The Buried Treasure by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: Literature

Senora de Moche–for I had no doubt now that this was the Peruvian Indian woman of whom Senorita Inez had spoken–seemed to lose interest in us and in the concert the moment Don Luis went out. Her son also seemed restive. He was a good-looking fellow, with high forehead, nose slightly aquiline, chin and mouth firm, in fact the whole face refined and intellectual, though tinged with melancholy.

We strolled down the wide veranda, and as we passed the woman and her son I was conscious of that strange feeling (which psychologists tell us, however, has no foundation) of being stared at from behind.

Kennedy turned suddenly and again we passed, just in time to catch in a low tone from the young man, “Yes, I have seen him at the University. Everyone knows that he–“

The rest was lost.

It was quite evident now that they thought we were interested in them. There was, then, no use in our watching them further. Indeed, when we turned again, we found that the Senora and Alfonso had risen, gone through the long, open window inside, and were making their way slowly to the elevator.

The door of the elevator had scarcely closed when Kennedy turned on his heel and quickly made his way back to the alcove where we had been sitting. Lying about on the ash tray on a little wicker table were several of Mendoza’s half-burned cigarettes. We sat down a moment and, after a hasty glance around, Craig gathered them up and folded them in a piece of paper.

Leisurely Kennedy strolled over to the desk, and, as guests in a summer hotel will do, looked over the register. The Mendozas, father and daughter, were registered in rooms 810 and 812, a suite on the eighth floor. Lockwood was across the hall in 811.

Turning the pages, Kennedy paused, then nudged me. Senora de Moche and Senor Alfonso de Moche were on the same floor in 839 and 841, just around an “L” in the hall. The two parties must meet frequently not only downstairs in the inn, but in the corridors and elevators.

Kennedy said nothing, but glanced at his watch. We had nearly three-quarters of an hour to wait yet until our pretty client returned.

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“There’s no use in wasting time or in trying to conceal our identity,” he said finally, drawing a card from his pocket and handing it to the clerk. “Senora de Moche, please.”

Much to my surprise, the Senora telephoned down that she would see us in her own sitting-room, and I followed Kennedy into the elevator.

Alfonso was out and the Senora was alone.

“I hope that you will pardon me,” began Craig with an elaborate explanation, “but I have become interested in an opportunity to invest in a Peruvian venture and they tell me at the office that you are a Peruvian. I thought that perhaps you could advise me.”

She looked at us keenly. I fancied that she detected the subterfuge, yet she did not try to avoid us. On closer view, her eyes were really remarkable–those of a woman endowed with an abundance of health and energy–eyes that were full of what the old phrenologists used to call amativeness, denoting a nature capable of intense passion, whether of love or hate. Yet I confess that I could not find anything especially abnormal about them, as I had about Mendoza’s.

“I suppose you mean that scheme of Senor Mendoza and his friend, Mr. Lockwood,” she returned, speaking rapidly. “Let me tell you about it. You may know that the Chimu tribes in the north were the wealthiest at the time of the coming of the Spaniards. Well, they had a custom of burying with their dead all their movable property. Sometimes a common grave or huaca was given to many. That would become a cache of treasure.

“Back in the seventeenth century,” she continued, leaning forward eagerly as she talked, “a Spaniard opened a Chimu huaca and found gold that is said to have been worth a million dollars. An Indian told him of it. After he had shown him the treasure, the Indian told the Spaniard that he had given him only the little fish, the peje chica, but that some day he would give him the big fish, the peje grande.

“The Indian died,” she went on solemnly, flashing at Craig a glance from her wonderful eyes. “He was poisoned by the other members of his tribe.” She paused, then flashed, “That is my tribe, my family.”

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She paused a moment. “The big fish is still a secret–or at least it was until they got it from my brother, to whom the tradition had been intrusted. They drove him crazy–until he talked. Then, after he had told the secret, and lost his mind, he threw himself one day into Lake Titicaca.”

She stopped dramatically in her passionate out-pouring of the tragedies that had followed the hidden treasure.

“I cannot tell you more than you probably already know,” she resumed, watching our faces intently. “You know, I suppose, that the treasure is believed to be in a large mound, a tumulus I think you call it, visible from our town of Truxillo. Many people have tried to open it, but the mass of sand pours down on them and they have been discouraged. But Senor Mendoza believes that he knows just where to bore and Mr. Lockwood has a plan for a well-timbered tunnel which can be driven at the right point.”

She said it with a sort of quiet assurance that conveyed the impression without her saying it that the venture was somehow doomed to failure, that these desecrators were merely toying with fate. All through her remarks one could feel that she suspected Mendoza of having been responsible for the downfall and tragedy of her brother, who had betrayed the age-old secret.

Her eyes assumed a far-away, dreamy look as she went on. “You must know that we Peruvians have been so educated that we never explore ruins for hidden treasure–not even if we have the knowledge of engineering to do so.”

Apparently she was thinking of her son and his studies at the University. One could follow her thoughts as they flitted from him to the beautiful girl with whom she had seen us.

“We are a peculiar race,” she proceeded. “We seldom intermarry with other races. We are as proud as Senor Mendoza, as proud of our unmixed lineage as your ‘belted earls.’”

She said it with a quiet dignity quite in contrast with the nervous, hasty manner of Don Luis. There was no doubt that the race feeling cut deep.

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Kennedy had been following her closely and I could see that the cross currents of superstition, avarice and race hatred in the case presented a tangle that challenged him.

“Thank you,” he murmured, rising. “You have told me quite enough to make me think seriously before I join in any such undertaking.”

She smiled enigmatically and we bowed ourselves out.

“A most baffling woman,” was Craig’s only comment as we rode down again in the elevator to wait for the return of Don Luis and the Senorita.

Scarcely had their chair set them down at the inn than Alfonso seemed to appear from nowhere. He had evidently been waiting in the shadow of the porch for them.

We stood aside and watched the little drama. For a few minutes the Senorita talked with him. One did not need to be told that she had a deep regard for the young man. She wanted to see him, yet she did not want to see him. Don Luis, on the contrary, seemed to become quite restive and impatient again and to wish to cut the conversation short.

It was self-evident that Alfonso was deeply in love with Inez. I wondered whether, after all, the trouble was that the proud old Castilian Don Luis would never consent to the marriage of his daughter to one of Indian blood? Was he afraid of a love forbidden by race prejudice?

In any event, one could easily imagine the feelings of Alphonso toward Lockwood, whom he saw carrying off the prize under his very eyes. As for his mother, we had seen that the Peruvians of her caste were a proud old race. Her son was the apple of her eye. Who were these to scorn her race, her family?

It was a little more than an hour after our first meeting when the party, including Lockwood, who had finished his letters, gathered again up in the rooms of the Mendozas.

It was a delightful evening, even in spite of the tension on which we were. We chatted about everything from archeology to Wall Street, until I could well imagine how anyone possessed of an imagination susceptible to the influence of mystery and tradition would succumb to the glittering charm of the magic words, peje chica, and feel all the gold hunter’s enthusiasm when brought into the atmosphere of the peje grande. Visions of hidden treasure seemed to throw a glamour over everything.

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Kennedy and the Senorita had moved over to a window, where they were gazing out on the fairyland of Atlantic Beach spread out before them, while Lockwood and Don Luis were eagerly quizzing me on the possibilities of newspaper publicity.

“Oh, Professor Kennedy,” I heard her say under her breath, “sometimes I fear that it is the mal de ojo –the evil eye.”

I did not catch Craig’s answer, but I did catch time and again narrowly observing Don Luis. Our host was smoking furiously now, and his eyes had even more than before that peculiar, staring look. By the way his veins stood out I could see that Mendoza’s heart action must be rapid. He was talking more and more wildly as he grew more excited. Even Lockwood noticed it and, I thought, frowned.

Slowly the conviction was forced on me. The man was mad–raving mad!

“Really, I must get back to the city tonight,” I overheard Craig say to the Senorita as finally he turned from the window toward us.

Her face clouded, but she said nothing.

“If you could arrange to have us dine with you tomorrow night up here, however,” he added quickly in a whisper, “I think I might be prepared to take some action.”

“By all means,” she replied eagerly, as though catching at anything that promised aid.

On the late train back, I half dozed, wondering what had caused Mendoza’s evident madness. Was it a sort of auto-hypnotism? There was, I knew, a form of illusion known as ophthalmophobia–fear of the eye. It ranged from mere aversion at being gazed at, all the way to the subjective development of real physical illness out of otherwise trifling ailments. If not that, what object could there be for anyone to cause such a condition? Might it be for the purpose of robbery? Or might it be for revenge?

Back in the laboratory, Kennedy pulled out from a cabinet a peculiar apparatus. It seemed to consist of a sort of triangular prism set with its edge vertically on a rigid platform attached to a massive stand.

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Next he lighted one of the cigarette stubs which he had carried away so carefully. The smoke curled up between a powerful light and the peculiar instrument, while Craig peered through a lens, manipulating the thing with exhaustless patience and skill.

Finally he beckoned me over and I looked through, too. On a sort of fine grating all I could see was a number of strange lines.

“That,” he explained in answer to my unspoken question as I continued to gaze, “is one of the latest forms of the spectroscope, known as the interferometer, with delicately ruled gratings in which power to resolve the straight close lines in the spectrum is carried to the limit of possibility. A small watch is delicate, but it bears no comparison to the delicacy of these detraction spectroscopes.

“Every substance, you know, is, when radiating light, characterized by what at first appears to be almost a haphazard set of spectral lines without relation to one another. But they are related by mathematical laws and the apparent haphazard character is only the result of our lack of knowledge of how to interpret the results.”

He resumed his place at the eye-piece to check over his results. “Walter,” he said finally with a twinkle of the eye, “I wish you’d go out and find me a cat.”

“A cat?” I repeated.

“Yes–a cat–felis domesticus, if it sounds better that way, a plain ordinary cat.”

I jammed on my hat and, late as it was, sallied forth on this apparently ridiculous mission.

Several belated passers-by and a policeman watched me as though I were a house-breaker and I felt like a fool, but at last by perseverance and tact I managed to capture a fairly good specimen of the species and transported it in my arms to the laboratory without an undue number of scratches.

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