Рейтинг: 0

The Inca Emerald

Год написания книги
<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 >>

"I, Alvarado, companion of Pizarro, about to die at dawn, to my dear wife Oriana. I do repent me of my many sins. I am he who slew the Inca Atahualpa and many of his people, and who played away the Sun before sunrise. Now it comes that I too must die, nor of the wealth that I have won have I aught save the Secret of Eldorado. On a night of the full moon, I myself saw the Golden Man throw into the lake the great Emerald of the Incas and a wealth of gold and gems. This treasure-lake lies not far from Orcos in which was thrown the Chain. I have drawn a map in the way thou didst show me long years ago. Take it to the king. There be treasure enough there for all Spain; and through his justice, thou and our children shall have a share. Forgive me, Oriana, and forget me not.


There was a silence when he had finished. It was as if the shadow of the tragedy of that wasted life and vain repentance had drifted down the centuries and hung over the little company who had listened to the reading of the undelivered letter. The stillness was broken by Mr. Donegan.

"Where did you learn to read Spanish, you old rascal?" he inquired of Jud.

"Down among the Greasers in Mexico," chuckled the latter, delightedly.

"What does he mean by 'playing away the Sun' and the 'Chain'?" asked Will, of the scientist.

"When the treasures of the Incas were divided," explained Professor Ditson, precisely, "Alvarado had for his share a golden image of the sun over ten feet in diameter. This he gambled away in a single night. The Chain," continued Professor Ditson, "surrounded the chief Inca's residence. It was made of gold, and was two hundred and thirty-three yards long. It was being carried by two hundred Indians to Cuzco to form part of the chief's ransom – a room filled with gold as high as he could reach. When the gold came to his shoulder, he was killed. At the news of his death, the men who were bringing the Chain threw it into Lake Orcos."

"But – but," broke in the lumber-king, "where is the map? If you've got it with you, let's have a look at it."

Without speaking, Professor Ditson reached over and took the match from the table. Lighting it, he held the flame for an instant close to the parchment. On the smooth surface before their eyes, suddenly appeared a series of vivid green lines, which at last took the form of a rude map.

"What he learned from Oriana," explained Professor Ditson, "was how to make and use invisible ink."

"Fellows," broke in Mr. Donegan, earnestly, "I believe that Professor Ditson has found Eldorado, and I'm willing to go the limit to get one of the emeralds of the Incas. I'll finance the expedition if you'll all go. What do you say?"

"Aye," voted Will.

"Aye," grunted Joe.

"I assent," said Professor Ditson, with his usual preciseness.

Jud alone said nothing.

"How about it, Jud?" inquired Big Jim.

"Well," returned Jud, doubtfully, "who's goin' to lead this expedition?"

"Why, the professor here," returned the lumber-king, surprised. "He's the only one who knows the way."

"That's it," objected Jud. "It's likely to be a rough trip, an' treasure-huntin' is always dangerous. Has the perfesser enough pep to keep up with us younger men?"

Professor Ditson smiled bleakly.

"I've been six times across South America, and once lived among the South American Indians for two years without seeing a white man," he remarked acidly. "Perhaps I can manage to keep up with an old man and two boys who have never been in the country before. You should understand," he went on, regarding the old trapper sternly, "that specialization in scientific investigation does not necessarily connote lack of physical ability."

Jud gasped. "I don't know what he means," he returned angrily, "but he's wrong – specially that part about me bein' old."

"I feel it is my duty to warn you," interrupted Professor Ditson, "that this trip may involve a special danger outside of those usual to the tropics. When I was last in Peru," he went on, "I had in my employ a man named Slaughter. He was an expert woodsman, but sinister in character and appearance and with great influence over the worst element among the Indians. One night I found him reading this manuscript, which he had taken from my tent while I was asleep. I persuaded him to give it up and leave my employ."

"How did you persuade him?" queried Jud, curiously.

"Automatically," responded Professor Ditson. "At least, I used a Colt's automatic," he explained. "His language, as he left, was deplorable," continued the scientist, "and he declared, among other things, that I would have him to reckon with if I ever went again to Eldorado. I have no doubt that through his Indian allies he will be advised of the expedition when it reaches Peru and make trouble for us."

"What did he look like?" inquired Mr. Donegan.

"He was a giant," replied Professor Ditson, "and must have been over seven feet in height. His eyebrows made a straight line across his forehead, and he had a scar from his right eye to the corner of his jaw."

"Scar Dawson!" shouted Will.

"You don't mean the one who nearly burned you and Joe alive in the cabin?" said the lumber-king, incredulously.

"It must be," said Will. "No other man would have that scar and height. I'll say 'some danger' is right," he concluded, while Joe nodded his head somberly.

"That settles it!" said Jud. "It's evident this expedition needs a good man to keep these kids out of trouble. I'm on."


A New World

A week later found the whole party aboard of one of the great South American liners bound for Belem. The voyage across was uneventful except for the constant bickerings between Jud and Professor Ditson, in which Will and Joe acted sometimes as peace-makers and sometimes as pace-makers. Then, one morning, Will woke up to find that the ocean had changed overnight from a warm sap-green to a muddy clay-color. Although they were not within sight of land, the vast river had swept enough earth from the southern continent into the ocean to change the color of the water for a hundred miles out at sea. Just at sunrise the next day the steamer glided up the Amazon on its way to the old city of Belem, seventy miles inland.

"The air smells like a hot, mouldy cellar!" grumbled Jud; and soon the Cornwall pilgrims began to glimpse things strange and new to all three of them. Groups of slim assai-palms showed their feathery foliage; slender lianas hung like green snakes from the trees; and everywhere were pineapple plants, bread-fruit trees, mangos, blossoming oranges and lemons, rows of enormous silk-cotton trees, and superb banana plants, with glossy, velvety green leaves twelve feet in length curving over the roof of nearly every house. Beyond the city the boys had a sight of the jungle, which almost without a break covers the greater part of the Amazon basin, the largest river-basin on earth. They landed just before sunset, and, under Professor Ditson's direction, a retinue of porters carried their luggage to the professor's house, far down the beach, the starting-point for many of his South American expeditions.

As the sun set, the sudden dark of the tropics dropped down upon them, with none of the twilight of higher latitudes. Jud grumbled at the novelty.

"This ain't no way to do," he complained to Professor Ditson. "The sun no more than goes down, when bang! it's as black as your hat."

"We'll have that seen to at once," responded the professor, sarcastically. "In the meantime, be as patient as you can."

With the coming of the dark, a deafening din began. Frogs and toads croaked, drummed, brayed, and roared. Locusts whirred, and a vast variety of crickets and grasshoppers added their shrill note to the uproar, so strange to visitors and so unnoticed by natives in the tropics.

"Hey, Professor!" shouted Jud, above the tumult, "what in time is all this noise, anyway?"

"What noise?" inquired Professor Ditson, abstractedly.

The old trapper waved both hands in a circle around his head and turned to the boys for sympathy. "Sounds like the Cornwall Drum and Fife Corps at its worst!" he shrieked.

"What do you mean, Jud?" said Will, winking at Joe.

"Poor Jud!" chimed in the latter, shaking his head sadly, "this trip too much for him. He hearing noises inside his head."

For a moment, Jud looked so horrified that, in spite of their efforts to keep up the joke, the boys broke down and laughed uproariously.

"You'll get so used to this," said Professor Ditson, at last understanding what they were talking about, "that after a few nights you won't notice it at all."

At the professor's bungalow they met two other members of the expedition. One of these was Hen Pine, a negro over six feet tall, but with shoulders of such width that he seemed much shorter. He had an enormous head that seemed to be set directly between his shoulders, so short and thick was his neck. Hen had been with Professor Ditson for many years, and, in spite of his size and strength, was of a happy, good-natured disposition, constantly showing his white teeth in irresistible smiles. Pinto, Professor Ditson's other retainer, was short and dark, an Indian of the Mundurucu tribe, that warlike people which early made an alliance of peace with the Portuguese pioneers of Brazil which they had always scrupulously kept. Pinto had an oval aquiline face, and his bare breast and arms had the cross-marks of dark-blue tattooing which showed him to have won high rank as a warrior on the lonely River of the Tapirs, where his tribe held their own against the fierce Mayas, those outlawed cannibals who are the terror of the South American forest.

That evening, after dinner, Professor Ditson took Jud and the boys out for a walk along the beach which stretched away in front of them in a long white curve under the light of the full moon. The night was full of strange sounds, and in the sky overhead burned new stars and unknown constellations, undimmed even by the moonlight, which showed like snow against the shadows of the jungle. Professor Ditson pointed out to the boys Agena and Bungula, a noble pair of first-magnitude stars never seen in the North, which flamed in the violet-black sky. As they looked, Will remembered the night up near Wizard Pond before the bear came, when Joe had told him Indian stories of the stars. To-night, almost overhead, shone the most famous of all tropical constellations, the Southern Cross.

Professor Ditson told them that it had been visible on the horizon of Jerusalem about the date of the Crucifixion. From that day, the precession of the equinoxes had carried it slowly southward, and it became unknown to Europeans until Amerigo Vespucci on his first voyage saw and exultantly wrote that he had seen the "Four Stars," of which the tradition had lingered. The professor told them that it was the sky-clock of the tropics and that sailors, shepherds, and other night-wanderers could tell the time within fifteen minutes of watch-time by the position of the two upper stars of this constellation.

"It looks more like a kite than a cross," interjected Jud. "What's that dark patch in the Milky Way?" he inquired, pointing to a strange black, blank space showing in the milky glimmer of the galaxy.
<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 >>

Другие электронные книги автора Samuel Scoville