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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 8. After The Fight
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The Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 8. After The Fight Post by :traffic-tart Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas A. Janvier Date :May 2012 Read :1567

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The Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 8. After The Fight


Rayburn stood panting for a moment over the Indian's body; and then, having satisfied himself by a look around among our fallen enemies that every one of them was either dead or dying, he stooped down beside the stream to drink from it, and then to bathe an ugly gash in his forehead made by a spear thrust that luckily had glanced aside.

Indeed, we all had wounds or bruises by which we were likely to remember our fight for a good many days to come. In addition to the cut on his forehead, Rayburn had an arm badly bruised by a crack from a club; Young had a cut in the calf of his leg that must have been made by one of the Indians after he had fallen wounded; Fray Antonio had the slight cut in his arm that he received in rescuing Pablo; a blow from a club on my shoulder had completely disabled my left arm, and my head was beginning to ache from the wound in my forehead where the arrow had nipped me; and Pablo, by a square knock-down blow on the head that tumbled him among the rocks, had a bad gash in his cheek and was bruised all over. And yet the very first thing that boy did when the fight was ended--being still dazed, no doubt, by the blow on his head--was to play a bit of "Rory O'More" on his mouth-organ in order to make sure that his beloved "instrumentito" had not been injured by his fall. The sound of this air gave my heart a wrench, as I thought of poor Dennis; whose gallant race with death assuredly had saved all of us from dying without a chance to strike a blow. And both of our Otomi Indians were dead too.

But while we had suffered thus severely we had the satisfaction of knowing that we had inflicted a most signal punishment upon our enemies. Of the whole company that had attacked us--eighteen in number, as we found by counting their bodies--only two remained alive when the fight ended; and these two speedily relieved us of all responsibility concerning them by dying of their wounds. As Young tersely expressed it, we had "given the whole outfit a through bill of lading to Kingdom Come!"

Notwithstanding the pain that I was in, the first thought that came to me after we had achieved peace (by the effective yet somewhat radical process of killing all of our enemies) was concerning the strange weapon with which Pablo had been fighting; and by his prompt use of which in my defence my life had been saved. He had laid it upon a rock--while testing the integrity of his mouth-organ--and as I now carefully examined it I found that my glimpse of it as Pablo had mashed the Indian's head had not deceived me. It truly was a maccuahuitl, the primitive Aztec sword, but very unlike any description of that weapon that I had ever seen. The maccuahuitl, as described by the Spaniards at the time of the conquest and as shown by the Aztec pictures of it preserved in various museums, was a wooden blade from three and a half to four feet long and from four to five inches wide. Along its two edges, like great saw teeth, fragments of obsidian, about three inches long and two inches wide, were inserted; and as these were keenly sharp the weapon was a most ferocious one. The sword that I held in my hand was identical in its essential features with this primitive design; but it was shorter, narrower, and thinner. What was still more extraordinary about it was that, while it seemed to be made of brass, it had the bright glitter of gold and the temper and the elasticity of steel. Being tested by bending, it instantly sprung straight again; and notwithstanding the vigorous use that Pablo had been making of it on the bones of several Indians, the thin edges of the projecting teeth were only nicked a little--as the edge of a steel sword would have been nicked under like circumstances--and not one of these teeth was bent out of place, as assuredly would have been the case had the metal been ordinary brass.

Fray Antonio, by this time, had returned to us again--looking rather shamefaced because of the part that he had taken in the fight--and I eagerly showed him this strange weapon that had been so strangely found; for Pablo's account of it was simply that, just as his revolver was emptied upon the Indians charging towards us, when there was no time to reload, his eyes were caught by the glitter of the sword as it stuck in a cleft in a rock; whereupon he most gladly seized it--and instantly used it to good purpose upon the Indian was so close to ending me with his spear, and subsequently contrived with it to send two more Indians to their account.

Fray Antonio's knowledge of the matter having a wider practical range than mine, for he knew well the contents of the several Mexican museums in which specimens of the primitive weapons are preserved, I thought it possible that he might be able to match this curious maccuahuitl with an account of another like it which he somewhere had seen. That there was no record in the books of this weapon made of metal I knew very well. But Fray Antonio's surprise over it was greater than my own; and he certainly found more in it to please him than I did; for this metal maccuahuitl, supposing it to belong to ancient times, settled in his favor a controversy that for some time past we had been amicably but earnestly carrying on. I had adopted the ingenious theory of my friend Bandelier that the serrated edge of the Aztec sword was accidental; resulting from the breaking away in use of portions of what at first was a continuous edge of obsidian. Fray Antonio, on the other hand, had held firmly to the ordinarily accepted opinion that the sword was such as I have described above (I must confess regretfully) the primitive weapon to have been.

My contention therefore was that the sword that Pablo had found was not an antique; and I fortified my position, as I considered impregnably, by the fact that while Aztecs, before the Spanish conquest, did make some slight use of copper and gold, they assuredly had no knowledge whatever of either brass or steel. And my natural irritation very well may be imagined, by any one familiar with controversies of this nature, when I add that Fray Antonio endeavored to cut the ground from under me by asserting that, inasmuch as the weapon obviously was not made of brass or steel, my argument was based upon false premises and consequently led to illogical conclusions. I am afraid that I showed a little temper on this occasion; for Fray Antonio manifested a persistence in his defence of what I regarded as his wholly untenable position that amounted to what I held to be downright pig-headedness. And so, for a considerable length of time, we stood there, among the bodies of the dead Indians, and first one of us and then the other handled the sword, and expressed with increasing warmth our views respecting it and each other; and we might have stood there much longer had not Young--with the best of intentions, no doubt, but in a way the certainly was not agreeable--taken upon himself to bring our controversy for the time being to an end.

"I don't exactly know what you and the Padre are jawing about at such a rate, Professor," he struck in; "but as well as I can catch on, it's about things which happened three or four hundred years ago. I don't want to interrupt you, of course; but I do want the Padre--he knows something about surgery, as I saw the other day when he took that cactus thorn out of Pablo--to do something to plug up this hole in my leg. It's bleeding a good deal, and it hurts like the very devil. And I guess Rayburn'd be glad to have that slit in his forehead tied up too."

To do Fray Antonio justice, he took this interruption in better part than I did; for I was deeply interested in the argument in which we were engaged, and wished to continue it. But when I explained what Young wanted, he turned to him at once, and very tenderly as well as very skilfully dressed his wound; and then bandaged the gash in Rayburn's forehead, and the cut in Pablo's cheek. Pablo decidedly objected to this bandaging, for it put a peremptory stop for a while to his playing on his mouth-organ. For me no surgery was required. Fray Antonio carefully felt my shoulder while he moved my arm--thereby hurting me most horribly--and as the result of his investigations he assured me that the bones were neither broken nor out of place.

Rayburn also examined the maccuahuitl with much interest. "Of course it is not brass," he said, "and of course it cannot possibly be phosphor-bronze. But, if such a thing were a metallurgical possibility, I should say that it was gold--treated in some manner that gives it as great a hardness as bronze receives when treated with phosphorus, but with some chemical change wrought in its constitution that gives it also the tempered quality of steel. Nothing but gold, you see," he added, "could lie around out-of-doors this way and not get tarnished by oxidization."

"What's the reason that it's not some queer thing belonging to the folks we're looking for?" Young asked; and his question expressed a thought that already had found a lodging in my own mind. For such good-luck as this would be I was quite willing to concede that Fray Antonio was right in his unpleasantly positive views in regard to the shape of the Aztec swords. And what Young said also put me sharply in mind of the graving on the rock of the King's symbol, that we had found only in the same moment to lose it again. To this matter I now adverted; and I said some very unpleasant things about the Indians who had prevented us from following the trail, that we had sought for so laboriously, when we did find it at last--and who still, for we doubted not that the main body was in wait for us lower down the valley, prevented us from returning to the spot where we had seen the sign and thence systematically continuing our search.

"If I was you, Professor," said Young as I ceased speaking, "I wouldn't be so everlastin'ly down on these poor devils of Indians for what they've done. They killed Dennis, an' that's a pretty bad business; an' they got away with our two _mozos_, too; an' they've pretty well battered th' rest of us. But I take it that we've about evened things up by killin' eighteen of 'em--or six of their crowd dead for each one dead in ours. I guess we can call that part of th' business about square. But what I'm gettin' at is, if it hadn't been for the Indians we'd never have come up this valley; an' so we'd never have struck th' King's symbol trail at all."

"But what good did it do us to find it, when we could not follow it?" I asked. "We cannot go back to examine the sign without risking our lives; and unless we do examine it we cannot know where the next one is, and so the trail is lost."

"I've just been waitin'," said Young, "t' see if I was th' only man in this party that God-a-mighty'd given a pair of eyes to. I guess I am. Suppose you just get up, Professor, an' turn around, an' take a look at that place where there's a brown mark on th' side of th' rock; an' suppose th' rest of you look there too. If that isn't th' King's symbol, just as plain as th' noses in all your faces, I'll eat every dead Indian in this canon."

And Young spoke the truth. Just above the cleft whence Pablo had taken the sword, graven so deeply in the rock that after all the weathering of centuries it still remained distinct and clear, was identically the same figure that Fray Francisco in the far past time had represented in his letter, and that was repeated also on the far more ancient piece of gold. Above it was cut an arrow that pointed directly up the canon.

It was a good thing that something came to cheer us just then; for what with the death of Dennis and of our two poor Indians, and our own hurts, and the melancholy feeling that must oppress men always--save those of cruel and hardened natures--when a fight is ended in which they have spilled freely human blood, we all were oppressed sensibly by a consuming sadness.

But here was cheer indeed. Not only had we surely found the trail at last, but we found it leading in precisely the direction that at that moment we desired to go. For us to return down the valley to the open country, we knew was full of most signal danger; for the Indians who so unaccountably had declined to take part in attacking us assuredly were lying in wait for us by the way. Our only chance to escape them was to strike into the mountains; and the sign that we now had gave promise that we should find some sort of a path along which we might go. Therefore it was with good heart that we set about getting as far into the depths of the canon as possible before night should be wholly upon us; trusting, in regard to possible pursuit, somewhat to the superstition of the Indians which so unaccountably yet so obviously had been aroused, and also to the wholesome dread that they must have of us upon finding that every one of their companions had been slain. The bodies of our poor Otomis we placed in a deep fissure in the rock, and there heaped stones upon them, while Fray Antonio said over them the briefer office; but the body of Dennis we carried with us, that we might give him a more tender and reverent burial in gratitude for his brave struggle to save our lives when he knew that his own life was lost. As for the eighteen dead Indians--who had invited the death that so promptly had come to them--we did not bother ourselves about them at all. We left them to the coyotes.

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