It was Senorita Mendoza, looking more beautiful than ever in her plain black mourning dress, the unnatural pallor of her face heightening the wonderful lustrous eyes that looked about as though half frightened at what she was doing.

"I hope nothing has happened," greeted Kennedy, placing an easy- chair for her. "But I'm glad to see that you have confidence enough to trust me."

She looked about doubtfully at the vast amount of paraphernalia which Craig had collected in his scientific warfare on crime. Though she did not understand it, it seemed to impress her.

"No," she murmured, "nothing new has happened. You told me to call on you if I should think of anything else."

She said it with an air as if confessing something. It was apparent that, whatever it was, she had known it all the time and only after a struggle had brought herself to telling it.

"Then you have thought of something?" prompted Craig.

"Yes," she replied in a low tone. Then with an effort she went on: "I don't know whether you know it or not, but my family is an old one, one of the oldest in Peru."

Kennedy nodded encouragingly.

"Back in the old days, after Pizarro," she hurried on, no longer able to choose her words, but blurting the thing out directly, "an ancestor of mine was murdered by an Inca dagger."

She stopped again and looked about, actually frightened at her own temerity, evidently. Kennedy and his twentieth-century surroundings seemed again to reassure her.

"I can't tell you the story," she resumed. "I don't know it. My father knew it. But it was some kind of family secret, for he never told me. Once when I asked him he put me off; told me to wait until I was a little older."

"And you think that may have something to do with the case?" asked Kennedy, trying to draw out anything more that she knew.


The Gold of the Gods - 6/45

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