The aztec treasure house, p.37
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       The Aztec Treasure-House, p.37

           Thomas A. Janvier



  Close in the wake of that great thunder-crash there burst upon us somighty a flood of rain that it seemed as though the lightning had rivensolid walls asunder within the thick black mass of overhanging vapour,and so had let loose upon us the waters of a lake. In a moment the wholepit of the amphitheatre was awash, knee-deep, and before those who werestanding there could flounder to the steps leading upward they wereburied to their waists--and this although the water was pouring outthrough the vent provided for it with such violence that we could hearthe rush and gurgle of it above the dashing and roaring of the fallingrain. And all the dark mass of cloud above us was aflame continuouslywith blinding flashes of red lightning, while a continuous crash ofsplitting peals of thunder rang through the shattered air.

  Doubtless this storm was our salvation. That the Priest Captain'sintention, even from the first, had been to kill us also, and so makehis victory complete, I do not for a moment doubt; but he was too shrewdto waste upon a few terrified spectators an exhibition that would carrywith it a salutary demonstration of his power; and with the bursting ofthe flood upon us, the crowd that filled the amphitheatre had begun atumultuous flight to the temple; going thither partly for shelter, andpartly being awe-struck by what had passed before them and by thetremendous fury of the storm, that they might find safety in theabiding-place of their gods.

  Therefore, the order was given hurriedly that we should be taken back toour prison; in obedience to which command our guards led us through thetemple--where they had difficulty in forcing a way for us through thedense throng that had gathered within its walls--and thence to theTreasure-house beyond; and they were in such haste to be quit of us,that they also might seek safety in the temple, that they scarce waitedto close the grating behind us before they sped away.

  So overwhelming was the grief that had fallen upon us that for somemoments we stood as though stunned where the guards had left us; and,for myself, my one regret was that the chance of the storm, by saving meyet a little while longer alive, had lost to me the happiness of dyingin the same hour with the friend whom I had so strongly loved. I thinkthat this thought was in Young's heart also, as he stood there silentbeside me, the blood so drawn away from his face that a dull yellowpallor overspread his bronzed skin, while his breath came short andhard. As for the boy Pablo, his whole being was shattered. He sank downon the rock at our feet, and seemed to be moaning his very life out inlong quivering sobs.

  But presently, as our minds grew steadier, the thought of Rayburn cameto us; and the strain upon our heart-strings was relaxed a little byremembering that our lives still were worth holding fast to in orderthat we might minister to his needs. Yet when we came again into theroom where he lay, it seemed at first as though he also was lost to us;for even in that faint light we saw that his face was a deadly white,and when we spoke to him he neither spoke nor moved. But, happily, ourdread that he had died in that gloomy solitude was not realized; for asI laid my hand upon his bare breast I felt his heart feebly beating, andat the touch of my hand he sighed a little, and then slowly opened hiseyes.

  "He's only swounded," Young cried, joyfully. "It's th' smotherin'shut-upness o' this forlorn hole he's lyin' in. There's a little moreair out in th' big room. Just grab t'other end o' th' stretcher,Professor, an' we'll yank him out there--nobody's likely t' come in t'stop us while this storm lasts. An'--an' we must be careful how we talk,Professor, y' know," he added, in a lower tone, as we raised thestretcher. "It won't do for him t' know about--about _it_ now." Therewas a break in Young's voice as he spoke, and I could feel by themomentary quiver of the stretcher that a shiver went through him as hethought of that "it," about which we must for a time hold our peace.

  Young bore the forward end of the stretcher, and as we came into theoratory I felt him start as he exclaimed, "What th' devil's broke loosehere?"

  The darkness of the storm outside shrouded the oratory in a duskytwilight; but even through the shadows which lay thick about us we couldsee that there had been within this chamber some outbreak ofextraordinary and tremendous violence; for the image of the godHuitzilopochtli had been cast down and broken into fragments, and justbehind where it had stood there was a dark rift in the gold-plating ofthe walls, where several plates had been wrenched bodily away.

  A strong odor of sulphur hung heavily in the air, and, as I perceivedit, the whole matter was plain to me. But Young sniffed at this odorsuspiciously when we had brought the stretcher gently to rest upon thefloor, and in a startled voice exclaimed, "Th' devil has been bustin'around in here for sure, an' he's left his regular home-made stink for agive-away!" and as he spoke there was manifest a decided bristling ofhis fringe of hair.

  I could not help smiling at this quaint proof of the shattered conditionof Young's nerves--for, under ordinary circumstances, he was the verylast man in the world to place faith in things supernatural--but Ianswered him promptly: "Then the devil did a stroke of honest businessat the same time, for all this is the work of the same thunder-bolt, orof a part of it, that killed that Indian. Didn't you hear the rocksflying from the cliff where it struck?"

  "That's just what I was goin' t' say myself," Young replied, a littleawkwardly. "An' that's what's the matter with Rayburn, an' made himswound away. How d' you find yourself now, old man?" he went on--ratherglad to change the subject, I fancied--as Rayburn, at sound of his ownname, moved a little.

  "I feel queer," Rayburn answered. "Sort of numb and dizzy. Where's thePadre?"

  "An' it's not much blame to you that you do feel queer," Young replied,hurriedly. "This last thing you've taken it into your fool head t' do isbein' busted all t' bits by a stroke o' lightnin'. Most folks would 'a'been satisfied with havin' their legs pretty much sliced off byInjuns--but reasonableness ain't your strongest hold, Rayburn; an' Iguess it never was."

  Rayburn smile faintly as Young spoke, but instead of attempting toanswer him--being still numbed by the heavy shock that he hadreceived--he settled his head back upon the rolled-up coat that servedhim for a pillow, and languidly closed his eyes. Whereupon Young, seeingthat there was nothing further that we could do for his comfort, betookhimself--as his bent at all times was when any strange matter presenteditself, and in this case with the half-crazed eagerness with which thoseupon whom a great sorrow has fallen seek instinctively to engage theirminds with any trifling matter that will change the current of theirthoughts--to investigating carefully the work of destruction that thethunder-bolt had wrought: examining the fragments of the idol, and theloosened plates of gold and the place on the wall whence these last hadbeen wrenched away; which examination was the easier because thestorm-cloud was leaving us--though the almost continuous loud rolling ofthe thunder still stunned our ears--and a stronger light came in throughthe opening in the roof.

  I seated myself beside Rayburn and paid no attention to what Young wasdoing; for my brooding sorrow was like a slow fire consuming me--as thetragedy that I had but just witnessed, and the infinite pathos thatthere was in seeing Rayburn thus miserably dying, overwhelmed me with adesolate despair. Even when Young called to me, in a tone so eager andso penetrating that at any other time I should have been startled intoquick action by his words, I did not rouse myself to answer him; though,in a dull way, I knew that he would not thus have spoken unless somematter of great moment had aroused the full energy of his mind.

  "Professor! I say, Professor!" he repeated: "Get right up and come here.Don't sit there like a chuckle-headed chump. Get up, I tell you. Here'ssome sort of a show for us. Here's what looks like a way out o' thisGod-forsaken hole!"

  As I heard these words I did get up, and in a hurry, and so joined Youngwhere he was kneeling on the floor close beside the rear wall of theoratory, directly behind where the idol had stood until the thunder-bolthad dashed it down. It was at this point, apparently, that the lightninghad entered the chamber; for here several of the plates of gold withwhich the walls were covered--overlapping each other likefish-scal
es--had been loosened, while three of them had been wrenchedentirely from their fastenings and had fallen down. As I joined him,Young excitedly pointed to the opening thus made, through which wasvisible not a solid wall of rock but a dark cavity, and from which wasblowing a soft current of cool air.

  "It's a way out! It's a way out! I tell you," he cried. "This suck o'wind proves it. If we only can get some more o' these blasted platesloose we'll light out o' this and euchre the Priest Captain an' hiswhole d--n outfit yet! Ketch hold here, Professor, an' put your muscleinto it for all you're worth. Grab right here; now!" And Young and Itogether pulled at the same plate with all our might and main. But forall the impression that we made upon it we might as well have tried topull down the mountain; the plate did not stir. Young gave a heartycurse (and I confess that hearing him swearing in that natural way againwas a real comfort to me), and then we took another pull; and all thiswhile, so much does the thought of saving his life put cheer into a man,my heart was bounding within me and the hot coursing of my blood seemedlike to burst my veins. Young's fervor was not less than mine, and wewrenched and tugged together, and never stopped to mark our cut andbleeding hands.

  "We've _got_ t' do it!" Young exclaimed, as we paused at last, withouthaving loosened the plate in the least degree. "There's some way o'workin' this thing, I know. It must be some sort of a door, an' if weonly can get th' hang of it we'll be all right. Have you got your windagain, Professor? Let's try 'f we can't sort o' prize this plate out;it's a little loose. Just get your fingers under it an' we'll sort o'pull it up an' out at th' same time. So! Now sling your muscle into it.Heft!"

  We were stooping a little, and so had a strong purchase, and with allour united strength we heaved away together. There was a rattling ofmetal, a yielding of the plate so easy that our tremendous effort wasout of all proportion to it; my fingers seemed suddenly to be nipped ina red-hot vice; Young uttered a yell of pain, and then we both weresprawling on our backs on the floor, while in front of us was a broadopening in the wall where a wide section of the panelling had risenupward (the plates sliding up under each other), and so had made an openway.

  "H--ll! how that did hurt!" Young mumbled, with his nipped fingers inhis mouth; and I must say that the vigor of his language was notuncalled for, as I well understood by the pain that I myself wassuffering. I never remember pinching my fingers so badly as I did thenin the whole course of my life.

  However, we did not suffer our hurts, which were not really serious, todelay us in exploring this hidden place that so suddenly and with suchunnecessary violence had opened to us. Pushing upward the ingeniouslycontrived door from the bottom, we easily raised it until an opening wasdiscovered the full height of a man; and through this we went into anarrow passage in the rock that in a moment turned and so brought usinto a room that was nearly as large as the oratory that we had justleft, and that, as we presently found, actually communicated with theoratory by means of two narrow slits high up in the wall; whichapertures here were plainly visible, but on the other side were socleverly disguised by an ingenious arrangement of the overlapping platesas to be entirely concealed. Like the oratory, too, this room had anopening in its roof through which air entered, and so much light that wecould see about us plainly. And the very first glance that I cast aroundme in this strange place assured me that, by sheer accident, we hadfound our way at last to the secret chamber wherein King Chaltzantzin'streasure had lain hidden for a thousand years.

  Rude shelves had been cut in the rock on all four sides of the room, andon these were ranged earthen pots of curious shapes, ornamented withstrange devices that my newly acquired knowledge enabled me torecognize--to express the matter in the terms of our system ofheraldry--as the arms of a king quartered with the arms of certainprincely houses or tribes. On these shelves, also, were many quaintlywrought vessels and some small square boxes, all of which were ofgold--together with a score or so of small idols moulded in clay orroughly carved in stone, in which last the workmanship was so farinferior to that of the earthen-ware pots and golden vessels as to showat a glance that they were the product of a much earlier and ruder age;but belonging to the same age as the gold-work, or to a period evenlater, was a very beautiful Calendar Stone most delicately carved inobsidian, that was identical, save in the matter of size, with the greatCalendar Stone that now is preserved in Mexico in the National Museum.This was placed at one end of the room upon a carved pedestal; and atthe opposite end of the room, the end farthest removed from theentrance, was a great stone image of the god Chac Mool. Lying upon theCalendar Stone was what at first I took to be a cross-bow made of gold;but more careful examination convinced me, especially in view of theplace where I had found it, that this certainly was an arbalest--calledalso a Jacob's staff and a cross-staff--such as in no very ancienttimes, until the invention of the quadrant, was used by Europeans intaking the meridional altitude of the sun and stars.

  At the moment that I made this last most curious and exceedinglyinteresting discovery, Young, who had been investigating on his ownaccount, gave a yell of delight, and bounded towards me flourishing hisown brace of revolvers in his hands. "They're all here!" he cried. "Allour guns are here, an' th 'ca'tridges too! Now we _have_ got the bulgeon these devils for sure!"

  As he spoke I also was thrilled with joy at the thought of the vengeancewhich this recovery of our arms might enable us to take upon FrayAntonio's murderers; but my joy was only momentary, for I could not butreflect that, after all, these Aztlanecas had but acted in accordancewith their lights--excepting only the Priest Captain, for whom the mostcruel death would be all too merciful--and that our slaying them wouldnot be vengeance, but mere brutal revenge. Having which thoughts inmind, I answered, "At least we can shoot ourselves with them, and so besafe from death by sacrifice."

  "Not much we won't shoot ourselves," Young replied, with great energy;"an' nobody's goin' t' come monkeyin' 'round us with sacrifices, either.Why, man alive, we ain't goin' t' stay here--not by a jugful! We'regoin' t' light right out o' this an' be smack off for home."

  "How?" I asked, blankly, and with real alarm; for the hot hope that hadfilled me at the thought of our having found a way of escape hadvanished as I perceived that from this chamber there was no outlet savethe hole in the roof; which hole also accounted for the current of airwhereby my hope had been inspired. Therefore, when Young spoke in thisextravagant fashion, the dread came over me that he was going mad.

  "How?" he answered, "why, through that Jack Mullins, of course. He _is_th' tippin' kind. I was just tryin' him, while you was pokin' 'round inthat old rubbish, when I happened t' ketch sight of our guns; an' seein'them, you bet, made me bounce. Here goes for another shot at him! Sticksomethin' under him t' keep him up when I heave."

  I was so dazed by the stunning wonder and by the joy that Young's wordscarried with them, that I obeyed his order mechanically. With a graveseriousness he seated himself upon the head of the idol; and as thefigure and the stone base upon which it rested settled down at the endupon which he sat, and its other end correspondingly swung upward,showing beneath it a dark opening, I wedged up the mass with a heavyplate of gold that served as the lid of one of the boxes ranged upon theshelves.

  "It won't do for us both together t' go down there," Young said, as herose from his seat and we peered into the dark cavity. "Mullins mighttake 't into his fool head t' shut himself up while we was down there,an' that ud mean cold weather for Rayburn an' Pablo. I'll just jump downthem steps an' prospect a little, while you look after him t' see thathe keeps steady;" and with these words down he went into the hole.

  In five minutes or so he joined me again. "It don't look like th' nicestplace I ever got into," he said, "but I guess we'll have t' take th'chances on it. There's a little room down there, an' out o' that a kindof a back entry leads into an everlastin' big cave. But there seems t'be a sort of a path runnin' along in the cave--it's all as dark as th'devil--an' as paths mostly have two ends to 'em, I guess if we keep onlong enough we'll get some
where. We can't stay here, that's sure, sowe've just got t' risk it, an' th' sooner we get Rayburn down there th'better. When he's solidly safe, then we can do some prospectin'--bygood-luck we've got lots o' matches--an' see where that path goes to.Just sling on your guns, Professor, an' let's mosey back an' get th'percession started. It's hard lines on Rayburn t' tumble him into a holelike that when he's feelin' so bad; but I guess it's better t' take th'chances o' killin' him that way ourselves than it is t' let these devilsdo it for sure. Come on!"

  While he was speaking, Young had buckled his revolvers about his waistand had slung his rifle over his shoulder, and I also in like manner hadarmed myself--whereby was restored to me a most comforting feeling ofstrength. As for Young, the recovery of his weapons seemed to make himgrow two inches taller, and he swaggered in his walk.

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