The aztec treasure house, p.40
The Aztec Treasure-House,
KING CHALTZANTZIN'S TREASURE.
Whether or not Young's story had this good effect upon Rayburn, I am notprepared to say; but it is certain that he slept well that night--hisfirst good night's sleep for many weeks--and that when morning came hewas so much stronger and brighter as to fill us with a still moreearnest hope that he was well started on the way to recovery.
Young quickly brought in some birds for our breakfast, and when the mealwas finished he took me aside and said: "Now, Professor, lets me an' yougo back t' that hole an' bring away all there is there that's worthcarryin'. It's not much, I guess, but it's better'n nothin'. It justmakes me sick t' think of all that gold, that ud 'a' made oureverlastin' fortunes if we'd only been able t' pack it along with us.There was millions an' millions there, I s'pose--an' it 'll never do usany more good than if we'd never seen it at all!" and as Young spoke heheaved a very melancholy sigh. "But we may as well grab all we can get,"he went on, more cheerfully. "There was a lot o' gold boxes an' jugs inth' room where Mullins is; an' maybe there's somethin' that's worthhavin' in all them little pots. Let's go back an' see, anyway. Rayburn'slookin' almost all right this mornin'; and Pablo's got his wits backnow, an' can give him anything he wants."
For my own part I did not desire, because of their money value, any ofthe articles which I had seen in the treasure-chamber; but I did veryearnestly long to possess myself of that most curious arbalest, and Idesired also to examine carefully--because of the discoveries of greatarchaeological value which I hoped to make--the contents of the goldboxes and vases and earthen jars. Therefore, Rayburn having expressedhis entire willingness that we should leave him, I assented readily toYoung's proposition; whereupon Young lighted the lantern and we set off.
As we entered again the treasure-chamber there was within me a strongfeeling of awe. During our hurried passage through it, the imminentdanger in which we were, and then the excitement of the scene in theoratory, and then the joyfulness of our finding a way of escape, hadprevented me from realizing how wonderful was the deposit that this roomcontained; a deposit that certainly had lain there for not less than athousand years, and that unquestionably was the most perfect survivingtrace of the most intelligent and most interesting people that inprehistoric times dwelt upon this continent. Which strange reflections,now that my mind was free to entertain them and to dwell upon them,aroused within me a feeling of such reverent wonder that I hesitated forsome moments before I could bring myself to disturb what thus through solong a sweep of ages had remained sacredly inviolate.
But reverence, as he himself would have said, was not Young's strongesthold; in truth, I am persuaded that there was not an atom of it in hisentire composition; and as I stood hesitating beside the statue ofChac-Mool he briskly called to me: "Come right along, Professor; thereain't nobody t' stop us now. We've got th' drop, you might say, on th'whole outfit, an' we can do just as we blame please. This looks like abadly kept drug store, don't it?" he went on, "with all these pots an'boxes an' little jars stuck round on th' shelves. Well, here goes t' seewhat's in 'em: not much o' nothin', I guess; but then it _might_ bedi'monds, an' that just would be gay!"
As Young spoke he thrust his hand into one of the earthen jars, andthereby set flying such a cloud of dust that for some seconds hisviolent sneezing prevented him from examining the small object that hehad brought forth from the jar and held in his hand; and when he didexamine this object an expression of intense disgust appeared upon hisface, and he exclaimed, indignantly, "Why, it's nothin' but a foolarrow-head!"
I could not but laugh at Young as I took the arrow-head from him. For mypurposes, this beautifully carved piece of obsidian was far moreprecious than a diamond would have been; and I tried--quiteunsuccessfully, however--to arouse his interest in this proof of thehigh degree of skill to which the prehistoric races of America hadattained in the manipulation of an exceedingly hard yet delicate varietyof stone; and I added that not less interesting was the proof thusafforded us of the great value which these same races attached toimplements of war.
"Oh, come off with your prehistoric races, Professor!" he growled. "Awhole car-load o' rubbish like this wouldn't be worth a nickel t'anybody but a scientific crank like you. If this is th' sort o' stuffthat that old king o' yours thought was worth hidin', I guess he must'a' been off his head. But that pot may 'a' got in by mistake. Before Iget too much down on him I'll give him another show." With which words,but cautiously, that the dust might not be disturbed, he thrust his handinto another jar, and was mightily resentful upon finding that what hebrought forth from it was only the head of a lance. However, thedetermination to give King Chaltzantzin a chance to prove his sanity,together with the hope that something of real value might be found, ledhim to continue his investigations, and he presently had examined allthe jars ranged on two sides of the room; and his grumbling cursesincreased constantly in vigor as jar after jar yielded only arrow-heads,and lance-heads, and chisel-shaped pieces of obsidian, that I perceivedmust have been intended for the making of the cutting edges of themaccahuitl, or Aztec sword; but, for my part, all of these things filledme with the liveliest pleasure as I took them from Young and attentivelyexamined them; for the delicate and perfect workmanship that theyexhibited showed them to have been made by a people that had reached thehighest development of the Stone Age.
"This business is gettin' worse, instead o' better," Young said,gloomily, as he began his search on the third side of the room byopening one of the small gold boxes. "The stuff in here is nothin' but amean sort o' wrappin'-paper with pictures on it--like that old map o'yours that got us started on this tomfoolin' treasure-hunt. I s'pose_you'll_ just have a fit over it!" And as I uttered an eager cry ofdelight, and bent over this casket that contained such inestimableriches, he gave a sniff of contempt, and added: "There, I thought so.You think more o' that rotten old stuff than you would o' gold dollars.Well, there's no accountin' for tastes, and it takes all sorts o' peoplet' make th' world." But I paid no attention to him as I rapidly glancedover these priceless manuscripts; and then had my cup of happinessfilled absolutely to overflowing by the glad discovery that in every oneof the gold boxes, of which there were nine in all, treasures of a likesort were stored. In the supplemental volume (in elephant folio) to my_Pre-Columbian Conditions on the Continent of North America_ thesewonderful manuscripts are reproduced in fac-simile; and when that greatwork is published the surpassing value of my discovery will be at oncerecognized. It is sufficient to say here that these several codicestogether constituted a complete hieratic chronicle of the Aztec tribes;and that (herein lying the extraordinary value of the collection) theuncertain picture-writing was accompanied by a translation into theideographic characters of later times, the meaning of which I wasenabled, thanks to the instruction that my friend the guardian of thearchives had given me, fully to understand. In short, my discoveryprecisely paralleled that of Boussard; for even as the Rosetta Stonegave the key to Egyptian hieroglyphics, so did this transliteration intointelligible characters make all Aztec picture-writing plain. As thefull significance of my discovery burst upon me, my joy and theexcitement of my splendid triumph so moved me that my hands trembled asI held these precious manuscripts, and I no longer could see clearly thepainted characters because of the tears of happiness which filled myeyes.
Young, however, whose longing was only for material treasure, continuedhis investigations in anything but a thankful mood. "There ain't nodoubt of it _now_," he said presently in a most melancholy tone. "Thatold king o' yours must 'a' been just as crazy as a loon. Look here: thisthing ain't even a fool arrow-head; it's nothin' but a bit o' greenglass! I reckon it's part o' th' bottom of a porter-bottle. Nice sort o'stuff this is t' call treasure, an' t' take such an all-fired lot o'trouble t' hide away! Why, I should jedge that that king must 'a' spentmost of his time settin' up nights a-puzzlin' over plans for makin' surethat he was th' very d----dest biggest fool that ever lived!--an' that'sjust what he was, for sure! It's tough, gettin
While Young spoke I had been looking closely at the object that soviolently had excited his indignation, and instead of replying to him Iasked, "Are there any more pieces of that porter-bottle in the jar?"
"It's full of 'em," he answered with a contemptuous brevity.
"And the next?"
"That's full of 'em too. All th' jars on this side o' th' room are fullof 'em," he added, as he rapidly thrust his hand into one afteranother--and so set the dust to flying that we both fell to sneezing asthough we would sneeze our heads off. "Oh come along, Professor: what'sth' use o' foolin' over this rubbish; let's go for th' stuff that's goodfor its weight in spot cash every time!"
"Wait till we see what is in these gold vases over here," I answered,turning as I spoke to the side of the room that as yet we had notexamined.
"What's th' good?" he asked, sulkily. But he lifted down one of thevases, and with his thumb and finger brought forth from it a littleround black ball. "Worse an' worse," he said, as he handed the ball tome. "We've got down t' what looks like lumps o' shoemaker's wax now.That's about th' sickest lookin' thing t' call itself treasure I everdid see!"
It did not seem to me probable that the little ball was shoemaker's wax;but in order to settle this point experimentally I cut into it with mypenknife. Under the gummy exterior I found a layer of cotton-wool, andenclosed in this a hard substance about the size of a hazel-nut. While Iwas making this examination, Young investigated into the contents ofthe remaining vases--which themselves were exceedingly interesting,being made of hammered gold and most curiously engraved.
"They're no good," he said, "except I s'pose th' mugs must be worthsomethin'. Shoemaker's wax in 'em all! It's worse 'an th'porter-bottles--for what's th' use o' shoemaker's wax t' folks who don'trightly know what a shoe is? Come along, I say, Professor, an' let'shave a whack at them piles o' gold. If we don't tackle 'em we might justas well never have come on this treasure-hunt at all. Some o' the stuffin here's worth havin'--th' gold mugs an' boxes, an' that old goldbow-gun that you're so busted about--but what does th' whole of itamount to, anyway, when you come t' divide it up among four men an' ajackass? I guess even th' jackass ud turn up his nose at it if he knowedwhat a lot more there was that was t' be had just for grabbin' it an'packin' it along. It's somethin', I s'pose, that we've pulled throughwithout losin' our hair; but we _have_ pulled through all right, an' nowwe want t' make this business pay; an' unless we go for that gold thisbusiness won't 'a' paid worth a cuss--an' instead o' comin' out on topwe'll be left th' very worst kind!"
As Young was delivered of this dismal remonstrance I handed him thesmall object that I had extracted from the pitch-coated ball. "Beforeyou make up your mind that we are likely to be 'left,' as you term it,suppose you look at this," I said.
He held out his hand carelessly; but as he saw what I had placed in ithis expression suddenly changed, and he burst forth excitedly: "GreatScott! where did this come from? Why--why, Professor, it _looks_ like itwas a pearl; but if 't truly is one it's about th' bustin'est biggestone that Godamighty ever made! Do you truly size it up for a pearlyourself?"
"Most assuredly," I answered. "And it is a fair assumption, I think,that there is a pearl in each one of all these little pitch-coveredballs. As to what you called bits of green glass, they are neither morenor less than extraordinarily fine emeralds; I should say that thesmallest of them must be worth more dollars than you could carry at asingle load. Of course, all the emeralds and pearls together are notworth a single one of these manuscripts"--here Young gave a scepticalgrunt--"but in the way of vulgar material riches I am confident that thevalue of what is in these jars is greater than that of all the goldtogether that we saw in the Valley of Aztlan. Without a shadow of doubt,you and I at this moment are standing in the midst of the most enormoustreasure that ever has been brought together since the world was made!"
"Honest Injun, Professor?"
"Certainly," I answered; "and if this is your notion of getting 'left'on a treasure-hunt," I continued, "it assuredly is not mine."
"Left?" Young repeated after me, while his eyes ranged exultantly overthe rows of jars in which this vast wealth was contained. "Well, Ishould smile! I take it all back about that old king bein' crazy. He wasjust as level-headed as George Washington an' Dan'l Webster rolled intoone. These pots full of arrow-heads an' such stuff was only one of hislittle jokes, showin' that he must 'a' been a good-natured, comical oldcuss, th' kind I always did like, anyway. Left? Not much we ain't left!We've just everlastin'ly got there with all four feet to onct!Professor, shake!"
Throughout my whole life I have been saddened, as each well-definedsection of it has come to an end, by the thought that during the periodthat has then slipped away from me forever I have wasted moreopportunities than I have improved. As I write these final lines,therefore, I feel a sorrowful regret, which, in a way, is akin to theregret that weighed upon me when Young and I, having carried into thecave the contents of the treasure-chamber, removed the prop wherewithwas upheld the swinging statue, and so suffered to fall into place againthat ponderous mass of stone. From below, where we were, lifting it wasimpossible; and by heaping fragments of rock under the forward end of itwe presently made it equally immovable from above. Thus for outlet orfor inlet that way was irrevocable barred; and as I write now I knowthat I am not less irrevocable severing myself from one portion of mypast. For, says the Persian poet, "A finished book is a sealed casket.To it nothing can be added. From it nothing can be taken away.Therefore should we pray to Allah that its contents may be good."
The record that I am now ending was begun partly that I might find inthe writing of it relief from the more serious work in which I have beenengaged, and partly because I perceived that I could properly include ina personal narrative many matters which were too trivial or too entirelypersonal to be incorporated into my extended scientific treatise, butwhich, I was persuaded, were of a sufficient interest to be preserved.But I certainly should not have finished this history of our adventuresnearly so expeditiously had not Rayburn and Young taken a very livelyinterest in it, and pressed me constantly to bring it to an end.
"You see, Professor," said Young, "I don't want t' say anything againstthat big book you're writin'. I don't doubt that in its way it'll be adaisy; but you know yourself there won't be more'n about three cranks inth' whole o' God's universe who'll ever read more'n about ten lines ofit; an' that's why I want you t' rush ahead with th' little book--thatstands some chance o' bein' read outside o' lunatic asylums--so'sfolks'll know what a powerful queer time we've had. Don't be too cussedparticular t' say just where that valley is--for, while it's not likely,we might want t' take a fightin' crowd along an' dynamite our way backthere some day after more cash; but, exceptin' that, just give 'em th'cold facts. I reckon they'll make some folks open their eyes."
From times to time, as my narrative has grown beneath my hand, I haveread aloud to my fellow-adventurers what I have written, and havereceived from them suggestions in accordance with which it has beencorrected or amended in its several parts; and it is but just to add, inthis connection, that in every case where I have referred (as it seemsto me now in words not nearly strong enough) to the loyalty to ourcommon interests, and to the splendid bravery which Rayburn and Youngconstantly exhibited throughout that trying time, I have been compelledto exert the whole of my authority over them in order to win theirgrumbling permission that my words might stand. Even P
In point of fact, the only member of our party who has accepted my justtribute of praise with entire equanimity has been El Sabio. It wasPablo's notion, of course, that El Sabio should hear what I had writtenabout him. "Not the whole of it, you know, senor," the boy said,earnestly; "for some of what you have written--while I know that it istrue, and therefore must be told--would hurt his tender heart. It wasnot his fault--the angel!--that he gave us so much trouble when we swunghim across the canon; and to tell him that there was even a thought ofeating him, while we were in that dreadful valley where every one wasdead, assuredly would turn him gray before his time. No; we will hideall such unpleasant parts of the book from him; but we will read to himwhat you have said concerning his beauty and his wisdom--and, surely,you might have said of those a great deal more; and also about hisgallant fight with the priests, when, all alone, he slew so many of themwith his heels. And it would have been fairer to El Sabio, senor," Pabloadded, a little reproachfully, as we walked out together to the paddockin which the ass, grown to be very fat, was living a life of most royalease, "had you told in the book how well he served us in bringing allthe treasure, in many weary journeys, out through that dismal cave; andalso how carefully he carried the Senor Rayburn down that steepmountain-side, and so to the little town beside the railway, and neverhurt his wound."
However, El Sabio did not seem to notice these omissions from mynarrative, though he certainly did exhibit a most curious air ofinterest and understanding as I read to him those laudatory portions ofit which Pablo desired that he should hear. According to Pablo'sunderstanding of his language, he even thanked me for speaking well ofhim; for when the reading was ended he thrust his nose far forward, laidhis long ears back upon his neck, planted his little legs firmly, andas he erected in triumph his scrag of a tail, he uttered a mostthunderous bray. "And now, Wise One," Pablo said, tenderly, as heinfolded the head of the ass in his arms and hugged it to his breast,"thou knowest that we not only love thee for thy goodness and thywisdom, but that we also honor thee for thy noble deeds."
Rayburn's fancy was mightily tickled by this performance in which ElSabio and Pablo and I had engaged--though Young evidently thought it butanother proof of the addled state of my brains--when I told about itthat evening as we all sat smoking comfortably in my library before theopen fire. This was to be our last meeting for some time to come; forRayburn was to start the next day for Idaho to look after some miningmatters, and Young suddenly had decided that he would accompany him. Intruth, Young was rather at a loss to know what to do with himself; forhis plan for buying the Old Colony Railroad, in order to be in aposition to discharge its superintendent, had been abandoned. "I'd liket' do it, of course," he said. "Bouncin' that chump th' same way that hebounced me would do me a lot o' good; but I've made up my mind itwouldn't be th' square thing t' do, considerin' that if he hadn'tbounced me I'd still be foolin' round on top o' freight-cars, in allsorts o' weather, handlin' brakes. So I've let up on him, an' he canstay. What I want now is t' do some good with this all-fired big pile o'money that I've got. That's one reason why I'm goin' out with Rayburn t'Idaho. Right straight along from here t' Boise City I mean t' set updrinks for every railroader I meet. That'll be doin' good, for sure."
IN THE LIBRARY BEFORE THE OPEN FIRE]
Rayburn and I laughed a little at this odd method for benefitinghumanity that Young had got hold of; and then Rayburn's face grew graveas he said: "Well, we're doing a little good, I suppose, in putting thatold church in Morelia in good shape. I'm glad you thought of that,Professor. I don't suppose that anything we could have done would havepleased the Padre more than to have that church, that he loved so much,made as handsome as money can make it all the way through."
"Yes," Young added, "an' I guess th' Professor's head was level inhavin' all th' new stuff that we've put in it made t' look like 't wasabout two hundred years old. I did kick at that at first, I'll allow.What I wanted t' do was t' build a first-class new church, with arattlin' tall steeple, an' steam heat, an' electric lights, an' an organbig enough t' bust the roof off every time she was played. But th' Padrewas as keen as th' Professor, a'most, for old-fashioned things; an' so Iguess we've done that job just about as he'd 'a' done it himself. Itmakes me feel queer, though, puttin' up money on a Catholic church thatway; an' when I was tellin' an old aunt o' mine, down t' Milton, aboutit, she just riz up an' rared. An' she didn't feel a bit better when Itold her that if I thought it ud please th' Padre t' have me do it, I'dgo smack off t' Rome an' shake hands with th' Pope. And I truly would dothat very same thing," Young continued, earnestly, while his voicetrembled a little, "for this side o' heaven I never expect t' meetanybody that's so near t' bein' a first-class angel as th' Padre was.An' when I think how he saved our mis'rable lives for us, as he surelydid, by givin' away his own--that was worth more'n all of ours puttogether, an' ten times over--I don't care a continental what hisreligious politics was; an' I'll punch th' head of anybody who don't saythat he was th' pluckiest an' th' best man that ever lived!"
Pablo had caught the word Padre in Young's talk, and as the lad lookedup from the corner in which he was sitting, I saw that his eyes werefull of tears; Rayburn's eyes also had an odd glistening look about themas he turned away suddenly, and emptied the ashes from his pipe into thefire; and I know that I could not see very clearly just then, as verytender, yet very poignant memories surged suddenly into my heart.
And when the others left me--as they did presently, for we could notfall again into commonplace talk--I bade Pablo be off to bed, and so satthere for a while alone. What I had planned to do that night was torevise an address that I was shortly to deliver before the ArchaeologicalInstitute; but the pen that I had taken into my hand lay idle there,while my thoughts went backward through the channels of the past.
In that still season of darkness I seemed to live again through all thetime that Fray Antonio and I had been together--from the moment when Ifirst caught sight of him, as he knelt before the crucifix in thesacristy, to my last sad look at the dead body whence his soul had spedback again to God.
As my thoughts dwelt upon this most loving and most tendercompanionship, the like of which for perfectness I am confident wasnever known, and then upon the cruel violence that brought it to an end,so searching a pain went through my soul that I knew that either it mustcease or I must die of it in a very little while. And then was borne inupon me the strong conviction--and so has it since been always, whenthus my thoughts have been engaged--that because of my very love forFray Antonio must I rejoice that he had died so savage a death;believing confidently that what he prayed for when first I found him inthe Christian church of San Francisco was, in truth, that very crown ofmartyrdom that God granted to him when at last I lost him in the heathencity of Colhuacan. And with the pressing in upon me thus strangely ofthis strange thought, it seemed as though he himself said again to me,"I go to win the life, glorious and eternal, into which neither deathnor sin nor sorrow evermore can come."
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