The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
Morse and the scientist were on the canyon rim before sunup, but no mirage greeted them. Evidently the vision occurred only during certain atmospheric conditions. To both of them its timely appearance upon their arrival seemed a happy harbinger. But, as they gazed into the depths of the gorge, evidence that the real difficulty of the quest was just making itself manifest was very clear.
In the still morning air the hissing rush of the
turbulent waters far below them was plainly heard. The descent from where they stood appeared impossible, nor, as far as they could see in either direction, could they determine any natural trace of a trail. In the present high condition of the water, the torrent lapped either precipice without indication of a beach from which to launch whatever craft they might use in crossing.
Opposite the stairway, which led only to a narrow ledge, the Caxoeira surged in a great whirlpool, part of the giant eddy evidently occupying a hollow in the cliff directly below them. As they gazed, great logs came riding down the current, tossed about like matches in a mill stream, rearing half their length out of the wild race of tawny waters as they struck against submerged rocks, plunging, splintered and sullen, back into the tide to be carried on the circle of the whirlpool till they were sucked into the vortex or spurned from the outer eddies into the main current.
"We'll have to wait a day or so until the water goes down," said Morse. "We could get down the cliff with ropes, but to cross that flood is a different proposition, even if we had a raft ready built and at water level."
Laidlaw shrugged his shoulders resignedly.
"I suppose so," he answered, scanning closely the stairway with his binoculars. "There is no doubt but that has been built up with a masonry of boulders and cement," he said. "But either it led to a higher ledge which has fallen away, or Tagua's story of the opening appears to be sheer legend. I can't find a sign of any entrance, past or present. But it must have been built for some purpose and led to or from somewhere."
Tagua had returned to his village the night before, and neither Maya nor Xolo could offer any enlightenment. Maya volunteered the information that the stream was fifteen feet above its usual height and might be expected to return to normal within forty-eight hours.
"But the whirlpool," he added, "is always present."
A mile upstream, the cliff could be descended to a stony beach as soon as the water subsided.
"We should find plenty of stranded logs to make a catamaran," said Morse. "We can use lianas to bind it together. They are even better than rope. And we'll need poles and paddles." He gave the order to Maya and
[paragraph continues] Xolo to descend to timber level and secure these, with sufficient green lianas, when Laidlaw, who had continued his examination of the stairs, grasped his arm and drew him back from the brink of the cliff, motioning at the same time to the Indians to follow the movement.
"What is it?" asked Morse. Laidlaw's face was flushed, his eyes blazing with excitement.
"Crawl out to the edge, and you'll see," he answered, setting the example.
Flat on their stomachs they cautiously moved to the brink, Maya and Xolo wriggling behind them like snakes.
The face of the cliff that backed the ledge to which the stone steps led was no longer a blank wall. In it appeared two openings, symmetrical, equal, evidently the work of man, separated by a narrow strip of rock that protruded like a tongue across the ledge.
"A slab that swings on a pivot," muttered Laidlaw in Morse's ear. "Worked from within only, in all probability. But an entrance nevertheless. Look!"
The word was superfluous. The attention of the four pair of eyes was glued to the openings not far below their own level. Through the righthand portal came a figure, clad in a loin cloth of red and yellow stripes, fringed to the knees. A short cape of jaguar skin hung over one shoulder. In one hand he bore a long wand tipped with metal. His skin was copper-colored, but worn and weathered like some piece of driftwood from the sea. Through their glasses, Morse and Laidlaw saw, with growing eagerness, that the man was an Indian, but unlike any they had ever seen.
Laidlaw's hand rested on Morse's shoulder, and his powerful fingers sank deep into the latter's muscles. Four more Indians issued from the heart of the cliff. These wore only short clouts of yellow. Between them they bore the naked figure of a man, bound with arms tight lashed to his sides, the ropes encircling him to his ankles so that the body was stiffened with the wrappings. His skin was in marked contrast to the others. Where the sun had not tanned it, it was white.
Through their glasses they could see the man's lips move, though the noise of the river drowned his words. His face was calmly contemptuous, the features regular, the hair smooth and dark. His captors made no
attempt at answer, but laid him down on the ledge, helpless. The man with the staff bent over him and ordered some loose boulders to be set between him and the rim of the ledge. Then he motioned to the others, who preceded him into the dark mouth of the tunnel. Ten seconds after their disappearance the slab turned on its pivot and fitted into the cliff so completely that the powerful glasses failed to reveal a trace of its existence.
Morse sprang to his feet, followed by Laidlaw.
"He's not an Indian," he cried.
"He is a Greek, distinctly a Greek," said Laidlaw.
"Whatever he is, we've got to get him off of that," said Morse, and suddenly cupped his hands and shouted. The man, by frightful effort, had succeeded in slightly arching himself upon the soles of his feet and the top of his head and was trying to edge himself to the verge of the narrow platform.
"He can't get by those boulders," said Laidlaw. "That's what they put them there for."
"I'm not so sure of that," replied Morse. He's making a desperate attempt. He didn't hear me. I wish we had a megaphone. You try it, Laidlaw. Tackle him in Greek."
The next instant the scientist's stentorian voice bellowed its message. It bridged the noise of the stream and the bound man turned his face toward them as Laidlaw repeated his brief sentence of friendship and promised help. A slight smile passed over the man's face, but he renewed his efforts, only to abandon them temporarily from exhaustion.
"He understands me, I am sure of that," said Laidlaw. "But he seems bent on killing himself. I wonder what he's afraid of?"
The question was answered by a shadow that slid over the ground among their own. Looking up, they saw a great bird soaring in the blue. Higher up was another speck, and beyond that yet another.
"Urubu," said Maya briefly, as the vulture planed downward in a great spiral.
"That's what he's afraid of," said Morse. "Before we could reach him those brutes will strip his bones. I imagine he's afraid of losing consciousness; and they may not wait until he's dead, seeing him helpless. He
prefers a quick death to a slow one. Well, we can discourage their little game."
The scavenger of the sky wheeled so close above their heads that they could feel the draft from its outspread pinions, the naked, repulsive neck craning from a ruff of dirty white feathers, its eyes regarding them curiously but unafraid. Laidlaw raised his rifle.
"Better wait till he lights and make sure of him," said Morse. "And look out for aricochets."
"I'll leave it to you," said Laidlaw. "You're the better shot. But don't leave that poor devil down there in suspense, tortured like a modern Prometheus."
The vulture suddenly lifted his wings tip to tip and dropped plummetwise to the ledge, where he spread his pinions for balance, losing all the grace of his early motion as he shuffled along the ledge toward the helpless man.
Morse's rifle cracked. The bullet thudded softly into the broad back of the bird between its shoulders, and with a harsh croak it toppled from the ledge and fell into the whirlpool, a lifeless bundle of feathers.
"Next!" said Morse grimly, levering a cartridge into position. Another vulture hovered uncertainly above the canyon, and, gaining courage, made the ledge, only to meet the fate of the first bird. A third, realizing that unusual conditions prevailed, halted on the topmost rim of the cliff, peering over until a bullet settled him.
"You'll kill the bound man from fright yet," said Laidlaw, "to judge from his face. He must take us for gods."
"That's a dangerous role to adopt, from all I've seen," said Morse. "I don't see any more of the brutes about. I fancy we've accounted for the local air patrol. Now we've got to get across to him somehow. He must be in torture from those ropes. Tell him we're coming, Laidlaw."
The scientist roared his message across the gulf, and the man nodded. Apparently the summary slaughter of the birds inspired him with confidence in the men who spoke to him in his own tongue, for he ceased struggling.
"Now then," said Morse, "we've got a man-size job ahead. Let's get at it, Maya!"
The Indians disappeared on the run, and Morse and
[paragraph continues] Laidlaw overhauled their store of strong hempen line, set aside some provisions, and cached their rifles and the remainder of their goods in the thick brush, retaining only their automatics. Maya and Xolo returned with a supply of lianas and half a dozen stout poles which they had trimmed with hand axes. There was no time for shaping paddles, and Xolo explained that they would not be necessary. He studied the whirlpool intently, and Morse passed his field glasses for better observation. With a brief grunt at the power of the lenses, Xolo continued his survey of the eddies for several minutes.
"I think," he said, "there is a big cave below—so." He scooped out an imaginary hollow with his arms and squatted on his haunches. "We will make a raft and find the current." He traced the proposed course with his finger in the soil. "If we keep close into this side, we will follow the water to the other. Then Maya and I will jump ashore on the steps. There is a big rock there for anchor."
Even from the height it seemed a desperate venture, but Morse knew the skill and knowledge of the Indian raftsmen, and their two companions were superb examples of courage and strength. Gathering up the equipment, they followed Maya to the point where he declared descent was practicable. It was a hard climb, encumbered as they were, with sheer descents from ledge to ledge, but they accomplished it at last and stood on a great, level-surfaced boulder a foot above the rapids.
Xolo took the hempen lines they had brought and busied himself in the manufacture of a lariat, while Maya carefully surveyed the preliminary eddies. Speech was only possible by shouting above the thunder of the raging water, racing by with tawny manes, fretting at the rocks that curbed its mad career to the Amazon, a thousand miles away.
The Indian poised himself, his fellow standing clear of the whirling loop, holding with Morse and Laidlaw the slack of his line in readiness to take up the sudden tug. A log came riding down the cataract, its heavier butt lifting the lighter upper half. Xolo tossed the lariat, and the noose settled fairly behind the projection of a broken branch. The swift pull almost dragged the four men from the boulder before Morse could snub the line about
a smaller rock and bring the log to rest alongside their impromptu wharf.
In half an hour they had secured six fairly matched logs and dragged them on the boulder. Then they set to work to make four of them into a rude platform, binding them together with the lianas. Laidlaw's strength was a notable aid in hauling tight the lashings. The two remaining logs they arranged as outriders, rigging them with some branches that the current had already washed among the rocks. When it was completed they were smoking with perspiration and ready for rest and food.
"We'd better strip, Laidlaw," said Morse, as they finished the meal. "We may stand a better chance if we have an upset."
"Small chance of getting free of that maelstrom," said Laidlaw, as he began to peel his sweat-glued shirt from his massive chest. "What do we do?"
"We'll fend off when we're told," said Morse. "Otherwise we'll leave it to Maya and Xolo."
It was hard work to launch the catamaran, which, the moment it was freed, was swept away in the clutch of the current, bucking like the craziest of wild horses. The Americans knelt for steadiness; but Maya and Xolo, balancing themselves, rode the writhing logs upright, one at either end of the raft. Their judgment of the swift surges was marvelous, seeming to see the hidden rocks as plainly as if the torrent bed was dry, while thrusting with their poles and avoiding a dozen disasters in a minute, and keeping the catamaran close to the nearer shore. In five minutes they had entered the whirlpool, and the hollow predicted by Xolo showed in a deep cavern swept by the tawny, foam-streaked waters. The rocking logs, threatening every instant to tear away from the tough web of the lianas, were sucked under the cliff by a force that seemed bent on smashing them against the inner wall.
"Yai!" shouted Xolo, and Morse and Laidlaw thrust with all their might. The stout poles bent like bows, and Morse felt his muscles cracking with the strain, while Laidlaw's stood out from the mighty shoulders like clustering snakes. A second more and they were free of the hollow and riding the circumference of the whirlpool in a great arc toward the opposite shore and the stone
staircase. Xolo crouched for his leap and sprang, his bronze body lithe as that of a jaguar, carrying a line with him which he quickly cast about the boulder he had noted from the clifftop. Maya followed with another line, and slipped on the wet surface of the rock, falling waist-deep into the torrent.
For an instant the raft swung to the single line, taut as a harp string, opposing the full force of the current. Maya, clinging with one hand to his rock, pitched the line he still held to Xolo, who took two swift turns about the boulder. The double cable held. Maya scrambled ashore, and Morse and Laidlaw followed in safety just as the first line parted with a twang. The raft swung broadside and the second line, chafing against a sharp surface, gave way. The logs, suddenly released, entered the whirlpool at a tangent and were rapidly drawn into the vortex, disappearing in a broken jumble.
"Touch and go, Laidlaw. There goes the grub!"
"How do we get back?" replied his companion with a grin. "If I wait till that stream goes down I'll be too weak to wade, much less swim."
"We won't go thirsty, anyway," answered Morse. "Where's that bundle?" He looked for a special parcel of restoratives bound tightly with the lesser lianas that he had tossed ahead of him. It had dropped safely on the surface of the steps, and he picked it up.
The lower treads of the stone stairway—and they were obviously cut by human hands—were submerged. The remainder led steeply up the side of the cliff, broken away here and there, but easily surmountable.
The party hurried up them to the ledge where the prisoner lay. As the four came into sight of the bound man, they stopped dead in their tracks. Close by the prostrate form poised a great vulture, beak ready to plunge into the unprotected man's face.
Morse's pistol flashed from its belt holster, and the foul creature fell, flapping feebly, across the form of its intended victim. Laidlaw, as swiftly as his short legs would allow, reached it and flung it by one wing far out into the canyon.
The man had fainted. Maya and Xolo slashed at the leather strips that had sunk cruelly and deeply into his flesh, while Laidlaw chafed the released limbs with
gentle strength and Morse forced a few drops of aguardiente between the clenched teeth. The man swallowed, coughed on a second mouthful, and opened his eyes upon the solicitous face of Morse upon whose knee his own head rested.
"We are friends," said Morse in Greek. For a second the man's eyes looked puzzled, then he smiled and answered in a swift gush of words of which Morse only vaguely caught the drift. Laidlaw answered promptly, and the two began an animated conversation which Morse interrupted by an offer of iguana flesh and bananas which the man gratefully accepted.
"You'll soon get the swing of what he says," Laidlaw told Morse in English. "The language was certain to. have some variants, but essentially it is the Greek of Homer. I will ask him to talk more slowly. He has said that we are not friends, but his preservers—gods, in fact. I am trying to disabuse him of that idea."
When their patient had completed his meal, Laidlaw looked whimsically across the scraps at Morse. "I wish I were a god," he said. "I wouldn't be so dependent on food. You haven't got a banana or two hidden away for supper have you?"
The two Indians had taken over the rubbing of the Atlantean's limbs, massaging them methodically, apparently a little in awe of him. He accepted their ministrations as one born for such attention.
Presently he stood up and stretched himself, going through a series of calisthenics that he persisted in despite his evident stiffness. His body was as finely modeled as a Greek statue, muscles showing evidence of athletic training, ivory skin speaking eloquently of special care. Beside Laidlaw he appeared almost a stripling. The Atlantean was more a reduced replica of Morse's almost perfect physique.
As the twilight gathered in the depths of the canyon L and the setting sun painted its daily band of rose on the cliff above their heads, he told his story.
"I am Kiron," he began, with a proud consciousness of all the name imported among his own people. "Male regent of the New Atlantis. In the one hundred and twenty-third generation after the great flood"—Laidlaw looked meaningly at Morse—"the last Pta died
without issue, and the people were divided concerning a successor. So the kingdom was made a double kingdom, and a son and a daughter of the two brothers of Pta were made joint rulers. Ever since then a king and queen have reigned over the land together. Now, Rana, daughter of my uncle, is queen. She is ambitious to establish an individual monarchy, both from her own desires and those of the priests under Ru, who is their chief.
"Rana is not my consort, for it is against our law for the children of brothers or sisters to mate with each other. Neither is there love between us; nor has there ever been. Moreover, my heart is long given elsewhere.
"Therefore, she and Ru plotted against me that Rana might rule, for there is no one of the rank to take my place. Open warfare they feared lest the best of the land be killed. For you must know that we people of Atlantis mingle not with other nations, and much care has been given to our breeding that the race might sustain its strength and beauty. It is the law of Atlantis that none may lead who are not perfect in body. Indeed, despite all care in mating and the development of the young men and maidens, we have lost much in stature."
He paused and gazed admiringly at Morse.
"There goes any lingering idea of my godhood," said Laidlaw. "I don't qualify."
Kiron resumed his tale. "Rana and Ru sent me a message to come to her in secret on a question of grave import. When I did so, they commanded me to be seized and borne to this place by the secret way that has been closed for many generations, leaving me here for the vultures to devour.
"It was a shrewd stroke. I was at my private palace of Zut, and crossed the lake by night—last night—and none saw my entrance to the palace by the royal water gate save my slaves. I found Rana and Ru, and their henchmen made me captive without preamble. No others know what has befallen me, and Rana and Ru would not dare announce it. For I am beloved of my people.
"They brought me here at daybreak, and as the bird-settled for its meal—you came! Henceforth you are as my brothers." He extended his hands to them with a gesture of equality.
"Will not your slaves tell of your visit?"
"All Atlantean slaves are bred dumb," Kiron answered. "Neither can they read nor write. We find that it makes them far less prone to revolt… It is a good custom." He looked casually at the two Indians, squatting apart, and they seemed to catch the import of his words.
"Now, my brothers," said Kiron, "tell me of your purpose and of your own land, in which doubtless you are princes."
Laidlaw complied, Morse listening with increasing ease as the familiar accents of the scientist's voice aided him to catch the change of phrasing and of word endings. The scientist dealt lightly with American customs and democracy, and soon included Morse in his story with the discovery of the vase. Kiron's interest evinced itself by his rapt silence. Night fell as Laidlaw told of his own researches in Europe and northern Africa, of his theory and its apparent proving.
The stars came out and the shining constellations changed as they swung above the canyon gap, but Laidlaw still boomed his tale in sonorous Greek.
They were three thousand feet above sea level. The night was warm and two men, one naked and the other practically so, listened to a third, whose mighty upper body showed gray in the dusk, tell his strange story. The two Indians, smudges of silent statuary, hunkered with heads on their knees, appeared to sleep as Laidlaw knitted together the raveled web of bygone ages and annihilated the years, while below them the torrent labored at the never-ending task of world-shaping.
"By all the gods, that is a mighty tale!" said Kiron. "And you may hold me witness that it is the truth. As prince regent, I was taught much of our lore that is hidden from all save the priests and monarchs, and your story bridges the chasms and throws light upon the dark places. Ru shall hear you and be abashed before your knowledge, and all Atlantis shall proclaim your wisdom."
He turned to set a friendly hand upon Morse's arm.
"And you, brother, who are formed even as Minos himself, son of Zeus and god of the sun, greatly will we reward you. And, because of your manhood, Atlantis shall make you a first noble and you shall enter the
[paragraph continues] Brotherhood of Kal."
"You do us honor," said Morse. "But how may such things be accomplished? It seems to me we sit outside a barrier beyond which lies your kingdom and the fulfillment of your wishes toward us."
Kiron laughed. "Truthfully," he said, "I had forgotten. On the third morning slaves will come to find what the vultures have left and cast the remains into the river, and then report that Kiron has been disposed of. We will stand aside until the way is open, and it shall be the slaves who are fed to the water. If you care not to soil your own hands, I will slay them with mine."
He spoke with an arrogant confidence in his powers. "So we shall descend the pathway of the burned out fires and come to Dor," he continued. "It will be a rare sight, the faces of my Cousin Rana and of the high priest, Ru! They will say nothing, for even Rana's people would not,. dare to seize me and would rise against her. A king of Atlantis may not be judged save by universal consent. You will do well to watch Rana's face, my brothers. It is as beautiful and yet as cruel as the Flower of the Long Sleep that slays you as you bend to inhale its fragrant, deadly breath.
"But where is this vase you speak of?"
"It is across the canyon with the rest of our weapons and some of our supplies," said Laidlaw, sighing half out of weariness and half out of hunger.
"We may cross the river by nightfall tomorrow," said Kiron. "I fear I have left you hungry, yet what is hunger compared with the gain of knowledge and of friendship? Let us sleep here on the ledge. Tomorrow we shall pass to your encampment and return to punish the dogs that Rana intrusted with her treachery."
Morse spoke to Maya and Xolo and, without a word, they found a sleeping place and settled themselves for the night. The Americans and the Atlantean were soon to duplicate their example.
They cat-napped away a good part of the following day, with some time devoted to fruitless exploration. In the late afternoon the torrent had subsided sufficiently for them to cross the stream, wading and leaping from boulder to boulder, and to climb to the summit of the cliff.
While Maya and Xolo prepared the meal that was so badly needed, Kiron examined the vase.
"It is from the royal treasury," he said, "though the cover is of strange craftsmanship. See here the double axes of Minos and Pasiphae. I would like to meet the dog who stole it!"
"He is long since dust," said Morse, and he explained to Kiron the presence of the funereal ashes of Murdock within the vase and his intentions concerning their disposition.
The idea caught the young king's imagination. "It is a worthy deed," he proclaimed. "It shall be carried out, and the name of your friend carven upon the walls of the temple along with your own. Have you not brought great news to Atlantis?"
After the meal he examined with unconcealed wonder the rifles, the field glasses, compass, and chronometer, following intelligently the explanations of Laidlaw of their use and mechanism. The compass was new to him only in form. The flashlights excited his particular delight. "They are little suns," he exclaimed, "little suns that shall light us through the fire path."
They recrossed the stream with little difficulty in the gray of early morning, relying on Kiron's assurance that the slaves could not reach the ledge before dawn. Carefully and quickly they disposed themselves close to the gate that led to a lost race.
The sun rose behind the cliff, touching the plateau with a glorious golden color. The Indians were motionless statues on the stairway. Morse, Laidlaw, and Kiron stood quietly against the cliff on either side of the opening. Time passed slowly.
Suddenly, without a sound, the great slab of basalt swung upon its pivot and ears strained for the footfalls that must follow. Out from the dark hole came the leader, advancing onto the ledge with the staff that proclaimed his authority held firmly in one hand. The silent watchers did not move. Now, four men appeared in the opening and their emergence became a signal for action.
Silently, on the balls of their feet, the three attacked from behind. Morse felled the nearest with a single blow and Laidlaw's fist crashed down upon the back of another's skull. Both fell, blood gushing from
the mouth of the one the scientist had hammered with his great fist.
The headman sprang backward, whirling his staff in both hands as Kiron ran in upon him. The Atlantean ducked under the weapon and seized his opponent around the hips. Without apparent effort he raised him and heaved him over the cliff as if the powerful slave leader had been an inanimate bundle of little weight.
One of the slaves fled down the staircase, only to meet the charging Indians. In an attempt to stop, he lost his footing and plunged into the gulf below. The last man fought furiously, but Laidlaw gained a gorilla-like embrace and quickly pushed his crumpled opponent away.
Before they could interfere, Kiron had spurned one of the fallen slaves over the precipice. His fellows lay insensible. "We shall leave these carrion to the birds."
"Let your little suns shine," he said, "and I will lead you to Dor."