THE GOLD OF THE GODS
ARTHUR B. REEVE
FRONTISPIECE BY WILL FOSTER
I THE PERUVIAN DAGGER
II THE SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
III THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL DETECTIVE
IV THE TREASURE HUNTERS
V THE WALL STREET PROMOTER
VI THE CURSE OF MANSICHE
VII THE ARROW POISON
VIII THE ANONYMOUS LETTER
IX THE PAPER FIBRES
X THE X-RAY READER
XI THE SHOE-PRINTS
XII THE EVIL EYE
XIII THE POISONED CIGARETTE
XIV THE INTERFEROMETER
XV THE WEED OF MADNESS
XVI THE EAR IN THE WALL
XVII THE VOICE FROM THE AIR
XVIII THE ANTIDOTE
XIX THE BURGLAR POWDER
XX THE PULMOTOR
XXI THE TELESCRIBE
XXII THE VANISHER
XXIII THE ACETYLENE TORCH
XXIV THE POLICE DOG
XXV THE GOLD OF THE GODS
THE PERUVIAN DAGGER
"There's something weird and mysterious about the robbery, Kennedy. They took the very thing I treasure most of all, an ancient Peruvian dagger."
Professor Allan Norton was very much excited as he dropped into Craig's laboratory early that forenoon.
Norton, I may say, was one of the younger members of the faculty, like Kennedy. Already, however, he had made for himself a place as one of the foremost of South American explorers and archaeologists.
"How they got into the South American section of the Museum, though, I don't understand," he hurried on. "But, once in, that they should take the most valuable relic I brought back with me on this last expedition, I think certainly shows that it was a robbery with a deep-laid, premeditated purpose."
"Nothing else is gone?" queried Kennedy.
"Nothing," returned the professor. "That's the strangest part of it—to me. It was a peculiar dagger, too," he continued reminiscently. "I say that it was valuable, for on the blade were engraved some curious Inca characters. I wasn't able to take the time to decipher them, down there, for the age of the metal made them almost illegible. But now that I have all my stuff unpacked and arranged after my trip, I was just about to try—when along comes a thief and robs me. We can't have the University Museum broken into that way, you know, Kennedy."
"I should say not," readily assented Craig. "I'd like to look the place over."
"Just what I wanted," exclaimed Norton, heartily delighted, and leading the way.
We walked across the campus with him to the Museum, still chatting. Norton was a tall, spare man, wiry, precisely the type one would pick to make an explorer in a tropical climate. His features were sharp, suggesting a clear and penetrating mind and a disposition to make the most of everything, no matter how slight. Indeed that had been his history, I knew. He had come to college a couple of years before Kennedy and myself, almost penniless, and had worked his way through by doing everything from waiting on table to tutoring. To-day he stood forth as a shining example of self-made intellectual man, as cultured as if he had sprung from a race of scholars, as practical as if he had taken to mills rather than museums.
We entered a handsome white-marble building in the shape of a rectangle, facing the University Library, a building, by the way, which Norton had persuaded several wealthy trustees and other donors to erect. Kennedy at once began examining the section devoted to Latin America, going over everything very carefully.
I looked about, too. There were treasures from Mexico and Peru, from every romantic bit of the wonderful countries south of us— blocks of porphyry with quaint grecques and hieroglyphic painting from Mitla, copper axes and pottery from Cuzco, sculptured stones and mosaics, jugs, cups, vases, little gods and great, sacrificial stones, a treasure house of Aztec and Inca lore—enough to keep one occupied for hours merely to look at.
Yet, I reflected, following Norton, in all this mass of material, the thief seemed to have selected one, apparently insignificant, dagger, the thing which Norton prized because, somehow, it bore on its blade something which he had not, as yet, been able to fathom.
Though Kennedy looked thoroughly and patiently, it seemed as though there was nothing there to tell any story of the robbery, and he turned his attention at last to other parts of the Museum. As he made his way about slowly, I noted that he was looking particularly into corners, behind cabinets, around angles. What he expected to find I could not even guess.
Further along and on the same side of the building we came to the section devoted to Egyptology. Kennedy paused. Standing there, upright against the wall, was a mummy case. To me, even now, the thing had a creepy look. Craig pushed aside the stone lid irreverently and gazed keenly into the uncanny depths of the stone sarcophagus. An instant later he was down on his hands and knees, carefully examining the interior by means of a pocket lens.
"I think I have made a start," he remarked, rising to his feet and facing us with an air of satisfaction.
We said nothing, and he pointed to some almost undiscernible marks in a thin layer of dust that had collected in the sarcophagus.
"If I'm not mistaken," he went on, "your thief got into the Museum during the daytime, and, when no one was looking, hid here. He must have stayed until the place was locked up at night. Then he could rob at his leisure, only taking care to confine his operations to the time between the rather infrequent rounds of the night watchman."
Kennedy bent down again. "Look," he indicated. "There are the marks of shoes in the dust, shoes with nails in the heels, of course. I shall have to compare the marks that I have found here with those I have collected, following out the method of the immortal Bertillon. Every make of shoes has its own peculiarities, both in the number and the arrangement of the nails. Offhand, however, I should say that these shoes were American-made—though that, of course, does not necessarily mean that an American wore them. I may even be able to determine which of a number of individual pairs of shoes made the marks. I cannot tell that yet, until I study them. Walter, I wish you'd go over to my laboratory. In the second right-hand drawer of my desk you'll find a package of paper. I'd like to have it."
"Don't you think you ought to preserve the marks?" I heard Norton hint, as I left. He had been watching Kennedy in open-eyed amazement and interest.
"Exactly what I am sending Walter to do," he returned. "I have some specially prepared paper that will take those dust marks up and give me a perfect replica."
I hurried back as fast as I could, and Kennedy bent to the task of preserving the marks.
"Have you any idea who might have an object in stealing the dagger?" Kennedy asked, when he had finished.
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 days all he had talked about was the 'big fish,' the peje grande, whatever that might mean—and the curse of Mansiche."
The recollection of the past few days seemed to be too much for her. Almost before we knew it, before Norton, who had started to ask her a question, could speak, she excused herself and fled from the room, leaving only the indelible impression of loveliness and the appeal for help that was irresistible.
Kennedy turned to Norton. But just then the door to the den opened and we saw our friend Dr. Leslie. He saw us, too, and took a few steps in our direction.
"What—you here, Kennedy?" he greeted in surprise as Craig shook hands and introduced Norton. "And Jameson, too? Well, I think you've found a case at last that will baffle you."
As we talked he led the way across the living room and into the den from which he had just come.
"It is very strange," he said, telling at once all that he had been able to discover. "Senor Mendoza was discovered here about midnight last night by his partner, Mr. Lockwood. There seem to be no clues to how or by whom he was murdered. No locks had been broken. I have examined the hall-boy who was here last night. He seems to be off his post a good deal when it is late. He saw Mr. Lockwood come in, and took him in the elevator up to the sixth floor. After that we can find nothing but the open door into the apartment. It is not at all impossible that some one might have come in when the boy was off his post, have walked up, even have walked down, the stairs again. In fact, it must have been that way. No windows, not even on the fire-escape, have been tampered with. In fact, the murder must have been done by some one admitted to the apartment late by Mendoza himself."
We walked over to the couch on which lay the body covered by a sheet. Dr. Leslie drew down the sheet.
On the face was a most awful look, a terrible stare and contortion of the features, and a deep, almost purple, discoloration. The muscles were all tense and rigid. I shall never forget that face and its look, half of pain, half of fear, as if of something nameless.
Mendoza had been a heavy-set man, whose piercing black eyes beetled forth, in life, from under bushy brows. Even in death, barring that horrible look, he was rather distinguished-looking, and his close-cropped hair and moustache set him off as a man of affairs and consequence in his own country.
"Most peculiar, Kennedy," reiterated Dr. Leslie, pointing to the breast. "You see that wound? I can't quite determine whether that was the real cause of death or not. Of course, it's a bad wound, it's true. But there seems to be something else here, too. Look at the pupils of his eyes, how contracted they are. The lungs seem congested, too. He has all the marks of having been asphyxiated. Yet there are no indications on his throat of violence such as would be necessary if that were the case. There could have been no such thing as illuminating gas, nor have we found any trace of any receptacles which might have held poison. I can't seem to make it out."
Kennedy bent over the body and looked at it attentively for several minutes, while we stood back of him, scarcely uttering a word in the presence of this terrible thing.
Deftly Kennedy managed to extract a few drops of blood from about the wound and transfer them to a very small test-tube which he carried in a little emergency pocket-case in order to preserve material for future study.
"You say the dagger was triangular, Norton?" he asked finally, without looking up from his minute examination.
"Yes, with another blade that shot out automatically when you knew the secret of pressing the hilt in a certain way. The outside triangular blade separated into three to allow an inner blade to shoot out."
Kennedy had risen and, as Norton described the Inca dagger, looked from one to the other of us keenly.
"That blade was poisoned," he concluded quietly. "We have a clue to your missing dagger. Mendoza was murdered by it!"
THE SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
"I should like to have another talk with Senorita Inez," remarked Kennedy, a few minutes later, as with Dr. Leslie and Professor Norton we turned into the living room and closed the door to the den.
While Norton volunteered to send one of the servants in to see whether the young lady was able to stand the strain of another interview, Dr. Leslie received a hurry call to another case.
"You'll let me know, Kennedy, if you discover anything?" he asked, shaking hands with us. "I shall keep you informed, also, from my end. That poison completely baffles me—so far. You know, we might as well work together."
"Assuredly," agreed Craig, as the coroner left. "That," he added to me, as the door closed, "was one word for me and two for himself. I can do the work; he wants to save his official face. He never will know what that poison was—until I tell him."
Inez had by this time so far recovered her composure that she was able to meet us again in the living room.
"I'm very sorry to have to trouble you again," apologized Kennedy, "but if I am to get anywhere in this case I must have the facts."
She looked at him, half-puzzled, and, I fancied, half-frightened, too. "Anything I can tell you—of course, ask me," she said.
"Had your father any enemies who might desire his death?" shot out Kennedy, almost without warning.
"No," she answered slowly, still watching him carefully, then adding hastily: "Of course, you know, no one who tries to do anything is absolutely without enemies, though."
"I mean," repeated Craig, carefully noting a certain hesitation in her tone, "was there any one who, for reasons best known to himself, might have murdered him in a way peculiarly likely under the circumstances, say, with a dagger?"
Inez flashed a quick glance at Kennedy, as if to inquire just how much or how little he really knew. I got the impression from it, at least, that she was holding back some suspicion for a reason that perhaps she would not even have admitted to herself.
I saw that Norton was also following the line of Kennedy's questioning keenly, though he said nothing.
Before Kennedy could take up the lead again, her maid, Juanita, a very pretty girl of Spanish and Indian descent, entered softly.
"Mr. Lockwood," she whispered, but not so low that we could not hear.
"Won't you ask him to come in, Nita?" she replied.
A moment later a young man pushed open the door—a tall, clean-cut young fellow, whose face bore the tan of a sun much stronger than any about New York. As I took his appraisal, I found him unmistakably of the type of American soldier of fortune who has been carried by the wander-spirit down among the romantic republics to the south of our own.
"Professor Kennedy," began Senorita Mendoza, presenting us all in turn, "let me introduce Mr. Lockwood, my father's partner in several ventures which brought us to New York."
As we shook hands I could not help feeling that the young mining engineer, for such he proved to be by ostensible profession, was something more to her than a mere partner in her father's schemes.
"I believe I've met Professor Norton," he remarked, as they shook hands. "Perhaps he remembers when we were in Lima."
"Perfectly," replied Norton, returning the penetrating glance in kind. "Also in New York," he added.
Lockwood turned abruptly. "Are you quite sure you are able to stand the strain of this interview?" he asked Inez in a low tone.
Norton glanced at Kennedy and raised his eyebrows just the fraction of an inch, as if to call attention to the neat manner in which Lockwood had turned the subject.
Inez smiled sadly. "I must," she said, in a forced tone.
I fancied that Lockwood noted and did not relish an air of restraint in her words.
"It was you, I believe, Mr. Lockwood, who found Senor Mendoza last night?" queried Kennedy, as if to read the answer into the record, although he already knew it.
"Yes," replied Lockwood, without hesitation, though with a glance at the averted head of Inez, and choosing his words very carefully, as if trying hard not to say more than she could bear. "Yes. I came up here to report on some financial matters which interested both of us, very late, perhaps after midnight. I was about to press the buzzer on the door when I saw that the door was slightly ajar. I opened it and found lights still burning. The rest I think you must already know."
Even that tactful reference to the tragedy was too much for Inez. She suppressed a little convulsive sob, but did not, this time, try to flee from the room.
"You saw nothing about the den that aroused any suspicions?" pursued Kennedy. "No bottle, no glass? There wasn't the odour of any gas or drug?"
Lockwood shook his head slowly, fixing his eyes on Kennedy's face, but not looking at him. "No," he answered; "I have told Dr. Leslie just what I found. If there had been anything else I'm sure I would have noticed it while I was waiting for Miss Inez to come in."
His answers seemed perfectly frank and straight-forward. Yet somehow I could not get over the feeling that he, as well as Inez, was not telling quite all he knew—perhaps not about the murder, but about matters that might be related to it.
Norton evidently felt the same way. "You saw no weapon—a dagger?" he interrupted suddenly.
The young man faced Norton squarely. To me it seemed as if he had been expecting the question. "Not a thing," he said deliberately. "I looked about carefully, too. Whatever weapon was used must have been taken away by the murderer," he added.
Juanita entered again, and Inez excused herself to answer the telephone, while we stood in the living room chatting for a few minutes.
"What is this 'curse of Mansiche' which the Senorita has mentioned?" asked Kennedy, seeing a chance to open a new line of inquiry with Lockwood.
"Oh, I don't know," he returned, impatiently flicking the ashes of a cigarette which he had lighted the moment Inez left the room, as though such stories had no interest for the practical mind of an engineer. "Some old superstition, I suppose."
Lockwood seemed to regard Norton with a sort of aversion, if not hostility, and I fancied that Norton, on his part, neglected no opportunity to let the other know that he was watching him.
"I don't know much about the story," resumed Lockwood a moment later as no one said anything. "But I do know that there is treasure in that great old Chimu mound near Truxillo. Don Luis has the government concession to bore into the mound, too, and we are raising the capital to carry the scheme through to success."
He had come to the end of a sentence. Yet the inflection of his voice showed plainly that it was not the end of the idea that had been in his mind.
"If you knew where to dig," suddenly supplied Norton, gazing keenly into the eyes of the soldier of fortune.
Lockwood did not answer, though it was evident that that had been the thought unexpressed in his remarks.
The return of the Senorita to the room seemed to break the tension.
"It was the house telephone," she said, in a quiet voice. "The hall-boy didn't know whether to admit a visitor who comes with his sympathy." Then she turned from us to Lockwood. "You must know him," she said, somewhat embarrassed. "Senor Alfonso de Moche."
Lockwood suppressed a frown, but said nothing, for, a moment later, a young man came in. Almost in silence he advanced to Inez and took her hand in a manner that plainly showed his sympathy in her bereavement.
"I have just heard," he said simply, "and I hastened around to tell you how much I feel your loss. If there is anything I can do- -"
He stopped, and did not finish the sentence. It was unnecessary. His eyes finished it for him.
Alfonso de Moche was, I thought, a very handsome fellow, though not of the Spanish type at all. His forehead was high, with a shock of straight black hair, his skin rather copper-coloured, nose slightly aquiline, chin and mouth firm; in fact, the whole face was refined and intellectual, though tinged with melancholy.
"Thank you," she murmured, then turned to us. "I believe you are acquainted with Mr. de Moche, Professor Norton?" she asked. "You know he is taking post-graduate work at the University."
"Slightly," returned Norton, gazing at the young man in a manner that plainly disconcerted him. "I believe I have met his mother in Peru."
Senorita Mendoza seemed to colour at the mention of Senora de Moche. It flashed over me that, in his greeting Alfonso had said nothing of his mother. I wondered if there might be a reason for it. Could it be that Senorita Mendoza had some antipathy which did not include the son? Though we did not seem to be making much progress in this way in solving the mystery, still I felt that before we could go ahead we must know the little group about which it centred. There seemed to be currents and cross-currents here which we did not understand, but which must be charted if we were to steer a straight course.
"And Professor Kennedy?" she added, turning to us.
"I think I have seen Mr. de Moche about the campus," said Craig, as I, too, shook hands with him, "although you are not in any of my classes."
"No, Professor," concurred the young man, who was, however, considerably older than the average student taking courses like his.
I found it quite enough to watch the faces of those about me just then. Between Lockwood and de Moche it seemed that there existed a latent hostility. The two eyed each other with decided disfavour. As for Norton, he seemed to be alternately watching each of them.
An awkward silence followed, and de Moche seemed to take the cue, for after a few more remarks to Inez he withdrew as gracefully as he could, with a parting interchange of frigid formalities with Lockwood. It did not take much of a detective to deduce that both of the young men might have agreed on one thing, though that caused the most serious of differences between them—their estimation of Inez de Mendoza.
Inez, on her part, seemed also to be visibly relieved at his departure, though she had been cordial enough to him. I wondered what it all meant.
Lockwood, too, seemed to be ill at ease still. But it was a different uneasiness, rather directed at Norton than at us. Once before I had thought he was on the point of excusing himself, but the entrance of de Moche seemed to have decided him to stay at least as long as his rival.
"I beg your pardon, Senorita," he now apologized, "but I really must go. There are still some affairs which I must attend to in order to protect the interests we represent." He turned to us. "You will excuse me, I know," he added, "but I have a very important appointment. You know Don Luis and I were assisting in organizing the campaign of Stuart Whitney to interest American manufacturers, and particularly bankers, in the chances in South America which lie at hand, if we are only awake to take advantage of them. I shall be at your service, Senorita, as soon as the meeting is over. I presume I shall see you again?" he nodded to Kennedy.
"Quite likely," returned Kennedy drily.
"If there is any assistance I can render in clearing up this dreadful thing," went on Lockwood, in a lower tone to us, "you may count on me absolutely."
"Thank you," returned Craig, with a significant glance. "I may have to take up that offer."
"Do so, by all means," he reiterated, bowing to Norton and backing out of the door.
Alone again with Inez Mendoza, Kennedy turned suddenly. "Who is this Senor de Moche?" he asked. "I gather that you must have known him in Peru."
"Yes," she agreed. "I knew him in Lima"; then adding, as if by way of confession, "when he was a student at the University."
There was something in both her tone and manner that would lead one to believe that she had only the kindliest feelings toward de Moche, whatever might be the case, as it seemed, with his mother.
For a moment Kennedy now advanced and took Senorita Inez by the hand. "I must go now," he said simply. "If there is anything which you have not told me, I should like to know."
"No—nothing," she answered.
He did not take his eyes from hers. "If you should recall anything else," he persisted, "don't hesitate to tell me. I will come here, or you may come to the laboratory, whichever is more convenient."
"I shall do so," she replied. "And thank you a thousand times for the trouble you are going to in my behalf. You may be sure that I appreciate it."
Norton also bade her farewell, and she thanked him for having brought us over. I noticed also that Norton, though considerably older than any of us, had apparently succumbed to the spell of her wonderful eyes and face.
"I also would be glad to help you," he promised. "You can usually find me at the Museum."
"Thank you all," she murmured. "You are all so kind to me. An hour ago I felt that I had not a friend in all this big city—except Mr. Lockwood. Now I feel that I am not quite all alone."
She said it to Norton, but it was really meant for Kennedy. I know Craig shared my own feelings. It was a rare pleasure to work for her. She seemed most appreciative of anything that was done for her in her defenceless position.
As we passed out of the apartment house and sought our cab again, 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."
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.
"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.
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.
"I don't know," she answered frankly. "But don't you think that it is strange—an ancestor of mine murdered and now, hundreds of years afterward, my father, the last of his line in direct descent, murdered in the same way, by an Inca dagger that has disappeared?"
"Then you were listening while I was talking to Professor Norton?" shot out Kennedy, not unkindly, but rather as a surprise test to see what she would say.
"You cannot blame me for that," she returned simply.
"Hardly," smiled Kennedy. "And I appreciate your reticence—as well as your coming here finally to tell me. Indeed, it is strange. Surely you must have some other suspicions," he persisted, "something that you feel, even though you do not know?"
Kennedy was leaning forward, looking deeply into her eyes, as if he would read what was passing in her mind. She met his gaze for a moment, then looked away.
"You heard Mr. Lockwood say that he had become associated with a Mr. Whitney, Mr. Stuart Whitney, down in Wall Street?" she ventured.
Kennedy did not take his eyes from her face as he sought to extract the reluctant words from her.
"Mr. Whitney has been largely interested in Peru, in business and in mining," she went on slowly. "He has given large sums to scholars down there, to Professor Norton's expeditions from New York. I—I'm afraid of that Mr. Whitney!"
Her quiet tone had risen to a pitch of tremulous excitement. Her face, which had been pale from the strain of the tragedy, was now full of colour, and her breast rose and fell with suppressed emotion.
"Afraid of him—why?" asked Kennedy.
There was no more reticence. Once having said so much, she seemed to feel that she must go on and tell her fears.
"Because," she went on, "he—he knows a woman—whom my father knew." A sudden flash of fire seemed to light up her dark eyes. "A woman of Truxillo," she continued, "Senora de Moche."
"De Moche," repeated Kennedy, recalling the name and a still unexplained incident of our first interview. "Who is this Senora de Moche?" he asked, studying her as if she had been under a lens.
"A Peruvian of an old Indian family," she replied, in a low tone, as if the words were forced from her. "She has come to New York with her son, Alfonso. You remember—you met him. He is studying here at the University."
Again I noted the different manner in which she spoke the two names of mother and son. Evidently there was some feud, some barrier between her and the elder woman, which did not extend to Alfonso.
Kennedy reached for the University catalogue and found the name, "Alfonso de Moche." He was, as he had told us, a post-graduate student in the engineering school and, therefore, not in any of Kennedy's own classes.
"You say your father knew the Senora?" asked Kennedy.
"Yes," she replied, in a low voice, "he had had some dealings with her. I cannot say just what they were; I do not know. Socially, of course, it was different. They did not belong to the same circle as ours in Lima."
From her tone I gathered that there existed a race prejudice between those of old Spanish descent and the descendants of the Indians. That, however, could not account for her attitude. At least with her the prejudice did not extend to Alfonso.
"Senora de Moche is a friend of Mr. Whitney?" queried Kennedy.
"Yes, I believe she has placed some of her affairs in his hands. The de Moches live at the Prince Edward Albert Hotel, and Mr. Whitney lives there, too. I suppose they see more or less of each other."
"H-m," mused Kennedy. "You know Mr. Whitney, I suppose?"
"Not very well," she answered. "Of course, I have met him. He has been to visit my father, and my father has been down at his office, with Mr. Lockwood. But I do not know much about him, except that he is what you Americans call a promoter."
Apparently, Inez was endeavouring to be frank in telling her suspicions, much more so even than Norton had been. But I could not help feeling that she was trying to shield some one, though not to the extent of consciously putting us on a wrong scent.
"I shall try to see Mr. Whitney as soon as possible," said Kennedy, as she rose to go. "And Senora de Moche, too."
I fancied that Senorita Inez, although she had not told us much, felt relieved.
Again she murmured her thanks as she left and again Kennedy repeated his injunction to tell everything that happened that could possibly have any bearing on the case.
"That's a rather peculiar phase," he considered, when we were alone, "this de Moche affair."
"Yes," I agreed. "Do you suppose that woman could be using Whitney for some purpose?"
"Or Whitney using her," suggested Kennedy. "There's so much to be done at once that I hardly know where to begin. We must see both of them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, that message from Dr. Leslie about the poison interests me. I must at least start my tests of the blood samples that I extracted. Walter, may I ask you to leave me here in the laboratory undisturbed?"
I had some writing on my news story to do, and went into the room next to the laboratory, where I was soon busily engaged tapping my typewriter. Suddenly I became conscious of that feeling, which Kennedy had hinted at, of being watched. Perhaps I had heard a footstep outside and was not consciously aware of it. But, at any rate, I had the feeling.
I stopped tapping the keys and wheeled unexpectedly about in my chair. I am sure that I caught just a fleeting glimpse of a face dodging back from the window, which was on the first floor.
Whose face it was I am not prepared to assert exactly. But there was a face, and the fleeting glimpse of the eyes and forehead was just enough to give me the impression that they were familiar, without enabling me to identify them. At any rate, the occurrence made me feel decidedly uncomfortable, especially after the warning letters that we had all received.
I sprang to my feet and ran to the door. But it was too late. The intruder had disappeared. Still, the more I thought about it, the more determined I was to try to verify an indistinct suspicion, if possible. I put on my hat and walked hurriedly over to the office of the registrar.
Sure enough, I found that Alfonso de Moche had been at the University that day, must have attended a lecture an hour or so before. Having nothing else to do, I hunted up some of his professors and tried to quiz them about him.
As I had expected, they told me that he was an excellent student, though very quiet and reserved. His mind seemed to run along the line of engineering, and particularly mining. I could not help coming to the conclusion that undoubtedly he, too, was infected by the furore for treasure hunting, in spite of his Indian ancestry.
Yet there seemed to be surprisingly little known about him outside of the lecture room and laboratory. The profesors knew that he lived with his mother at a hotel downtown. He seemed to have little or nothing to do with the other students outside of class work. Altogether he was an enigma, as far as the social life of the University went. It looked very much as though he had come to New York quietly to prepare himself for the search for the buried treasure. Had the Gold of the Gods lured him into its net, too?
Reflecting on the tangle of events, the strange actions of Lockwood and the ambitions of Whitney, I retraced my steps in the direction of the laboratory, convinced that de Moche had employed at least a part of his time lately in spying on us. Perhaps he had seen Inez going in and out. Suddenly it flashed over me that the interchange of glances between de Moche and Lockwood indicated that she was more to him than a mere acquaintance. Perhaps it had been jealousy as well as treasure hunting that had prompted his eavesdropping.
Still reflecting, I decided to turn in at the Museum and have a chat with Norton. I found him nervously pacing up and down the little office that had been accorded him in his section of the building.
"I can't rid my mind of that warning," he remarked anxiously, pausing in his measured tread. "It seems inconceivable to me that any one would take the trouble to send four such warnings unless he meant it."
"Quite so," I agreed, relating to him what had just happened.
"I thought of something like that," he acquiesced, "and I have already taken some precautions."
Norton waved his hand at the windows, which I had not noticed before. Though they were some distance above the ground, I saw now that he had closed and barred them at the expense of ventilation. The warnings seemed to have made more of an impression on him than on any of the rest of us.
"One never can tell where or when a blow will fall with these people," he explained. "You see, I've lived among them. They are a hot-blooded race. Besides, as you perhaps have read, they have some queer poisons down in South America. I mean to run no unnecessary chances."
"I suppose you suspected all along that the dagger had something to do with the Gold of the Gods, did you not?" I hinted.
Norton paused before answering, as though to weigh his words. "Suspected—yes," he replied. "But, as I told you, I have had no chance to read the inscription on it. I can't say that I took it very seriously—until now."
"It's not possible that Stuart Whitney, who, I understand, is deeply interested in South America, may have had some inkling of the value of the dagger, is it?" I asked thoughtfully.
For a full minute Norton gazed at me. "I hadn't thought of that," he admitted at length. "That's a new idea to me."
Yet somehow I knew that Norton had thought of it, though he had not yet spoken about it. Was it through loyalty to the man who had contributed to financing his expeditions to South America?
"Do you know Senora de Moche well?" I ventured, a moment later.
"Fairly well," he replied. "Why?"
"What do you think of her?"
"Rather a clever woman," he replied noncommittally.
"I suppose all the people in New York who were interested in Peru knew her," I pursued, adding, "Mr. Whitney, Mendoza, Lockwood."
Norton hesitated, as though he was afraid of saying too much. While I could not help admiring his caution, I found that it was most exasperating. Still, I was determined to get at his point of view, if possible.
"Alfonso seems to be a worthy son, then," I remarked. "I can't quite make out, though, why the Senorita should have such an obvious prejudice against her. It doesn't seem to extend to him."
"I believe," replied Norton reluctantly, "that Mendoza had been on rather intimate terms with her. At least, I think you'll find the woman very ambitious for her son. I don't think she would have stopped at much to advance his interests. You must have noticed how much Alfonso thinks of the Senorita. But I don't think there was anything that could have overcome the old Castilian's prejudice. You know they pride themselves on never intermarrying. With Lockwood it would have been different."
I thought I began to get some glimmering of how things were.
"Whitney knows her pretty well now, doesn't he?" I shot out.
Norton shrugged his shoulders. But he could not have acquiesced better than by his very manner.
"Mr. Lockwood and Mr. Whitney know best what they are doing," he remarked, at length. "Why don't you and Kennedy try to see Senora de Moche? I'm a scientist, you know. I dislike talking about speculations. I'd prefer only to express opinions about things that are certainties."
Perhaps Norton wished to convey the impression that the subjects I had broached were worth looking into. At least it was the impression I derived.
"Still," he continued slowly, "I think I am justified in saying this much: I myself have been interested in watching both Alfonso de Moche and Lockwood when it comes to the case of the Senorita. All's fair, they say, in love and war. If I am any judge, there are both in this case, somewhere. I think you had better see the Senora and judge for yourself. She's a clever woman, I know. But I'm sure that Kennedy could make her out, even if the rest of us can't."
I thanked Norton for the hint that he had given, and after chatting a few moments more left him alone in his office.
In my room again, I went back to finish my writing. Nothing further occurred, however, to excite my suspicions, and at last I managed to finish it.
I was correcting what I had written when the door opened from the laboratory and Craig entered. He had thrown off his old, acid- stained laboratory smock and was now dressed to venture forth.
"Have you found out anything about the poison?" I asked.
"Nothing definite yet," he replied. "That will take some time now. It's a strange poison—an alkaloid, I'm sure, but not one that one ordinarily encounters. Still, I've made a good beginning. It won't take long to determine it now."
Craig listened with deep interest, though without comment, when I related what had happened, both Norton's conversation and about the strange visitor whom we had had peering into our windows.
"Some one seems to be very much interested in what we are doing, Walter," he concluded simply. "I think we'd better do a little more outside work now, while we have a chance. If you are ready, so am I. I want to see what sort of treasure hunter this Stuart Whitney is. I'd like to know whether he is in on this secret of the Gold of the Gods, too."
THE WALL STREET PROMOTER
Lockwood, as we now knew, had become allied in some way with a group of Wall Street capitalists, headed by Stuart Whitney.
Already I had heard something of Whitney. In the Street he was well known as an intensely practical man, though far above the average exploiter both in cleverness and education.
As a matter of fact, Whitney had been far-sighted enough to see that scholarship could be capitalized, not only as an advertisement, but in more direct manners. Just at present one of his pet schemes was promoting trade through the canal between the east coast of North America and the west coast of South America. He had spent a good deal of money promoting friendship between men of affairs and wealth in both New York and Lima. It was a good chance, he figured, for his investments down in Peru were large, and anything that popularized the country in New York could not but make them more valuable.
"Norton seemed rather averse to talking about Whitney," I ventured to Craig, as we rode downtown.
"That may be part of Whitney's cleverness," he returned thoughtfully. "As a patron of art and letters, you know, a man can carry through a good many things that otherwise would be more critically examined."
Kennedy did not say it in a way that implied that he knew anything very bad about Whitney. Still, I reflected, it was astute in the man to insure the cooperation of such people as Norton. A few thousand dollars judiciously spent on archaeology might cover up a multitude of sins of high finance.
Nothing more was said by either of us, and at last we reached the financial district. We entered a tall skyscraper on Wall Street just around the corner from Broadway and shot up in the elevator to the floor where Whitney and his associates had a really palatial suite of offices.
As we opened the door we saw that Lockwood was still there. He greeted us with a rather stiff bow.
"Professor Kennedy and Mr. Jameson," he said simply, introducing us to Whitney, "friends of Professor Norton, I believe. I met them to-day up at Mendoza's."
"That is a most incomprehensible affair," returned Whitney, shaking hands with us. "What do you make out of it?"
Kennedy shrugged his shoulders and turned the remark aside without committing himself.
Stuart Whitney was a typical promoter, a large, full-blooded man, with a face red and inclined to be puffy from the congested veins. His voice alone commanded respect, whether he said anything worth while or not. In fact, he had but to say that it was a warm day and you felt that he had scored a telling point in the conversation.
"Professor Norton has asked me to look into the loss of an old Peruvian dagger which he brought back from his last expedition," explained Kennedy, endeavouring to lead the conversation in channels which might arrive somewhere.
"Yes, yes," remarked Whitney, with a nod of interest. "He has told me of it. Very strange, very strange. When he came back he told me that he had it, along with a lot of other important finds. But I had no idea he set such a value on it—or, rather, that any one else might do so. It would have been easy to have safeguarded it here, if we had known," he added, with a wave of his hand in the direction of a huge chrome steel safe of latest design in the outer office.
Lockwood, I noted, was listening intently, quite in contrast with his former cavalier manner of dismissing all consideration of ancient Inca lore as academic or unpractical. Did he know something of the dagger?
"I'm very much interested in old Peruvian antiquities myself," remarked Kennedy, a few minutes later, "though not, of course, a scholar like our friend Norton."
"Indeed?" returned Whitney; and I noticed for the first time that his eyes seemed fairly to glitter with excitement.
They were prominent eyes, a trifle staring, and I could not help studying them.
"Then," he exclaimed, rising, "you must know of the ruins of Chan- Chan, of Chima—those wonderful places?"
Kennedy nodded. "And of Truxillo and the legend of the great fish and the little fish," he put in.
Whitney seemed extraordinarily pleased that any one should be willing to discuss his hobby with him. His eyes by this time were apparently starting from their sockets, and I noticed that the pupils were dilated almost to the size of the iris.
"We must sit down and talk about Peru," he continued, reaching for a large box of cigarettes in the top drawer of his big desk.
Lockwood seemed to sense a long discussion of archaeology. He rose and mumbled an excuse about having something to do in the outer office.
"Oh, it is a wonderful country, Professor Kennedy," went on Whitney, throwing himself back in his chair. "I am deeply interested in it—its mines, its railroads, as well as its history. Let me show you a map of our interests down there."
He rose and passed into the next room to get the map. The moment his back was turned, Kennedy reached over to a typewriter desk that stood in a corner of the office, left open by the stenographer, who had gone. He took two thin second sheets of paper and a new carbon sheet. A hasty dab or two of the library paste completed his work.
Carefully Craig laid the prepared paper on the floor just a few inches from the door into the outer office and scattered a few other sheets about, as though the wind had blown them off the desk.
As Whitney returned, a big map unrolled in his hands, I saw his foot fall on the double sheet that Craig had laid by the door.
Kennedy bent down and began picking up the papers.
"Oh, that's all right," remarked Whitney brusquely. "Never mind that. Here's where some of our interests lie, in the north."
I don't think I paid much more attention to the map than did Kennedy as we three bent over it. His real attention was on the paper which he had placed on the floor, as though fixing in his mind the exact spot on which Whitney had stepped.
As Whitney talked rapidly about the country, we lighted the cigarettes. They seemed to be of a special brand. I puffed mine for a moment. There was a peculiar taste about it, however, which I did not exactly like. In fact, I think that the Latin-American cigarettes do not seem to appeal to most Americans very much, anyhow.
While we talked, I noticed that Kennedy evidently shared my own tastes, for he allowed his cigarette to go out, and, after a puff or two, I did the same. For the sake of my own comfort, I drew one of my own from my case as soon as I could do so politely, and laid the stub of the other in an ash-tray on Whitney's desk.
"Mr. Lockwood and Senor Mendoza had some joint interests in the country, too, didn't they?" queried Kennedy, his eye still on the pieces of paper near the door.
"Yes," returned Whitney. "Lockwood!"
"What is it?" came Lockwood's voice from outside.
"Show Professor Kennedy where you and Mendoza have those concessions."
The young engineer strode into the room, and I saw a smile of gratification cross Kennedy's face as his foot, also, fell on the paper by the door.
Unlike Whitney, however, Lockwood bent over to gather up the sheets. But before he could actually do so Kennedy reached down and swept them just out of his reach.
"Quite breezy," Kennedy covered up his action, turning to restore the paper to the desk.
Craig had his back to them, but not to me, and I saw him fumble for an instant with the papers. Quickly he pressed his thumb-nail on one side, as though making a rough "W," while on the other side he made what might be an "L." Then he shoved the two sheets and the carbon into his pocket.
I glanced up hastily. Fortunately, neither Whitney nor Lockwood had noted his action.
For the first time, now, I noticed as I watched him that Lockwood's eyes, too, were a trifle stary, though not so noticeable as Whitney's.
"Let me see," continued Whitney, "your concessions are all about here, in the north, aren't they?"
Lockwood drew a pencil from his pocket and made several cross- marks over the names of some towns on the large map.
"Those are the points that we had proposed to work," he said simply, "before this terrible tragedy to Mendoza."
"Mining, you understand," explained Whitney. Then, after a pause, he resumed quickly. "Of course, you know that much has been said about the chances for mining investments and about the opportunities for fortunes for persons in South America. Peru has been the Mecca for fortune hunters since the days of Pizarro. But where one person has been successful thousands have failed because they don't know the game. Why, I know of one investment of hundreds of thousands that hasn't yielded a cent of profit just because of that."
Lockwood said nothing, evidently not caring to waste time or breath on any one who was not a possible investor. But Whitney had the true promoter's instinct of booming his scheme on the chance that the interest inspired might be carried to some third party.
"American financiers, it is true," he went on excitedly, taking out a beautifully chased gold cigarette case, "have lost millions in mining in Peru. But that is not the scheme that our group, including Mr. Lockwood now, has. We are going to make more millions than they ever dreamed of—because we are simply going to mine for the products of centuries of labour already done—for the great treasure of Truxillo."
One could not help becoming infected by Whitney's enthusiasm.
Kennedy was following him closely, while a frown of disapproval spread over Lockwood's face.
"Then you know the secret of the hiding-place of the treasure?" queried Kennedy abruptly.
Whitney shook his head in the negative. "It is my idea that we don't have to know it," he answered. "With the hints that we have collected from the natives, I think we can locate it with the expenditure of comparatively little time and money. Senor Mendoza has obtained the concession from the government to hunt for it on a large scale in the big mounds about Truxillo. We know it is there. Is not that enough?"
If it had been any one less than Whitney, we should probably have said it was not. But it took more than that to deny anything he asserted. Lockwood's face was a study. I cannot say that it betrayed anything except disapproval of the mere discussion of the subject. In fact, it left me in doubt as to whether Whitney himself might not have been bluffing, in the certainty of finding the treasure—perhaps had already the secret he denied having and was preparing to cover it up by stumbling on it, apparently, in some other way. I recognized in Stuart Whitney as smooth an individual as ever we had encountered. His was all the sincerity of a crook. Yet he contrived to leave the whole matter in doubt. Perhaps in this case he actually knew what he was talking about.
The telephone rang and Lockwood answered it. Though he did not mention her name, I knew from his very tone and manner that it was Senorita de Mendoza who was calling up. Evidently his continued absence had worried her.
"There's absolutely nothing to worry about," we heard him say. "Nothing has changed. I shall be up to see you as soon as I can get away from the office."
There was an air of restraint about Lockwood's remarks, not as though he were keeping anything from the Senorita, but as though he were reluctant for us to overhear anything about his affairs.
Lockwood had been smoking, too, and he added the stubs of his cigarettes to the pile in the ash-tray on Whitney's desk. Once I saw Craig cast a quick glance at the tray, and I understood that in some way he was anxious to have a chance to investigate those cigarettes.
"You saw the dagger which Norton brought back, did you not?" asked Kennedy of Whitney.
"Only as I saw the rest of the stuff after it was unpacked," he replied easily. "He brought back a great many interesting objects on this last trip."
It was apparent that whether he actually knew anything about the secret of the Inca dagger or not, Whitney was not to be trapped into betraying it. I had an idea that Lockwood was interested in knowing that fact, too. At any rate, one could not be sure whether these two were perfectly frank with each other, or were playing a game for high stakes between themselves.
Lockwood seemed eager to get away and, with a hasty glance at his watch, rose.
"If you wish to find me, I shall be with Senorita de Mendoza," he said, taking his hat and stick, and bowing to us.
Whitney rose and accompanied him to the door in the outer office, his arm on his shoulder, conversing in a low tone that was inaudible to us.
No sooner, however, had the two passed through the door, with their backs toward us, than Kennedy reached over quickly and swept the contents of the ash-tray, cigarette stubs, ashes, and all, into an empty envelope which was lying with some papers. Then he sealed it and shoved it into his pocket, with a sidelong glance of satisfaction at me.
"Evidently Mr. Lockwood and the Senorita are on intimate terms," hazarded Kennedy, as Whitney rejoined us.
"Poor little girl," soliloquized the promoter. "Yes, indeed. And Lockwood is a lucky dog, too. Such eyes, such a figure—did you ever see a more beautiful woman?"
One could not help recognizing that whatever else Whitney might have said that did not ring true his admiration for the unfortunate girl was genuine. That was not so remarkable, however. It could hardly have been otherwise.
"You are acquainted, I suppose, with a Senora de Moche?" ventured Kennedy again, taking a chance shot.
Whitney looked at him keenly. "Yes," he agreed, "I have had some dealings with her. She was an acquaintance of old Mendoza's—a woman of the world, clever, shrewd. I think she has but one ambition—her son. You have met her?"
"Not the Senora," admitted Craig, "but her son is a student at the University."
"Oh, yes, to be sure," said Whitney. "A fine fellow—but not of the type of Lockwood."
Why he should have coupled the names was not clear for the moment. But he had risen, and was moving deliberately up and down the office, his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, as though he were thinking of something very perplexing.
"If I were younger," he remarked finally, of a sudden, "I would give both of them a race for that girl. She is the greatest treasure that has ever come out of the country. Ah, well—as it is, I would not place my money on young de Moche!"
Kennedy had risen to go.
"I trust you will be able to unearth some clue regarding that dagger," said Whitney, as we moved toward the door. "It seems to have worried Norton considerably, especially since you told him that Mendoza was undoubtedly murdered with it."
Evidently Norton kept in close touch with his patron, but Kennedy did not appear to be surprised at it.
"I am doing my best," he returned. "I suppose I may count on your help as the case develops?"
"Absolutely," replied Whitney, accompanying us out into the hall to the elevator. "I shall back Norton in anything he wants to keep the Peruvian collection intact and protected."
Our questions were as yet unanswered. Not only had we no inkling as to the whereabouts of the dagger, but the source of the four warnings that had been sent us was still as much shrouded in mystery.
Kennedy beckoned to a passing taxicab.
"The Prince Edward Albert," he directed briefly.
THE CURSE OF MANSICHE
We entered the Prince Edward Albert a few minutes later, one of the new and beautiful family hotels uptown.
Before making any inquiries, Craig gave a hasty look about the lobby. Suddenly I felt him take my arm and draw me over to a little alcove on one side. I followed the direction of his eyes. There I could see young Alfonso de Moche talking to a woman much older than himself.
"That must be his mother," whispered Craig. "You can see the resemblance. Let's sit here awhile behind these palms and watch."
They seemed to be engaged in an earnest conversation about something. Even as they talked, though we could not guess what it was about, it was evident that Alfonso was dearer than life to the woman and that the young man was a model son. Though I felt that I must admire them each for it, still, I reflected, that was no reason why we should not suspect them—perhaps rather a reason for suspecting.
Senora de Moche was a woman of well-preserved middle age, a large woman, with dark hair and contrasting full, red lips. Her face, in marked contradiction to her Parisian costume and refined manners, had a slight copper swarthiness about it which spoke eloquently of her ancestry.
But it was her eyes that arrested and held one's attention most. Whether it was in the eyes themselves or in the way that she used them, there could be no mistake about the almost hypnotic power that their owner possessed. I could not help wondering whether she might not have exercised it on Don Luis, perhaps was using it in some way to influence Whitney. Was that the reason why the Senorita so evidently feared her?
Fortunately, from our vantage point, we could see without being in any danger of being seen.
"There's Whitney," I heard Craig mutter under his breath.
I looked up and saw the promoter enter from his car. At almost the same instant the roving eyes of the Senora seemed to catch sight of him. He came over and spoke to the de Moches, standing with them several minutes. I fancied that not for an instant did she allow the gaze of any one else to distract her in the projection of whatever weird ocular power nature had endowed her with. If it were a battle of eyes, I recollected the strange look that I had noted about those of both Whitney and Lockwood. That, however, was different from the impression one got of the Senora's. I felt that she would have to be pretty clever to match the subtlety of Whitney.
Whatever it was they were talking about, one could see that Whitney and Senora de Moche were on very familiar terms. At the same time, young de Moche appeared to be ill at ease. Perhaps he did not approve of the intimacy with Whitney. At any rate, he seemed visibly relieved when the promoter excused himself and walked over to the desk to get his mail and then out into the cafe.
"I'd like to get a better view of her," remarked Kennedy, rising. "Let us take a turn or two along the corridor and pass them."
We sauntered forth from our alcove and strolled down among the various knots of people chatting and laughing. As we passed the woman and her son, I was conscious again of that strange feeling, which psychologists tell us, however, has no real foundation, of being stared at from behind.
At the lower end of the lobby Kennedy turned suddenly and we started to retrace our steps. Alfonso's back was toward us now. Again we passed them, just in time to catch the words, in a low tone, from the young man, "Yes, I have seen him at the University. Every one there knows that he is—"
The rest of the sentence was lost. But it was not difficult to reconstruct. It referred undoubtedly to the activities of Kennedy in unravelling mysteries.
"It's quite evident," I suggested, "that they know that we are interested in them now."
"Yes," he agreed. "There wasn't any use of watching them further from under cover. I wanted them to see me, just to find out what they would do."
Kennedy was right. Indeed, even before we turned again, we found that the Senora and Alfonso had risen and were making their way slowly to the elevators, still talking earnestly. The lifts were around an angle, and before we could place ourselves so that we could observe them again they were gone.
"I wish there was some way of adding Alfonso's shoe-prints to my collection," observed Craig. "The marks that I found in the dust of the sarcophagus in the Museum were those of a man's shoes. However, I suppose I must wait to get them."
He walked over to the desk and made inquiries about the de Moches and Whitney. Each had a suite on the eighth floor, though on opposite sides and at opposite ends of the hall.
"There's no use wasting time trying to conceal our identity now," remarked Kennedy finally, drawing a card from his case. "Besides, we came here to see them, anyhow." He handed the card to the clerk. "Senora de Moche, please," he said.
The clerk took the card and telephoned up to the de Moche suite. I must say that it was somewhat to my surprise that the Senora telephoned down to say that she would receive us in her own sitting room.
"That's very kind," commented Craig, as I followed him into the elevator. "It saves planning some roundabout way of meeting her and comes directly to the point."
The elevator whisked us up directly to the eighth floor and we stepped out into the heavily carpeted hallway, passing down to Room 810, which was the number of her suite. Further on, in 825, was Whitney's.
Alfonso was not there. Evidently he had not ridden up with his mother, after all, but had gone out through another entrance on the ground floor. The Senora was alone.
"I hope that you will pardon me for intruding," began Craig, with as plausible an explanation as he could muster, "but I have become interested in an opportunity to invest in a Peruvian venture, and I have heard that you are a Peruvian. Your son, Alfonso, I have already met, once. I thought that perhaps you might be able to give me some advice." She looked at us keenly, but said nothing. I fancied that she detected the subterfuge. Yet she had not tried, and did not try now to avoid us. Either she had no connection with the case we were investigating or she was an adept actress.
On closer view, her eyes were really even more remarkable than I had imagined at a distance. They were those of a woman endowed with an abundance of health and energy, eyes that were full of what the old character readers used to call "amativeness," denoting a nature capable of intense passion, whether of love or hate. Yet I confess that I could not find anything especially abnormal about them, as I had about the eyes of Lockwood and Whitney.
It was some time before she replied, and I gave a hasty glance about the apartment. Of course, it had been rented furnished, but she had rearranged it, adding some touches of her own which gave it quite a Peruvian appearance, due perhaps more to the pictures and the ornaments which she had introduced rather than anything else.
"I suppose," she replied, at length, slowly, and looking at us as if she would bore right through into our minds, "I suppose you mean the schemes of Mr. Lockwood—and Mr. Whitney."
Kennedy was not to be taken by surprise. "I have heard of their schemes, too," he replied noncommittally. "Peru seems to be a veritable storehouse of tales of buried treasure."
"Let me tell you about it," she hastened, nodding at the very words "buried treasure." "I suppose you know that the old Chimu tribes in the north were the wealthiest at the time of the coming of the Spaniards?"
Craig nodded, and a moment later she resumed, as if trying to marshal her thoughts in a logical order. "They had a custom then of burying with their dead all their movable property. Graves were not dug separately. Therefore, you see, sometimes a common grave, or huaca, as it is called, would be given to many. That huaca would become a cache of treasure in time. It was sacred to the dead, and hence it was wicked to touch it."
The Senora's face betrayed the fact that, whatever modern civilization had done for her, it had not yet quite succeeded in eliminating the old ideas.
"Back in the early part of the seventeenth century," she continued, leaning forward in her chair eagerly as she talked, "a Spaniard opened a Chimu huaca and found gold that is said to have been worth more than a million dollars. An Indian told him about it. Who the Indian was does not matter. But the Spaniard was an ancestor of Don Luis de Mendoza, who was found murdered to-day."
She stopped short, seeming to enjoy the surprised look on our faces at finding that she was willing to discuss the matter so intimately.
"After the Indian had shown the Spaniard the treasure in the mound," she pursued, "the Indian told the Spaniard that he had given him only the little fish, the peje chica, but that some day he would give him the big fish, the peje grande. I see that you already know at least a part of the story, anyhow." "Yes," admitted Kennedy, "I do know something of it. But I should rather get it more accurately from your lips than from the hearsay of any one else."
She smiled quietly to herself. "I don't believe," she added, "that you know that the peje grande was not ordinary treasure. It was the temple gold. Why, some of the temples were literally plated over heavily with pure gold. That gold, as well as what had been buried in the huacas, was sacred. Mansiche, the supreme ruler, laid a curse on it, on any Indian who would tell of it, on any Spaniard who might learn of it. A curse lies on the finding—yes, even on the searching for the sacred Gold of the Gods. It is one of the most awful curses that have ever been uttered, that curse of Mansiche."
Even as she spoke of it she lowered her voice. I felt that no matter how much education she had, there lurked back in her brain some of the primitive impulses, as well as beliefs. Either the curse of Mansiche on the treasure was as real to her as if its mere touch were poisonous, or else she was going out of her way to create that impression with us.
"Somehow," she continued, in a low tone, "that Spaniard, the ancestor of Don Luis Mendoza, obtained some idea of the secret. He died," she said solemnly, flashing a glance at Craig from her wonderful eyes to stamp the idea indelibly. "He was stabbed by one of the members of the tribe. On the dagger, so I have heard, was marked the secret of the treasure."
I felt that in a bygone age she might have made a great priestess of the heathen gods. Now, was she more than a clever actress?
She paused, then added, "That is my tribe—my family."
Again she paused. "For centuries the big fish was a secret, is still a secret—or, at least, was until some one got it from my brother down in Peru. The tradition and the dagger had been intrusted to him. I don't know how it happened. Somehow he seemed to grow crazy—until he talked. The dagger was stolen from him. How it happened, how it came into Professor Norton's hands, I do not know.
"But, at any rate," she continued, in the same solemn tone, "the curse has followed it. After my brother had told the secret of the dagger and lost it, his mind left him. He threw himself one day into Lake Titicaca."
Her voice broke dramatically in her passionate outpouring of the tragedies that had followed the hidden treasure and the Inca dagger.
"Now, here in New York, comes this awful death of Senor Mendoza," she cried. "I don't know, no one knows, whether he had obtained the secret of the gold or not. At any rate, he must have thought he had it. He has been killed suddenly, in his own home. That is my answer to your inquiry about the treasure-hunting company you mentioned, whatever it may be. I need say no more of the curse of Mansiche. Is the Gold of the Gods worth it?"
There could be no denying that it was real to her, whatever we might think of the story. I recollected the roughly printed warnings that had been sent to Norton, Leslie, Kennedy, and myself. Had they, then, some significance? I had not been able to convince myself that they were the work of a crank, alone. There must be some one to whom the execution of vengeance of the gods was an imperative duty. Unsuperstitious as I was, I saw here a real danger. If some one, either to preserve the secret for himself or else called by divine mandate to revenge, should take a notion to carry out the threats in the four notes, what might not happen?
"I cannot tell you much more of fact than you probably already know," she remarked, watching our faces intently and noting the effect of every word. "You know, I suppose, that the treasure has always been believed to be in a large mound, a tumulus I think you call it, visible from our town of Truxillo. Many people have tried to open it, but the mass of sand pours down on them and they have been discouraged."
"No one has ever stumbled on the secret?" queried Kennedy.
She shook her head. "There have been those who have sought, there are even those who are seeking, the point just where to bore into the mounds. If they could find it, they plan to construct a well- timbered tunnel to keep back the sand and to drive it at the right point to obtain this fabulous wealth."
She vouchsafed the last information with a sort of quiet assurance that conveyed the idea, without her saying it directly, that any such venture was somehow doomed to failure, that desecrators were merely toying with fate.
All through her story one could see that she felt deeply the downfall and betrayal of her brother, followed by the tragedy to him after the age-old secret had slipped from his grasp. Was there still to be vengeance for his downfall? Surely, I thought to myself, Don Luis de Mendoza could not have been in possession of the secret, unless he had arrived at it, with Lockwood, in some other way than by deciphering the almost illegible marks of the dagger. I thought of Whitney. Had he perhaps had something to do with the nasty business?
I happened to glance at a huge pile of works on mining engineering on the table, the property of Alfonso. She saw me looking at them, and her eyes assumed a far-away, dreamy impression as she murmured something.
"You must know that we real Peruvians have been so educated that we never explore ruins for hidden treasure, not even if we have the knowledge of engineering to do so. It is a sort of sacrilege to us to do that. The gold was not our gold, you see. Some of it belongs to the spirits of the departed. But the big treasure belonged to the gods themselves. It was the gold which lay in sheets over the temple walls, sacred. No, we would not touch it."
I wondered cynically what would happen if some one at that moment had appeared with the authenticated secret. She continued to gaze at the books. "There are plenty of rare chances for a young mining engineer in Peru without that."
Apparently she was thinking of her son and his studies at the University as they affected his future career.
One could follow her thoughts, even, as they flitted from the treasure, to the books, to her son, and, finally, to the pretty girl for whom both he and Lockwood were struggling.
"We are a peculiar race," she ruminated. "We seldom intermarry with other races. We are as proud as Senor Mendoza was of his Castilian descent, as proud of our unmixed lineage as any descendant of a 'belted earl.'"
Senora de Moche made the remarks with a quiet dignity which left no doubt in my mind that the race feeling cut deeply.
She had risen now, and in place of the awesome fear of the curse and tragedy of the treasure her face was burning and her eyes flashed.
"Old Don Luis thought I was good enough to amuse his idle hours," she cried. "But when he saw that Alfonso was in love with his daughter, that she might return that love, then I found out bitterly that he placed us in another class, another caste."
Kennedy had been following her closely, and I could see now that the cross-currents of superstition, avarice, and race hatred in the case presented a tangle that challenged him.
There was nothing more that we could extract from her just then. She had remained standing, as a gentle reminder that the interview had already been long.
Kennedy took the hint. "I wish to thank you for the trouble you have gone to," he bowed, after we, too, had risen. "You have told me quite enough to make me think seriously before I join in any such undertaking."
She smiled enigmatically. Whether it was that she had enjoyed penetrating our rather clumsy excuse for seeing her, or that she felt that the horror of the curse had impressed us, she seemed well content.
We bowed ourselves out, and, after waiting a few moments about the hotel without seeing Whitney anywhere, Craig called a car.
"They were right," was his only comment. "A most baffling woman, indeed."
THE ARROW POISON
Back again in the laboratory, Kennedy threw off his coat and plunged again into his investigation of the blood sample he had taken from the wound in Mendoza's body.
We had scarcely been back half an hour before the door opened and Dr. Leslie's perplexed face looked in on us. He was carrying a large jar, in which he had taken away the materials which he wished to examine.
"Well," asked Kennedy, pausing with a test-tube poised over a Bunsen burner, "have you found anything yet? I haven't had time to get very far with my own tests yet."
"Not a blessed thing," returned the coroner. "I'm desperate. One of the chemists suggested cyanide, another carbon monoxide. But there is no trace of either. Then he suggested nux vomica. It wasn't nux vomica; but my tests show that it must have been something very much like it. I've looked for all the ordinary known poisons and some of the little-known alkaloids, but, Kennedy, I always get back to the same point. There must have been a poison there. He did not die primarily of the wound. It was asphyxia due to a poison that really killed him, though the wound might have done so, but not quite so quickly."