The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
To Stanley Morse, the dead man's letter, as he read it, seemed to bind him to a quest made sacred by the last testament of the orchid hunter. The more he pondered over the idea, the more it found favor with him. He had no ties nor business to keep him in New York, and the fever of adventure was easily stimulated in his veins. The interior of Brazil offered a trip that he had always promised himself, and the prospects of discovering a hidden city soon dominated both his waking thoughts and his dreams at night.
A week after Murdock's death, he made a visit to the Metropolitan Museum, where he was made welcome by an assistant curator of archaeology. The museum was already the richer for Morse's travels, and he was privileged to ready admission to the administrative offices and the time and knowledge of its experts.
Morse set the vase on the green blotter of the scientist's desk, and, going to the window, raised the blind so that the March sunshine lit the rich metal with a radiance that was dazzling on the high places of the embossed design.
"What do you make of that?" he asked.
The curator took the vase up reverently, examined it with close scrutiny for ten silent minutes, then set it down again.
"Where did you get it?" he parried.
"That is the pith of the story," laughed Morse. "Don't look at me as if you thought I'd been raiding some of your precious cases. I came by it honestly. As a preamble I'll tell you that I'm not going to give it to the Metropolitan or any other museum. It is dedicated to a special purpose."
The official's face fell involuntarily.
"Or sell it, I suppose?"
Morse shook his head.
"It's worth a small fortune," said the curator. "It's a perfect example, a glorious example, of a Cretan vase. The tableau is undoubtedly connected with the Minotaur legend. None of the excavations at Cnossus have unearthed anything finer. Crete, you know, was given autonomy in 1889 by the European powers, and the government exercises a jealous eye over all discoveries. Do you know anything of the ancient history of the island?"
"I've been reading it up of late. I retained enough of my school days to make out the word 'Minos.' What's the inscription?"
The curator shrugged his shoulders. "You'll have to take that to Laidlaw," he said. "I can't decipher it."
"Who is Laidlaw?"
"Gordon Laidlaw, F. R. G. S., archaeologist and anthropologist. Haven't you met him? He's a master scientist, but from my standpoint pretty much of a crank."
"He holds an unprovable theory that the lost country of Atlantis, or its remains, is to be found somewhere on the American continent, where it was left after a mighty cataclysm split the earth into the continents of Africa and America and formed the Atlantic Ocean." The curator spoke almost contemptuously.
"Atlantis? Wasn't there some theory a few years back which tied Atlantis and Crete together?"
"There was a long article in the London Times about six years ago. A man named Martin also advanced the idea. Why?"
"Because this vase was found by an orchid hunter
in the center of the Amazonian chapadao, or plateau." "Impossible! I beg your pardon, Mr. Morse, but are you sure of that?"
The curator sprang from his chair and paced his office in his excitement, talking staccato sentences.
"It's insane—insane! Can there be something in Laidlaw's theory after all? No, it's preposterous! Atlantis is a myth. A theoretic foundling! And you've never met Laidlaw? It's insane—insane!"
He picked up the vase and fondled it between his palms.
"May I keep this overnight—in the museum?" he asked. "I want to show it to my colleagues and tell them the story."
"You haven't heard it yet," said Morse dryly, "but I'll tell it to you if you introduce me to Laidlaw."
"Surely. He lives up in the Berkshires. I'll wire him. He'll be down in the morning—tonight, if he could get here."
"Will you let me know when he arrives? You have my telephone?"
"Of course. Now tell me about the orchid hunter."
Morse's decorous valet awakened him the next' morning before daylight.
"There's a—a person who demands to see you, sir," he said. "Quite an extraordinary party, with a face—you'll pardon me—like a wild lion. Name of Laidlaw."
"Laidlaw!" Morse shook off the filmy net of sleep and set up in bed. "Show him up!" he ordered.,
A minute later he heard a bass voice bellowing in the hall:
"Which room? That one? All right."
His door opened as if a gale had forced the lock, and a man, half giant, half dwarf, waddled into the room. Large amber eyes were set in a weather-burned face, as much of it as was discernible in the frame of tawny, shaggy hair and beard that seemed to make up a continuous mane. His nose was beaked like an eagle's, his eyes aflame with a light that might have been equally that of fierceness or a proud invincibility of purpose.
Below the broad shoulders, the massive torso was that f a giant; by all fairness the man should have been even feet in height, but ludicrous legs, short, curved like those of a Pekingese spaniel, supported the upper frame.
He advanced to the bed, his glance compelling that of the half-awake Morse.
"Where?" demanded Laidlaw, and his great voice boomed like the roar of a bull. "Where is the vase?"
Morse shook off his sleep and slipped on a dressing robe as he rose to greet his visitor.
"The vase is not here, Mr. Laidlaw," he said.
"Not here? You've not lost sight of it? Man, how could you?" The visitor groaned and sat down on a chair where the effect of his dwarfed legs was immediately discounted and he appeared a giant, a troubled giant, mopping his brow and gazing anxiously at Morse.
"It means comparatively little to you, compared to what it does to me," he went on. "I have been scoffed at by my fellows for years on account of a theory that is absolutely sound, but which they smile at to my face and laugh at behind my back, or else say: 'Poor Laidlaw, he's been overdoing things, and he's a bit cracked.' I know them. And now comes the chance to choke them with their own laughter, to make them take back the sneers, to make the most important archaeological discovery of all time—and you've let some one get the vase away from you—the vase that would tell me in a moment whether I was a genius or a crackbrain!"
The man's gestures, the tones of his bass voice, ranging from enthusiasm to deep despair, were almost enough to make Morse laugh. But he hastened to reassure him:
"It's at the museum. I left it there overnight with our mutual friend. I'm sure it will be perfectly safe with him."
The archaeologist groaned.
"We can't get at it until ten o'clock, and it's not yet five! Man! And I've come ramping down from the Berkshires in a rattletrap that stuck in the mud and balked at the hills. Mud up to my waist. I'd have walked to make better time if it hadn't been so deep."
"I had no idea you'd arrive so soon, Laidlaw."
"If you had been waiting for the biggest thing in your life for twenty-odd years, would you hesitate? Though I beg your pardon for letting my impatience upset your household, to say nothing of your sleep."
"That's nothing. You've had no breakfast? I'll order some. In the meantime, here is Murdock's dairy and his map. I'll be dressed before you've read them."
Laidlaw was immediately immersed in the diary. The unconventionality of using his host's bedroom as a reading room did not even occur to him, and Morse smiled to himself at his guest's enthusiasm. He gave instructions for a meal and entered his bathroom. Midway through his shower, the bathroom door opened and Laidlaw's leonine face and massive shoulders protruded through the opening.
"If you've ordered eggs," he said, "I forgot to tell you that I cannot eat them if they're more than just thoroughly warmed through. You'll pardon me for mentioning it."
Morse smiled again before he turned off the shower. The idea of a man who had devoted a third of his lifetime to one theory with an almost fanatic devotion bothering about the time of his eggs was amusing.
"I'm fussy about that myself," he answered. "Always boil them and time them at the table."
"Good!" Laidlaw's eyes roved over Morse's muscular and athletic figure. "Man, but you're powerfully built!" he said. "I wish—but that's one of my faults; I cannot help but envy a well-made man. I've got the torso of Hercules and the legs of a bullfrog!"
He closed the door abruptly and disappeared. Morse began to entertain a singular liking for his visitor with his almost childlike enthusiasm and frankness. Breakfast was over before seven o'clock, and after the meal Laidlaw dilated at length upon his theory of the lost city of Atlantis. The main thread of his belief centered in the migration of the Cretans after the Dorian invasion in the sixteenth century B.C. to a place on the then western coast of Africa.
"All probabilities point to this," he said. "The Cretan, or Minoans, were on most friendly terms with the Egyptians. They were primarily responsible for much of the civilization of ancient Egypt. Their hieroglyphics
antedate all others. In Babylonian scripts and many records of Egypt I have found constant reference to Atlantis as a country somewhere toward the west, the setting sun. The Luxor Museum contains a vase and certain inscribed tablets telling of gifts made to Egyptian royalty by the people of Atlantis, and the script and workmanship of the vase are undoubtedly Minoan. Have you a world projection?"
They were in the library, and Morse produced a large atlas, which he laid upon the center table and opened at an equivalent projection in which the world was cartographed in an ellipse. Both bent above it.
"I am only going to take up the question in hand," said Laidlaw, his face lit up with the belief in his theory. "You are, of course, acquainted with the general idea of world subsidence. The Pacific is studded with the mountaintops of a submerged continent, though its depths are far greater than those of the Atlantic. Not a nation or tribe of either inland or coast possessions, civilized or barbaric, but unites in the story of a great flood. This, I maintain, was caused by—avoiding technical terms—a shrinkage of the earth's surface due to the settling of substrata even today manifested in lesser degree by earthquakes more or less persistent along recognized zones.
"Now, look at the contours of North and South America, as opposed to South Africa and Europe. Allowing for lowlands that are now permanently submerged shoals, does not the map resemble a puzzle picture with the assembled portions shaken apart? See how the eastern angle of Brazil, at Cape St. Roque, would fit snugly into the Gulf of Guinea, the bulk of the Sahara Desert lie along the retreating northeastern coast of South America, the lower half of the same continental coast line correspond with that of southwestern Africa."
Morse followed the argument with an interest that began to be leavened by the other. man's conviction. The theory was at least plausible.
"So! Then presume that this cataclysm found the Minoan, then settled in their new country of Atlantis, established somewhere westward of what is now Cape Verde, in the Franco-African possessions. After the movement had subsided, the survivors found themselves
on the Brazilian coast, in the neighborhood of Para, south of the Amazon, itself a subsidiary crack of the catastrophe reaching more than two thirds of the way across South America. The sands of Sahara—the sandstone plateaus of Brazil are coeval!"
The idea was startling, revolutionary; yet to Morse, listening to the inspired voice of Laidlaw, it gained possibility.
"But would the Minoans or Atlanteans survive such a catastrophe?"
"Why not? Other tribes did, and handed down the story of the Deluge. There is no reason why their descendants should not be living today. Remember, their have been persistent rumors since the earliest explorations of white-skinned peoples living in the remote interior of South America. If we find a people in Dor who show the characteristics of Atlantis—or Crete—why then my critics are confounded, and you and I will have achieved no small measure of fame.
"What time is it?" he broke off.
"I can't wait two hours, Morse. It's an impossibility. Where is your telephone?"
He called the assistant curator at his home and persuaded him to meet them at the museum within half an hour. Falling in with his mood, Morse brought his car around and within a quarter of an hour they were standing on the steps of the Metropolitan, with fifteen idle minutes facing them. Morse lit a pipe and watched Laidlaw curiously. The latter paced up and down with the nearest attempt to a stride his ridiculous legs would permit. It would be a rash man, Morse thought, who would make open fun of the scientist's physique. The mighty chest, and arms that swung below the knee, the leonine face, eagle nose, and keen eyes held a promise of more than ordinary strength that would easily offset the handicap of the bowed, short legs. Laidlaw might lower the pace on a trail, but he would be a good man to have along in a pinch.
The assistant curator appeared at last, stepping down from a bus and blinking through his glasses. Laidlaw waddled down the steps, clutched him by the arm to the amusement of the passersby, and almost bore the
slighter man up to the museum entrance, not releasing his clutch until after they were in the department office. Then he spoke for the first time.
"The vase?" he gasped.
"If you'll let go my arm," said the curator, with mild reproach, "I'll get it out of the vault."
Laidlaw mumbled an apology, and the museum official departed, rubbing his almost paralyzed arm. When he returned, he handed the vase over to Morse, who in turn handed it to the expectant Laidlaw.
The theorist trotted to the window with his prize like some great mastiff with a bone, and examined it minutely, inside and out, from all angles. There came a series of grunts from him that Morse translated as both favorable and excited.
"What did the museum authorities think of it?" he asked the curator.
"Cretan, beyond a doubt. You will pardon me, Mr. Morse, but our experts are inclined to believe some extraordinary coincidence must have taken that vase to the Brazilian jungle. Some Old World adventurer, who carried it with him on all his journeys. The other suggestion is—appears to be—inexplicable."
Morse shrugged his shoulders.
"It is interesting," he said. "I am going to see what there is in it. I have always intended an expedition into the heart of Brazil."
"Is Laidlaw going with you?"
For the moment Morse was frankly at fault. Then he laughed.
"To tell you the truth, I had never thought of him as not doing so. Since he arrived at my house before daylight there has been little doubt of his determination, and he apparently took it for granted that I agreed with him. Even if I had not practically planned the trip, Laidlaw has a certain way with him…"
The curator nodded.
"Most fanatics have a gift for persuasion…But I shouldn't call him that. He may be right. Who knows?"
And then, changing the subject: "Mr. Morse, the faculty has empowered me to make you a very liberal offer for the vase. It should be preserved for science and the public benefit—"
"If it passed from me to the museum it would be as a gift," said Morse. "But that is impossible."
"As a loan? While you are absent?"
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Morse jestingly. "If you think you can get it away from Laidlaw, I might agree. But seriously, it may be useful on the trip. I want to take it along, and I have decided to dedicate it to an object that is more or less sacred to me. If we get through and back again, I'll bring the museum something that will more than make up for it."
In the meantime, Laidlaw, his face aglow, had left the window and seated himself at the desk, entirely unconscious of the presence of anyone. Vase in front of him, he was copying the characters of the script onto a pad, evidently intending to waste no time in deciphering them.
"He'll do in a few minutes what would take us hours," whispered the curator to Morse. He is the acknowledged authority on Minoan lore for all his tangential ideas."
They watched him working energetically, arranging the symbols, grouping and comparing them. Presently, he laid down his pencil with a sigh and gazed into vacancy, exaltation irradiating his strong features.
Morse and the curator moved toward him. He regarded them blankly; then recognition slowly came into his eyes.
"There," he said triumphantly, "is a literal translation of the linear script. No doubt Mr. Morse will permit photographs of the vase before we take it with us. There is no time for confutation before we start. It is up to the museum to verify this translation and to prepare the world for what will come out of Brazil. Listen!
Made by Zal the Artificer in the forty-ninth generation after the Great Flood in the seventh year of the reign of the Fifth Pta, descendant of Minos, King of the New Atlantis in his capital of Dor.
Laidlaw brought his great fist down on the oak desk with a shwack that splashed the ink from the wells.
"Ha!" he exclaimed. "Refute that if you can. The forty-ninth generation after the Great Flood in the reign of the Fifth Pta, King of the New Atlantis! The gift vase in the Luxor Museum bore the name of Pta the First."
He turned to Morse.
"And I am taking the glory," he said. "It is you who have solved the matter. Wherever the name of Laidlaw is mentioned, that of Morse must be coupled with it."
Suddenly his exultation faded, and his face grew anxious. "Mr. Morse," he said, "I have been carried away by my own enthusiasm. I have thought you shared it. You have been so interested, so cordial to me, a—crude and blustering fool who broke in on you like a thief in the night. I have assumed you were going to Dor. It is your discovery; I have no right to exploit it without your permission. I understand you are an explorer, that you know much of South America—"
"Say no more, Laidlaw. I am going to Dor; I have a mission there aside from the adventure. You will join me, of course. You are a scientist; I am merely an explorer, and an amateur one at that. It would lend me dignity if you were to go along."
The face of Laidlaw cleared and he gripped Morse's hand silently, his features working in their emotion.
"There is one condition," said Morse, as he released his fingers and slipped his hands into his pocket.
"Anything. What is it?"
"That you reserve your handshakes for your enemies, not your friends. I won't be able to hold a pen for a week."