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- The Air Ship Boys - 30/34 -
It was almost dark and the boys were covered with the penetrating grime of the long undisturbed "khiva." A meager wash up and supper and rest were in order. But Ned said:
"By morning the Cibola will be in collapse. It is a valuable machine, and it ought not be left out here on this point unprotected from the seasons. We shall probably never see it again, but while we can move it let's tow it over in front of the temple and put the bag and engine and instruments in the protected room."
It was not a difficult task. With no great effort the car was half carried and half dragged down the slope and then to the clearing in the pine grove where the boys soon made a new camp. To complete their work the big bag of the balloon was untied from the car and drawn, half inflated, into the pathway leading to the temple door. Then, with no small regret, the boys opened the escape valve, and in a few minutes the collapsed Cibola was stretched like the cast off skin of a snake along the sandy pathway, ready to be rolled up and compactly stored away.
THE GOLDEN EAGLE OF THE AZTECS
In the morning the boys went at their task with renewed vigor. Inventory was first taken of the stores and provisions. There was enough food for about six days, if used with care. Of water there was a supply apparently for a little longer period. But the choking dust of the "khiva" made bathing almost a necessity, and, used in this way, even sparingly, the supply would not last over two days.
"No more baths until we go down into the valley," ordered Ned. "Cleanliness would be a comfort, but we'll have to be uncomfortable."
Permanent camp was made in the cabin of the dirigible. In arranging this all the machinery, the engine, the blower, the dynamo, the reconverter and the aeroplanes, the rudder and the propeller were unmounted, and the smaller articles made ready for storing in the temple entrance. There were four casks of gasoline left unused. As these were being carried to the temple Ned suddenly exclaimed:
"Why not rig up the engine and dynamo and use an electric light down in our cave of Mystery."
"Good," answered Alan, "and while we are at it, why not hook up the balloonet blower with the engine and get fresh air?"
The stowing away of the machinery, the packing of the gas bag and the setting up of the engine and dynamo and blower afforded plenty of work until noon; and then, while the trusty little engine was pumping volumes of good sweet air into the hot, almost suffocating chamber below ground, the boys had luncheon.
Then began the real exhumation of the long buried articles in the secret religious chamber of the almost forgotten race. As revelation succeeded revelation in the next two days the paralyzing wonder that first came to Ned and Alan was succeeded by the dullness of fatigue. At intervals of not more than an hour they came above ground for fresh air. The absence of water soon converted them into bronze-like human statues. They could feel that their lungs were becoming clogged with the almost impalpable dust. But they persevered. The prize was too rich to be abandoned because of mere physical discomfort.
By means of the wired drag rope the powerful incandescent light was carried to all the chambers. And one after another, as the blower gave the boys air and helped sweep away the clouds of dust, the remains which had lain buried for over three centuries were uncovered and brought above ground.
Of the pottery itself, vases, jars, and religious ceremonial utensils, perfect in shape and displaying ornamentation that would have delighted Major Honeywell, the excavators could take little note. After removing the twelve gold hoops or bands from the supporting columns and twenty similar silver rings from the second row of pillars, the boys penetrated the elevation in the center of the "khiva."
As the end of the blower pipe was directed against this square column, the sediment of centuries disappeared. Then the brilliantly penetrating glare of the reflected electric light fell on the elevation and both boys burst out in an exclamation of amazement.
On what had been a ceremonial dais stood the treasure of the secret city of Cibola--an image of the sacred Golden Eagle of the Aztecs. The revered bird of the Aztecs stood upright, its extended head peering east. The body of this aboriginal work of art, crude in form, was of massive silver. And to it were attached overlapping plates of gold in the similitude of feathers. The unfolded wings were also of gold. The head, beak and talons were of gold, and the eyes were two polished bits of quartz. The idol, for such no doubt it was, stood forty inches in height and weighed about three hundred pounds.
The base on which the precious eagle stood was completely covered with the deepest blue turquoise. At its foot and covering the dais were the crumbled traces of many articles of cloth, feathers, bits of wood and pottery, and the like, all, no doubt, fragments of priestly utensils of worship. The most ornate and best preserved of these was a large flat bowl covered on the inside with skillfully cut mother-of-pearl. This was still iridescently beautiful, and the more striking because its milk white exterior was unmarked by decoration.
Each mummy, when hauled into the open air and examined, gave more positive proof of the riches that had been collected in this sacred retreat. The funeral bowls placed at the feet of the bodies varied in form and material. Some of these were of plain black and white pottery, others were coated with gold, silver, or mother-of-pearl. The bowls apparently had once contained food. In all there were two golden bowls, four of silver, one of pearl and one of pottery.
Each mummy was wound with as much care as was ever bestowed on the Egyptian royal dead. The woven wrappings were coated with pitch and beneath them were colored cotton cloths, affording proof of a high civilization. The richest treasures of the dead were the breastplates and necklaces found on each. These astounded the young investigators.
These plates and beads had been strung on deer sinews, which, not having been protected by pitch, were now only lines of dust. But, lying on the breast of each there was invariably a "body scraper," (as Major Honeywell afterwards termed them) of gold, silver or mother-of-pearl. Mother-of-pearl discs were the commonest neck decoration. Of these the boys discovered four.
On three of the bodies were pierced pearl bead necklaces. On the most elaborately wrapped figure, that of a head priest or high chief, came the crowning discovery. This was a necklace of pierced amethysts. And on the breast of this figure was a flat plate of gold with sixteen radiating points, each of these terminating in a large luminous unpierced and polished amethyst.
About the waist of this shriveled figure were the remains of a jeweled belt. The foundation or back of this had dissolved into dust, but careful unwrapping of the cerements revealed the priceless ornamentation. This decoration was of alternating squares of mother-of-pearl, in each of which glistened a perfect amethyst, and of matchless turquoise squares set with great pearls.
A QUARTER OF A TON OF TREASURE
It was impossible for the boys even to venture an estimate on the value of the immense mine of turquoise, although they realized that the increasing scarcity of the jewel made the beautiful and unique specimens everywhere about them worth a great deal of money. Nor had they any idea of the value of the mother-of-pearl bowls, nor of the hundreds of beautiful and unique ceremonial and funeral urns and vases. Least of all, could they put even an approximate price on the amethyst and pearl necklaces. Even their most sanguine hopes of discovering the hidden city of Cibola had not led the adventurers to investigate the current prices of precious stones.
Knowing, however, what the prices of gold and silver were, they could form some estimate of the worth of this part of the treasure.
By comparison with the known weights of certain articles in the car the two boys made the following list of metal pieces discovered:
Twelve bands. Weight each 2 lbs. I oz. 26 Two bowls. Weight each 6 lbs 12 Two "body-scrapers." Weight each 9 oz 1 1/2 Wings, head and talons of Sacred Eagle 82 Breastplate 3 Radiating sun over entrance 12
Total, 136 1/2, or 1,638 ounces.
Twenty-four bands. Weight each I lb. 8 oz 40 Four bowls. Weight each 5 lbs 20 Four "body-scrapers." Weight 10 oz.. 3 1/3 Body of Sacred Eagle. Weight 218 Ninety-six miscellaneous rings, bands, anklets and wristlets, many set with mother-of-pearl and turquoise 16 1/3
Total, 297 2/3, or 3,580 ounces.
The market value of these precious metals was easily computed. The silver at sixty cents an ounce was worth $2,148. The more valuable gold, at twenty dollars an ounce, was worth $32,760. Together, the 484 pounds were worth $34,908.
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