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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 5. The Engineer And The Lost-Freight Man
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The Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 5. The Engineer And The Lost-Freight Man Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas A. Janvier Date :May 2012 Read :3210

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The Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 5. The Engineer And The Lost-Freight Man


That the weight of a strange destiny was pressing upon us, neither Fray Antonio nor I for a moment doubted. It was something more than chance, we believed, that had brought us together, and that thereafter, by such extraordinary means, had put into our hands, in places far asunder, yet at almost precisely the same moment, these two ancient papers; either of which, alone, would have been meaningless; but the two of which, together, pointed clearly the way to a discovery so wonderful that the like of it was not to be found in all the history of the world.

At the moment that I comprehended how great an adventure was before me, and what honorable fame I was like to get out of it, I determined that I would keep the whole matter secret from my fellow-archaeologists until I could tell them, not what I intended doing, but what I actually had done--for I had no desire to divide with any one the honors that fairly would be mine when I published to the world the result of my investigation of this hidden community that had survived, uncontaminated, from prehistoric times. Having this strong desire within me, it was with great pleasure that I acceded to Fray Antonio's request that our project of discovery should not be published abroad. His motive for secrecy, as I presently perceived, was bred of the one single strain of human weakness that ever I found in him. Even as I was determined that no other archaeologist should share with me the honor of discovering this primitive community, so was Fray Antonio determined that to him alone should belong the glory of carrying into that region of dense heathen darkness the radiant splendor of the Christian faith. If this were sin on his part, it certainly was a sin that he shared with many saints long since in Paradise. Even the blessed Saint Francis himself, when, at the Council of Mats, he portioned out among his followers the heathen world that they might preach everywhere Christianity, reserved for himself Syria and Egypt; in the hope that in one or the other of those countries he might crown his labors by suffering a glorious martyrdom. And perhaps in this matter Fray Antonio was not unmindful of the example set him by the great founder of the Order to which he belonged.

But while we were thus firmly decided to keep to ourselves the honors that so great an archaeological discovery and so great a Christian conquest must bring to us severally, we perceived that it would not be the part of prudence to essay our adventure without any companions at all. Some portion of the country through which we were to pass we knew to be frequented by very dangerous tribes of Indians, against the assaults of which two lonely men--neither of whom had any knowledge whatever of the art of war--could make but a poor stand. And even should we escape the wild Indians, we knew that we might get into many evil straits in which our lives might be ended, yet through which a larger company might pass in safety. And for my own part, I must confess that I had a strong desire to have with me some of my own countrymen. For the gallantry of the Mexicans, which gallantry has been proved a thousand times, I have the highest respect; yet is it a natural feeling among Anglo-Saxons that when it comes to facing dangers in which death looms largely, and especially when it comes to a few men against a company of savages, and standing back to back and fighting to the very last, Anglo-Saxon hearts are found to be the stanchest, and Anglo-Saxon backs to be the stoutest which can be thus ranged together. But in our own case I did not at all see whence such an Anglo-Saxon contingent was to be obtained.

We had been talking over this matter of a fighting force one afternoon in Fray Antonio's sacristy--where our many colloquies were held, for we moved with a thoughtful deliberation in setting agoing our adventure--and we had come almost to the determination of organizing a little force of Otomi Indians, and calling upon two brave young gentlemen of Fray Antonio's acquaintance to join us as lieutenants. Although I was willing to adopt this plan, since no other was open to us, I was far from fancying it; both for the reason which I have already named, and also for the reason--and this Fray Antonio admitted was not without foundation in probability--that our young allies would be more than likely, by their indiscreet disclosures, to make our purpose fully known. Therefore, it was in no very pleasant frame of mind, our conference being ended, that I returned to my hotel.

As I entered the hotel court-yard I heard the sound of Pablo's mouth-organ, and with this much laughter and some talk in English; and as I fairly caught sight of the merrymakers, I heard said, in most execrable Spanish, "Here's a _medio for another tune, my boy; and if you'll make the donkey dance again to it, I'll give you a _real_."

That I might see what was going forward without interrupting it, I stepped behind one of the stone pillars that upheld the gallery; and for all that my mind was in no mood for laughter just then, I could not but fall to laughing at what I saw.

Over on the far side of the court-yard, with Pablo and El Sabio, were two men whose type was so unmistakable that I should have known them for Americans had I met them in the moon. One was a tall, wiry fellow, with a vast reach of arm, and a depth of chest and width of shoulders which allowed what powerful engines those long arms of his were when he set them in motion. His face was nearly covered by a heavy black beard, and his projecting forehead and his resolute black eyes under it gave him a look of great energy and force. The other was short and thick-set, with a big round head stockily upheld on a thick neck, and with a good-humored face, which, being clean-shaven, was chiefly notable for the breadth and the squareness of the jaws. He had merry blue eyes, and his crown--he was holding his battered Derby hat in his hand--was as bare as a billiard ball. Below timber-line, as he himself expressed it, he had a brush of close-cut sandy-red hair. I had encountered both of these men when I first came to Morelia, and during two or three weeks I had seen a good deal of them, for we had met daily at our meals; and the more that I had seen of them the better was I disposed to like them. The tall man was Rayburn, a civil engineer in charge of construction on the advanced line of the new railway; the other was Young, the lost-freight agent of the railroad company--whose duty, for which his keen quickness peculiarly well fitted him, was that of looking up freight which had gone astray in transit. Both of those men had lived long in rough and dangerous regions, and both--as I then instinctively believed, and as I came later to know fully--were as true and as stanch and as brave as ever men could be.

What they were laughing at, there in the court-yard, was an extraordinary performance in which the performers were Pablo and El Sabio. With a grin all over the parts of his face not engaged in the operation of his mouth-organ, Pablo was rendering on that instrument a highly Mexicanized version of one of the airs from _Pinafore that he had just acquired from hearing Young whistle it. To this music, with a most pained yet determined expression, the Wise One was lifting his feet and swaying his body and nodding his head in a sort of accompaniment, his movements being directed by the waving of Pablo's disengaged hand. The long ears of this unfortunate little donkey wagged in remonstrance against the unreasonable motions demanded of his unlucky legs, and every now and then he would twitch viciously his fuzzy scrap of a tail; but his master was inexorable, and it was not until Pablo's own desire to laugh became so strong that he no longer could play the mouth-organ that El Sabio was given rest. As he ended his dancing I must say that there was on El Sabio's face as fine an expression of contempt as the face of a donkey ever wore.

"Hello, Professor!" Young called out, as he caught sight of me, "have you given up antiquities an' gone into th' circus business? This outfit that you've got here will make your fortune when you get it back into th' States. If you don't want to run it yourself, I'll run it for you on th' shares; an' I guess Rayburn'll be glad t' go along as clown. He'd make a good clown, Rayburn would. You see, we're both of us out of work, an' both lookin' for a job."

"What do you mean by being out of work?" I asked, when I had shaken hands with them. "What's become of the railroad?"

"Oh, th' railroad's got into one of its periodical bust-ups," Young answered. "A row among the bondholders, an' construction stopped, an' working expenses reduced, an' pretty much all hands bounced, from th' president down. I guess Rayburn an' I can stand th' racket, though, if th' company can. I've been wantin' t' get out of this d----d Greaser country for a good while, an' I guess now I've got my chance. I must say, though, I wish it had come a little less sudden, for I haven't anything in particular in sight over in God's country, an' Rayburn hasn't either. So if you want to start your circus we're ready for you right away. Where did you get that boy-an'-donkey outfit from, anyway? They're just daisies, both of 'em an' no mistake!"

"I don't know that you can count on me for a clown, Professor," Rayburn said, "but I might go along as door-keeper, or something of that sort. But I don't believe that Young and I will need to go into the circus business. We are out of work, that's a fact; but the company has done the square thing by us--paid us up in full to the end of next month and fitted us out with passes to St. Louis. We're all right. Young is heading straight for home, but I rather think that I'll take a turn around the country and see what the civilized parts of it look like. Ever since I came down here, nearly, I've been at work in the wilds. I want to see some of the old temples and things too. You can put me up to that, Professor. Where's a good ruin to begin on?"

From the moment that I laid eyes on these two men, as I came into the court-yard, my mind was made up that I would do my best to induce them to join with Fray Antonio and me in our search for the hidden city; and I had listened very gladly to what they told me, for it showed me that I should not have to ask them to abandon profitable work in order to join in our doubtful enterprise. So we talked lightly about the circus and other indifferent matters for a while; and then we had a lively supper together at La Soledad (which always seemed to me a very original name for a restaurant), and then I brought them to my room to smoke their cigars.

It was while they were in the comfortable frame of mind that is begotten of a good meal and subsequent good tobacco--over there in Morelia we smoked the Tepic cigars, which are excellent--that I opened to them the great project that I had in hand. I told them frankly the whole story: of my strange adventure in the Indian village, of the paper and the gold token which the Cacique unwittingly had given me, of the letter that Fray Antonio had found, and of how our joint discoveries set us clearly in the way of finding an Aztec community that certainly had existed unchanged, save for such changes as had been developed within itself, since a time long anterior to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. I dwelt with enthusiasm, and I think forcibly, upon the inestimable gain to the science of archaeology that would result from the investigations that we intended to make; and I touched also upon the scientific value that would attach to a careful and accurate description of the effect produced upon this primitive community by Fray Antonio's preaching; for this would be, as I pointed out, the first occasion in the history of the world when a record would be made, from the stand-point of the unprejudiced ethnologist, of the reception accorded by a heathen people to the doctrine of Christianity. In a word, I presented the case most glowingly--so glowingly, in fact, that my own heart was quite fired by it--and ended by urging them earnestly to join us in a work that promised so greatly to increase the sum of human knowledge touching the most interesting subjects that can be presented to the consideration of the human mind. And I am pained to state that I discovered, when I finished my appeal, that Young was sound asleep!

Rayburn did not go to sleep, and he did take a certain amount of interest in what I said, but I was discouraged by his very obvious failure to respond to my enthusiasm.

"You see, Professor," he said, "the fact of the matter is that I can't spare the time. I might take a month or two, but you seem to think that a year is the least time in which any substantial results can he accomplished. I can't give a year, or anything like a year, to what, so far as I am concerned, will be sheer idleness. I've got a mother and sister at home on Cape Cod who depend on me for a living, and I must get to work again. You see, there is glory enough in all this, and glory that I should like to have a share in; but glory is a luxury that I can't afford. I've got to go to work at something that has money in it."

The sound of Rayburn's voice had the effect on Young of waking him up. He listened, in a sleepily approving way, to Rayburn's practical comment, and then, giving a prodigious yawn, added, on his own account: "Yes, that's about the size of it. We're neither of us here for our health, Professor; what we're after is spot cash. If there was any money in your scheme I'd take a hand in it quick enough; but as there isn't--Well, not this evening, Professor; some other evening."

"No money in it!" I answered. "Why, haven't I told you that there is stored in this hidden city the greatest treasure that ever was brought into one place since the world began?"

"No, I'll be d----d if you have!" Young replied, with great energy and promptness. "Not a word, unless it was while I was asleep. What's he said about a treasure, Rayburn? I'm awake now, an' I'll keep awake if there's anything like that to be talked about."

"You certainly haven't said anything about a treasure so far, Professor," Rayburn said. "I'd like to hear about it myself. If there is a treasure-hunting expedition mixed up with this scientific expedition of yours, that puts a new face on the whole matter. I can't afford the luxury of scientific investigation pure and simple, but if there is money in it too, that is quite another thing. So tell us about your prospect, Professor, and if the surface indications are good you can count on me to go in."

I confess that I was a trifle disappointed upon finding how eagerly these young men sought information in regard to a matter that I considered so unimportant that I had forgotten even to mention it. But I reflected that, after all, the motive by which they were induced to join in our adventure was immaterial, while our need for the strength that their joining in it would give us was so pressing that upon gaining them for allies very likely depended our eventual success. Being moved by which considerations, I dilated upon the magnitude of the hidden treasure with such vehemence that presently their eyes were flashing, and the blood had so mounted into their brains that their very foreheads were ruddy and their breath came short. And I must confess that my own pulses beat quicker and harder as I talked on. Of this treasure I had not before thought at all, being so thoroughly taken up with the scientific side of the discovery that I hoped to accomplish; but now I was moved profoundly by thoughts of what I could do for the advancement of science had I practically limitless wealth at my command. And especially was I thrilled by the thought of the magnificent form in which my own magnificent discoveries could be given to the world. Compared with my _Pre-Columbian Conditions on the Continent of North America_, Lord Kingsborough's great work, both in form and in substance, would sink into hopeless insignificance. And in all that I said of the vastness of the hidden treasure I felt certain that I was keeping well within the bounds of truth, for I had the positive assurance that in the Aztec treasure-house in that hidden valley the ransom of a nation was stored.

"Will you go with us?" I asked, when I had brought my glowing description to an end.

"Well, I should smile, Professor," was Young's characteristic answer.

"You can count me in now, and no mistake!" said Rayburn, and added, "By Jove, Palgrave, I mean to take a part of my share and buy the whole of Cape Cod!"

And so the make-up of our party was decided upon. Fray Antonio joined it for the love of God; I joined it for the love of science; and Young and Rayburn joined it for the love of gold. In regard to the boy Pablo, he could not strictly be said to have joined it at all. He simply went along.

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