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"I think I'll go into the University Library," Craig remarked, as we left Norton before his building. "I want to refresh my mind on some of those old Peruvian antiquities and traditions. What the Senorita hinted at may prove to be very important. I suppose you will have to turn in a story to the Star soon?"
"Yes," I agreed, "I'll have to turn in something, although I'd prefer to wait."
"Try to get an assignment to follow the case to the end," suggested Craig. "I think you'll find it worth while. Anyhow, this will give you a chance for a breathing space, and, if I have this thing doped out right, you won't get another for some time. I'll meet you over in the laboratory in a couple of hours."
Craig hurried up the long flight of white-marble steps to the library and disappeared, while I jumped on the subway and ran downtown to the office.
It took me, as I knew it would, considerably over a couple of hours to clear things up at the Star, so that I could take advantage of a special arrangement which I had made, so that I could, when a case warranted it, co-operate with Kennedy. My story was necessarily brief, but that was what I wanted just now. I did not propose to have the whole field of special-feature writers camping on my preserve.
Uptown I hurried again, afraid that Kennedy had finished and might have been called away. But when I reached the laboratory he was not there, and I found that he had not been. Up and down I paced restlessly. There was nothing else to do but wait. If he was unable to keep his appointment here with me, I knew that he would soon telephone. What was it, I wondered, that kept him delving into the archaeological lore of the library?
I had about given him up, when he hurried into the laboratory in a high state of excitement.
"What did you find?" I queried. "Has anything happened?"
"Let me tell you first what I found in the library," he replied, tilting his hat back on his head and alternately thrusting and withdrawing his fingers in his waistcoat pockets, as if in some way that might help him to piece together some scattered fragments of a story which he had just picked up.
"I've been looking up that hint that the Senorita dropped when she used those words peje grande, which mean, literally, 'big fish,'" he resumed. "Walter, it fires the imagination. You have read of the wealth that Pizarro found in Peru, of course." Visions of Prescott flashed through my mind as he spoke.
"Well, where are the gold and silver of the conquistadores? Gone to the melting-pot, centuries ago. But is there none left? The Indians in Peru believe so, at any rate. And, Walter, there are persons who would stop at nothing to get at the secret.
"It is a matter of history that soon after the conquest a vast fortune was unearthed of which the King of Spain's fifth amounted to five million dollars. That treasure was known as the peje chica--the little fish. One version of the story tells that an Inca ruler, the great Cacique Mansiche, had observed with particular attention the kindness of a young Spaniard toward the people of the conquered race. Also, he had observed that the man was comparatively poor. At any rate, he revealed the secret of the hiding-place of the peje chica, on condition that a part of the wealth should be used to advance the interests of the Indians.
"The most valuable article discovered was in the form of a fish of solid gold and so large that the Spaniards considered it a rare prize. But the Cacique assured his young friend that it was only the little fish, that a much greater treasure existed, worth many times the value of this one.
"The sequel of the story is that the Spaniard forgot his promise, went off to Spain, and spent all his gold. He was returning for the peje grande, of which he had made great boasts, but before he could get it he was killed. Prescott, I believe, gives another version, in which he says that the Spaniard devoted a large part of his wealth to the relief of the Indians and gave large sums to the Peruvian churches. Other stories deny that it was Mansiche who told the first secret, but that it was another Indian. One may, I suppose, pay his money and take his choice. But the point, as far as we are concerned in this case, is that there is still believed to be the great fish, which no one has found. Who knows? Perhaps, somehow, Mendoza had the secret of the peje grande?"
Kennedy paused, and I could feel the tense interest with which his delving into the crumbling past had now endowed this already fascinating case.
"And the curse?" I put in.
"About that we do not know," he replied. "Except that we do know that Mansiche was the great Cacique or ruler of northern Peru. The natives are believed to have buried a far greater treasure than even that which the Spaniards carried off. Mansiche is said to have left a curse on any native who ever divulged the whereabouts of the treasure, and the curse was also to fall on any Spaniard who might discover it. That is all we know--yet. Gold was used lavishly in the temples. That great hoard is really the Gold of the Gods. Surely, as we have seen it so far in this case, it must be cursed."
There was a knock on the laboratory door, and I sprang to open it, expecting to find that it was something for Kennedy. Instead there stood one of the office boys of the Star.
"Why, hello, Tommy," I greeted him. "What seems to be the matter now?"
"A letter for you, Mr. Jameson," he replied, handing over a plain envelope. "It came just after you left. The Boss thought it might be important--something about that story, I guess. Anyhow, he told me to take it up to you on my way home, sir."
I looked at it again. It bore simply my name and the address of the Star, not written, but, strange to say, printed in ungainly, rough characters, as though some one were either not familiar with writing English or desired to conceal his handwriting.
"Where did it come from--and how?" I asked, as I tore the envelope open.
"I don't know where, sir," replied Tommy. "A boy brought it. Said a man uptown gave him a quarter to deliver it to you."
I looked at the contents in blank amazement. There was nothing in the letter except a quarter sheet of ordinary size note paper such as that used in typewritten correspondence.
Printed on it, in characters exactly like those on the outside of the envelope, were the startling words:
"BEWARE THE CURSE OF MANSICHE ON THE GOLD OF THE GODS."
Underneath this inscription appeared the rude drawing of a dagger in which some effort had evidently been made to make it appear three-sided.
"Well, of all things, what do you think of that?" I cried, tossing the thing over to Kennedy.
He took it and read it; his face puckered deeply. "I'm not surprised," he said, a moment later, looking up. "Do you know, I was just about to tell you what happened at the library. I had a feeling all the time I was there of being watched. I don't know why or how, but, somehow, I felt that some one was interested in the books I was reading. It made me uncomfortable. I was late, anyhow, and I decided not to give them the satisfaction of seeing me any more--at least in the library. So I have had a number of the books on Peru which I wanted reserved, and they'll be sent over later, here. No, I'm not surprised that you received this. Would you remember the boy?" he asked of Tommy.
"I think so," replied Tommy. "He didn't have on a uniform, though. It wasn't a messenger."
There was no use to question him further. He had evidently told all that he knew, and finally we had to let him go, with a parting injunction to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut.
Kennedy continued to study the note on the quarter sheet of paper long after the boy had gone.
"You know," he remarked thoughtfully, after a while, "as nearly as I can make the thing out with the slender information that we have so far, the weirdest superstitions seem to cluster about that dagger which Norton lost. I wouldn't be surprised if it took us far back into the dim past of the barbaric splendour of the lost Inca civilization of Peru."
He waved the sheet of paper for emphasis. "You see, some one has used it here as a sign of terror. Perhaps somehow it bore the secret of the big fish--who knows? None of the writers and explorers have ever found it. The most they can say is that it may be handed down from father to son through a long line. At any rate, the secret of the hiding-place seems to have been safely kept. No one has ever found the treasure. It would be strange, wouldn't it, if it remained for some twentieth-century civilized man to unearth the thing and start again the curse that historians say was uttered and seems always to have followed the thing?"
"Kennedy, this affair is getting on my nerves already."
While Craig was speaking the door of the laboratory had opened without our hearing it, and there stood Norton again. He had waited until Craig had finished before he had spoken.
We looked at him, startled, ourselves.
"I had some work to do after I left you," went on Norton, without stopping. "In my letter-box were several letters, but I forgot to look at them until just now, when I was leaving. Then I picked them up--and--look at this thing that was among them."
Norton laid down on the laboratory table a plain envelope and a quarter sheet of paper on which were printed, except for his own name instead of mine, an almost exact replica of the note which I had received.
"BEWARE THE CURSE OF MANSICHE ON THE GOLD OF THE GODS."
Kennedy and I looked at him. Already, evidently, he had seen that Kennedy held in his hand the note that had come to me.
"I can't make anything out of it," went on Norton, evidently much worried. "First I lose the dagger. Next you say it was used to murder Mendoza. Then I get this. Now, if any one can get into the Museum to steal the dagger, they could get in to carry out any threat of revenge, real or fancied."
Looked at in that respect, I felt that it was indeed a real cause of worry for Norton. But, then, it flashed over me, was not my own case worse? I was to be responsible for telling the story. Might not some unseen hand strike at me, perhaps sooner than at him?
Kennedy had taken the two notes and was scanning them eagerly.
Just then an automobile drew up outside, and a moment later we heard a tap at the door which Kennedy had closed after the entrance of Norton. I opened it.
"Is Professor Kennedy here?" I heard a voice inquire. "I'm one of the orderlies at the City Hospital, next to the Morgue, where Dr. Leslie has his laboratory. I've a message for Profesor Kennedy, if he's in."
Kennedy took the envelope, which bore the stamp of Dr. Leslie's department, and tore it open.
"My dear Kennedy," he read, in an undertone. "I've been engaged in investigating that poison which probably surrounds the wound in the Mendoza case, but as yet have nothing to report. It is certainly none of the things which we ordinarily run up against. Enclosed you will find a slip of paper and the envelope which it came in--something, I take it, that has been sent me by a crank. Would you treat it seriously or disregard it? Leslie."
As Kennedy had unfolded Leslie's own letter a piece of paper had fluttered to the floor. I picked it up mechanically, and only now looked at it, as Craig finished reading.
On it was another copy of the threat that had been sent to both Norton and myself!
The hospital orderly had scarcely gone when another tap came at the door.
"Your books from the library, Professor," announced a student who was employed in the library as part payment of his tuition. "I've signed the slip for them, sir."
He deposited the books on a desk, a huge pile of them, which reached from his outstretched arms to his chin. As he did so the pressure of his arms released the pile of books and the column collapsed.
From a book entitled "New and Old Peru," which fell with the pile, slipped a plain white envelope. Kennedy saw it before either of us, and seized it.
"Here's one for me," he said, tearing it open.
Sure enough, in the same rude printing on a quarter sheet were the words:
"BEWARE THE CURSE OF MANSICHE ON THE GOLD OF THE GODS."
We could only stare at each other and at that tell-tale sign of the Inca dagger underneath.
What did it mean? Who had sent the warnings?
Kennedy alone seemed to regard the affair as if with purely scientific interest. He took the four pieces of paper and laid them down before him on the table. Then he looked up suddenly.
"They match perfectly," he said quietly, gathering them up and placing them in a wallet which he carried. "All the indentures of the tearing correspond. Four warnings seem to have been sent to those who are likely to find out something of the secret."
Norton seemed to have gained somewhat of his composure now that he had been able to talk to some one.
"What are you going to do--give it up?" he asked tensely.
"Nothing could have insured my sticking to it harder," answered Craig grimly.
"Then we'll all have to stick together," said Norton slowly. "We all seem to be in the same boat."
As he rose to go he extended a hand to each of us.
"I'll stick," repeated Kennedy, with that peculiar bulldog look of intensity on his face which I had come to know so well.
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