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   Chapter 3 OF THE NEW MOON, A TALE OF AZTEC TREASURE AND A MYSTERY

Daughter of the Sun By Jackson Gregory Characters: 21338

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


On board the schooner New Moon standing crazily out to sea, with first port of call a nameless, cliff-sheltered sand beach which in his heart he christened from afar Port Adventure, Jim Kendric was richly content. With huge satisfaction he looked upon the sparkling sea, the little vessel which scooned across it, his traveling mate, the big negro and the half-wit Philippine cabin boy. If anything desirable lacked Kendric could not put the name to it.

Few days had been lost getting under way. He had gone straight up to Los Angeles where he had sold his oil shares. They brought him twenty-three hundred dollars and he knocked them down merrily. Now with every step forward his lively interest increased. He bought the rifles and ammunition, shipping them down to Barlow in San Diego. And upon him fell the duty and delight of provisioning for the cruise. As Barlow had put it, the Lord alone knew how long they would be gone, and Jim Kendric meant to take no unnecessary chances. No doubt they could get fish and some game in that land toward which their imaginings already had set full sail, but ham by the stack and bacon by the yard and countless tins of fruit and vegetables made a fair ballast. Kendric spent lavishly and at the end was highly satisfied with the result.

As the New Moon staggered out to sea under an offshore blow, he and Twisty Barlow foregathered in the cabin over the solitary luckily smuggled bottle of champagne.

"The day is auspicious," said Kendric, his rumpled hair on end, his eyes as bright as the dancing water slapping against their hull. "With a hold full of the best in the land, treasure ahead of our bow, humdrum lost in our wake and a seven-foot nigger hanging on to the wheel, what more could a man ask?"

"It's a cinch," agreed Barlow. But, drinking more slowly, he was altogether more thoughtful. "If we get there on time," was his one worry. "If we'd had that ten thousand of yours we'd never have sailed in this antedeluvian raft with a list to starboard like the tower of Pisa."

"Don't growl at the hand that feeds you or the bottom that floats you," grinned Kendric. "It's bad luck."

Nor was Barlow the man to find fault, regret fleetingly though he did. He was in luck to get his hands on any craft and he knew it. The New Moon was an unlovely affair with a bad name among seamen who knew her and no speed or up-to-date engines to brag about; but Barlow himself had leased her and had no doubts of her seaworthiness. She was one of those floating relics of another epoch in shipbuilding which had lingered on until today, undergoing infrequent alterations under many hands. While once she had depended entirely for her headway on her two poles, fore sail set flying, now she lurched ahead answering to the drive of her antiquated internal combustion motor. An essential part of her were Nigger Ben and Philippine Charlie; they knew her and her freakish ways; they were as much a portion of her lop-sided anatomy as were propeller and wheel.

Barlow chuckled as he explained the unwritten terms of his lease.

"Hank Sparley owns her," he said, "and the day Hank paid real money for her is the first day the other man ever got up earlier than Hank, you can gamble on it. Now Hank gets busy gettin' square and he's somehow got her insured for more'n she'll bring in the open market in many a day. Hank figures this deal either of two ways; either I run her nose into the San Diego slip again with a fat fee for him; or else it's Davy Jones for the New Moon and Hank quits with the insurance money."

"Know what barratry is, don't you?" demanded Kendric.

"Sure I know; if I didn't Hank would have told me." Barlow sipped his champagne pleasantly. "But we'll bring her home, never you fret, Headlong. And we'll pay the fee and live like lords on top of it. Hank ain't frettin'. I spun him the yarn, seein' I had to, and he'd of come along himself if he hadn't been sick. Which would have meant a three way split and I'm just as glad he didn't."

Kendric went out on deck and leaned against the wind and watched the water slip away as the schooner rose and settled and fought ahead. Then he strolled to the stern and took a turn at the wheel, joying in the grip of it after a long separation from the old life which it brought surging back into his memory. And while he reaccustomed himself to the work Nigger Ben stood by, watching him jealously and at first with obvious suspicion.

Nigger Ben, as Kendric had intimated, was a man to be proud of on a cruise like this one. If not seven feet tall, at least he had passed the half-way mark between that and six, a hulking, full-blooded African with monster shoulders and half-naked chest and a skull showing under his close-cropped kinks like a gorilla's. He was an anomaly, all taken: he had a voice as high and sweet-toned as a woman singer's; he had an air of extreme brutality and with the animals on board, a ship cat and a canary belonging to Philippine Charlie he was all gentleness; he had by all odds the largest, flattest feet that Kendric had ever seen attached to a man and yet on them he moved quickly and lightly and not without grace; he held the New Moon in a sort of ghostly fear, his eyes all whites when he vowed she was "ha'nted," and yet he loved her with all of the heart in his big black body.

"Sho', she's ha'nted!" he proclaimed vigorously after a while during which he had come to have confidence in the new steersman's knowledge and had been intrigued into conversation. "Don't I know? Black folks knows sooner'n white folks about ha'nts, Cap'n. Ain't I heered all the happenin's dat's done been an' gone an' transcribed on dis here deck? Ain't I seen nothin'? Ain't I felt nothin'? Ain't I spectated when the ha'r on Jezebel's back haz riz straight up an' when she's hunched her back up an' spit when mos' folks wouldn't of saw nothin' a-tall? Sho', she's ha'nted; mos' ships is. But dem ha'nts ain' goin' bodder me so long's I don't bodder dem. Dat's gospel, Cap'n Jim; sho' gospel."

"It's a hand-picked crew, Twisty," conceded Kendric mirthfully when Nigger Ben was again at the wheel and the two adventurers paced forward. "The kind to have at hand on a pirate cruise!"

For Nigger Ben offered both amusement during long hours and skilful service and no end of muscular strength, while, in his own way, Charlie was a jewel. A king of cooks and a man to keep his mouth shut. When left to himself Charlie muttered incessantly under his breath, his mutterings senseless jargon. When addressed his invariable reply was, "Aw," properly inflected to suit the occasion. Thus, with a shake of the head, it meant no; with a nod, yes; with his beaming smile, anything duly enthusiastic. He was not the one to be looked to for treasons, stratagems and spoils. His favorite diversion was whistling sacred tunes to his canary in the galley.

As the New Moon made her brief arc to clear the coast and sagged south through tranquil southern days and starry nights, Kendric and Barlow did much planning and voiced countless surmises, all having to do with what they might or might not find. Barlow got out his maps and indicated as closely as he could the point where they would land, the other point some miles inland where the treasure was.

"Wild land," he said. "Wild, Jim, every foot of it. I've seen what lies north of it and I've seen what lies south of it, and it's the devil's own. And ours, if Escobar's fingers haven't crooked to the feel of it. And if they have, why, then," and he looked fleetingly to the rifles on the cabin wall, "it belongs to the man who is man enough to walk away with it!"

More in detail than at any time before Twisty Barlow told all that he knew of the rumor which they were running down. Escobar was one of the lawless captains of a revolutionary faction who, like his general, had been keeping to the mountainous out-of-the-way places of Mexico for two years. In Lower California, together with half a dozen of his bandit following, he had been taking care of his own skin and at the same time lining his own pockets. It was a time of outlawry and Fernando Escobar was a product of his time. He was never above cutting throats for small recompense, if he glimpsed safety to follow the deed, and knew all of the tricks of holding wealthy citizens of his own or another country for ransoms. Upon one of his recent excursions the bandit captain had raided an old mission church for its candlesticks. With one companion, a lieutenant named Juarez, he had made so thorough a job of tearing things to pieces that the two had discovered a secret which had lain hidden from the passing eyes of worshipful padres for a matter of centuries. It was a secret vault in the adobe wall, masked by a canvas of the Virgin. And in the small compartment were not only a few minor articles which Escobar knew how to turn into money, but some papers. And whenever a bandit, of any land under the sun, stumbles upon papers secretly immured, it is inevitable that he should hastily make himself master of the contents, stirred by a hope of treasure.

"And right enough, he'd found it," said Barlow holding a forgotten match over his pipe. "If there's any truth in it three priests, way back in the fifteen hundreds, stumbled onto enough pagan swag to make a man cry to think about it. Held it accursed, I guess. And didn't need it just then in their business, any way. Just what is it? I don't know. Juarez himself didn't know; Captain Escobar let him get just so far and decided to hog the whole thing and slipped six inches of knife into him. How the poor devil lived to morning, I don't know and I don't care to think about it. But live he did and spilled me the yarn, praying to God every other gasp that I'd beat Fernando Escobar to it. He said he had seen names there to set any man dreaming; the name of Montezuma and Guatomotzin; of Cortes and others. He figured that there was Aztec gold in it; that the three old priests had somehow tumbled on to the hiding place; that they three planned to keep the knowledge among themselves and, when they devoutly judged the time was right, to pass the news on to the Church in Spain.

"I wish Juarez had had time to read the whole works," meditated Barlow. "Anyway he read enough and guessed enough on top of it for me to guess most of the rest while I've been millin' around, getting goin'. Two of the three priests died in a hurry at about the same time, leavin' the other priest the one man in on the know. There was some sort of a plague got 'em; he was scared it was gettin' him, too. So he starts in makin' a long report to the home churc

h, which if he had finished would have been as long as your arm and would of been packed off to Spain and that would of been the last you and me ever heard of it. But it looks like, when he'd written as far as he got, he maybe felt rotten and put it away, intendin' to finish the job the next day. And the plague, smallpox or whatever it was, finished him first."

"Fishy enough, by the sound of it, isn't it?" mused Kendric.

"Fishy, your hat! There's folks would say fishy to a man that stampeded in sayin' he'd found a gold mine. Me, while they guyed him, I'd go take a look-see. And it didn't read fishy to Juarez and it didn't to Fernando Escobar, else why the six inches of knife?"

"Well," said Kendric, "we'll know soon enough. If you can find your way to the place all right?"

"Juarez had a noodle on him," grunted Barlow. "And he was as full of hate as a tick of dog's blood. From the steer he gave me I can find the place all right."

Days and nights went by monotonously, routine merely varying to give place to pipe-in-mouth idleness. But the third night out came an occurrence to break the placidity of the voyage for Kendric, and both to startle him and set him puzzling. He was out on deck in a steamer chair which he had had the lazy forethought to bring, his feet cocked up on the rail, his eyes on the vague expanse about him. There was no moon; the sky was starlit. Barlow had said "Good night" half an hour before; Philippine Charlie was muttering over the wheel; Nigger Ben's voice was crooning from the galley where he was making a friendly call on the canary. The water slipped and slapped and splashed alongside, making pleasant music in the ears of a man who gave free rein to his fancies and let them soar across a handful of centuries, back into the golden day of the last of the Aztec Emperors. The Montezumas had had vast hoards of gold in nuggets and dust and hammered ornaments and vessels; history vouched for that. And it stood to reason that the princes and nobles, fearing the ultimate result of the might of the Spaniards, would have taken steps to secrete some of their treasure before the end came. Why not somewhere in Lower California, hurried away by caravan and canoe to a stronghold far from doomed Mexico City?

He was conscious now of no step upon the deck, no sound to mar the present serene fitness of things. But out of his dreamings he was drawn back abruptly to the swaying, swinging deck of a crazy schooner by the odd, vague feeling that he was not alone.

"Barlow," he called quietly. "That you?"

There was no answer and yet, stronger than before, was the certainty that someone was near at hand, that a pair of eyes were regarding him through the obscurity of the night. So strong was the emotion, and so strongly did it recall the emotion of a few nights ago when he had felt the influence of a strange woman's eyes, that he leaped to his feet. On the instant he half expected to see Zoraida Castelmar standing at his elbow.

What he saw, or thought that he saw, was a vague figure standing against the rail across the deck from him, beyond the corner of the cabin wall. A luminous pair of eyes, glowing through the dark. Kendric was across the deck in a flash. No one was there. He raced sternward, whisked around the pile of freight cluttered about the mast, tripped over a coil of rope and ran forward again. When he still found no one, so strong was the impression made on him that someone had been standing looking at him, he made a stubborn search from prow to stern. Barlow was in bed and looked to be asleep; the Philippine was muttering over the wheel and when Kendric demanded to know if he had seen anything said, "Aw," negatively; Nigger Ben had given over singing and was feeding the canary and freshening its water supply.

Afterwards Kendric realized that all the time while he was racing madly up and down, peering into cabin and galley and nook and corner, there had been a clear image standing uppermost in his mind; the picture of Zoraida Castelmar as she had stood and looked at him when she had said, "I have put a charm and a spell over your life." Now he simply knew that he had the mad thought that she was somewhere on board and that, hide as she would, he would find her. But when he gave up and went sullenly back to his toppled chair, he knew that all he had succeeded in was in making both Nigger Ben and Philippine Charlie marvel. Nigger Ben, he thought sullenly, had come close enough to understanding something of what was in his mind. For the giant African rolled his eyes whitely and said:

"Ha'nts, Cap'n Jim? You been seein' ha'nts, too?"

"What makes you say that, Ben?" demanded Kendric. "Did you see anything?"

Nigger Ben looked fairly inflated with mysterious wisdom. But, thought Kendric, what negro who ever lived would have denied having seen something ghostly? Kendric had searched thoroughly high and low; he had turned over big crates below deck, he had peered up the masts. Now, before settling himself back in his chair, he looked in on Barlow again. Twisty was turning over; his eyes were open.

"I don't want any funny business," said Kendric sternly. "Did you smuggle Zoraida Castelmar on board?"

Barlow blinked at him.

"Who the blazes is Zoraida Castelmar?" he countered. "The cat or the canary?"

Kendric grunted and went out, plumping himself down in his chair. He supposed that he had imagined the whole thing. He had not seen anything definitely; he had merely felt that eyes were watching him; what had seemed a figure across deck might have been the oil coat hanging on a peg or a curtain blowing out of a window. The more he thought over the matter the more assured was he that he had allowed his imaginings to make a fool of him. And by the time the sun flooded the decks next morning he was ready to forget the episode.

They rounded San Lucas one morning, turned north into the gulf and steered into La Paz where Barlow said he hoped to get a line on Escobar and where they allowed custom officials an opportunity to assure themselves that no contraband in the way of much dreaded rifles and ammunition were being carried into restive Sonora. "Loco Gringoes out after burro deer," was how the officials were led to judge them. Barlow, gone several hours, reported that Escobar had not turned up at the waterfront dives to which, according to the murdered Juarez, he reported now and then to keep in touch with his outlaw commander. Steering out again through the fishing craft and harbor boats, they pounded the New Moon on toward Port Adventure.

Then came at last the night when Barlow, looking hard mouthed and eager, announced that in a few hours they would drop anchor and go ashore to see what they would see. Nigger Ben and Philippine Charlie were instructed gravely. They were to remain on board and were to maintain a suspicious reserve toward all strangers, denying them foothold on deck.

"The gents who'd be apt to make you a call," Barlow told them impressively, "would cut your throats for a side of bacon. You boys keep watches day and night. When we get back into San Diego Bay, if you do your duties, you both get fifty dollars on top of your wages."

It was shortly before they hoisted the anchor overboard to wait for dawn that for the second time Kendric felt again that oddly disturbing sense of hidden eyes spying at him. Again he was alone, standing forward, peering into the darkness, trying to make some sort of detail out of the black wall ahead which Barlow had told him was a long line of cliff. As before Charlie was at the wheel while Nigger Ben was listening to instructions from Barlow aft of the cabin. The voices came faint against the gulf wind to Kendric. The words he did not hear since all of his mental force was bent to determine what it was that gave him that uncanny feeling of eyes, the eyes of Zoraida Castelmar, in the dark.

This time he was guarded in his actions. He stood still a moment, his jaw set, only his eyes turning to right and left. As he had asked himself countless times already so now did he put the question again: "How could a man feel a thing like that?" At his age was he developing nerves and insane fancies? At any rate the sensation was strong, compelling. Making no sound, he turned and stared into the darkness on all sides. He saw no one.

Suddenly, startling him so that his taut muscles jumped involuntarily, came an excited shout from Nigger Ben.

"Ha'nts, Cap'n Barlow! Oh, my Gawd, save me now! Looky dar! Looky dar! It's a lady g-g-ghost! Oh, my Gawd, save me now!"

Kendric ran back. Nigger Ben was clutching wildly at Barlow's arm.

"You superstitious old fool," growled Barlow. "It's only that piece of torn sail flappin' that Charlie was goin' to sew. Can't you see? I thought you weren't afraid of the New Moon's ha'nts, any way."

Nigger Ben shifted his big feet uneasily and little by little crept forward to look at the flapping bit of sail cloth. Slowly his courage returned to him. He hadn't been afraid at all, he declared, but just sort of shook up, seeing the thing all of a sudden that way. Kendric passed on as though nothing had happened, as he reasoned perhaps nothing had. But just the same he made his second quiet search, in the end finding nothing. But as he went back to his place up deck he turned the matter over and over in mind stubbornly. Coincidences were all right enough, but reasonable explanations lay back of them. If a man could only see just where the explanation lay.

He sought to reason logically; if in truth someone had been standing looking at him, if Nigger Ben had seen something other than the flapping canvas, then that someone or something had gone aboard the New Moon at San Diego and had made the entire cruise with them. That could hardly have been done without Barlow's knowledge. Two points struck him then. First, Barlow had demanded who Zoraida Castelmar was; had not Barlow even learned the name of the girl of the pearls? Second, it recurred to him that Barlow had followed her to the hotel in the border town, had even had word with her, since he had brought Kendric a message. Why had Barlow gone to the hotel at all? His explanation at the time had been reasonable enough; he had said that he had gone to get a room. But now Kendric remembered how Barlow, on that same night, had expressed his determination to be riding by moonrise! What would he have done with a hotel room?

But slowly the dawn was coming, the ragged shore was revealing itself, Barlow was calling for help with the small boat. Kendric shrugged his shoulders and kept his mouth shut.

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