Things that are too wonderful to be true - sometimes are. So Stephen Inglesant was thinking as he read the cablegram. Even the receipt of a cablegram in this particular locality was itself a phenomenon. For this big, tawny-haired American, with the vitality and eagle-look of a Viking, was a visitor to one of the long-forgotten haunts of vanished men. He was standing now in the window of a dilapidated palacio in the small city of San Pablo, looking out to the vast, cold, glittering spectacle of night among the Cordilleras.
A candle guttered in the stiff breeze on a stand beside the window, its flame gilding fitfully the incredible message. Inglesant had read it many times but now he read it again with undiminished exultation.
holding for him what possibilities of adventure and discovery. For Stephen Inglesant, though a celebrated world-traveler whose exploits furnished headlines and an occasional 'scoop' in the press of five continents, had not by any means attained his heart's desire. He was only thirty-two years old. Yet it seemed to him long indeed since the time of his senior year at Harvard when he had first come under the spell of the occult, and had determined almost at once to follow its elusive beckonings from the mysterious realm of the unknown.
His adventures and experiences had been many, upon occasion extraordinary. He had at times seemed to approach the very threshold of some half-hidden doorway. Yet success had always eluded him. There was, for example, the ancient Pali manuscript that he had idly bought from a queer old peddler in Samarkand. And its theft just as he had begun to catch a glimmer of its exciting implications. Then there was the tribe in Africa whose headman had outwitted him so neatly. But now the name, Don Pascual, had dropped at last like a key-word into a cryptogram. Inglesant felt that he was now in actual sight of the small, old path of occult discovery.
"Strange," he thought, "the chance that brought me here to this ancient decayed city of San Pablo." He gazed down eagerly into the small plaza below the window. The intense clear blackness revealed little besides gray outlines of buildings and the vague shape of a ruinous fountain in the center of the square. For night had already fallen before he reached San Pablo on the train that wheezed up from Guayaquil once every twenty-four hours.
San Pablo had been an outpost of the conquistadors. For two centuries now it had been crumbling comfortably away into the precipitous landscape of the Andes. Recently, however, a rich vein of gold had been suddenly uncovered in the abandoned Spanish mines above the city, and San Pablo had suffered resurrection. The railroad to Quito had thrown out a spur to San Pablo and modern bustle had begun to invade its senility.
adventurer of mongrel origin. This plausible obese little man had recognised the knock of opportunity. He snapped up for a song one of the palacios on the old square, and was now sketching in with enthusiasm what he brazenly represented to the public as a luxury hotel, the Palacio Pizarro.
But Inglesant was too seasoned a traveler to fret over the absence of bathroom, fumes of candle grease and kerosene, or low-grade cuisine! He had come to San Pablo only because of a recent archaeological excavation in the vicinity, which promised to be of great importance. And that interest sufficed...!
The first thing the next morning he looked out in eager anticipation upon the beautiful antique houses surrounding the square. Mellow with age and lingering decay they looked back at him with benign indifference. They were all of the same lovely design, cream limestone corniced and carved elaborately, with graceful balconies. One however, the largest, which stretched the width of the small plaza, seemed in better condition. Though its balconied facade was closely shuttered it was in good repair. Inglesant observed its massive door ornamented by beautiful scrolls of brightly burnished copper.
And suddenly this door, fast shut, and mutely eloquent of a fascinating, withdrawn interior, became the symbol of his destiny. Intuition whispered that it was somehow bound up with the presence of Don Pascual.
"That is the Casa Hermosa. It now is the property of Senor Estaban Mendoza, the manager of the mines above here. He does not always live at the Casa but comes up frequently from Guayaquil, as necessary."
"At present no one. These families spend their time always at Lima or Valparaiso when they can. They come and go. Business is very little here, as you can see, Senor. But undoubtedly the mining interests will bring more, of that there is no doubt. And the archaeology too, that should bring people, if it develops, yes? For see, the Senor himself has come for that reason."
Inglesant spent five days in San Pablo before anything of significance happened. Meanwhile, he presented his letters to the two men left in charge at the excavations, who were subordinates, but intelligent and enthusiastic. The excavations were not extensive though they had been rich in ancient finds. These, however, had all been removed and work would not be resumed until summer. Besides, since the reception of his cablegram vital interest in these discoveries had evaporated before the far more fascinating prospect opened out by the talismanic name, Don Pascual. So he loafed away the time, consuming as best he could his deep impatience.
And then, one afternoon, as he was returning to the hotel, he heard his name softly spoken. He whipped about at the voice to find an old, decent-appearing, Spanish man- servant at his elbow who handed him a note which Inglesant tore open eagerly as the man waited."To the Senor Stephen Inglesant, Friend of my Friend, Hafid Ibn Khaldun of Cairo
"If you will pardon this very informal invitation, and should you care for a little chat on matters of mutual interest I shall be happy if you will now accompany this man, whose name is Manuel, and who will bring you to me in the Casa Hermosa.
Without a word Inglesant signed to the servant to precede him, and in a moment he found himself, without much surprise, entering the Casa Hermosa and heard the heavy door with its copper grill-work shut behind him. They were in an echoing stone hall across which the servant conducted him into the antique richness of a small room at the back.
A man rose quickly from a deep chair as Manuel opened the door - a very tall, lean, middle-aged man at whom Inglesant looked with eager though respectful curiosity. His first impression was of a fusion of lean but massive bulk with chiseled delicacy of outline, of swarthiness of coloring shot through with some controlled inner fire. An observer would have been struck with the fact that the younger man's fair leonine distinction became at once almost insignificant before the dark and fiery austerity of the other.
"El Senor Inglesant!" exclaimed his host, with a cordial grasp of the caller's hand. "So!" he went on in English. "And I am Pascual. I am happy indeed to meet you, Mr. Inglesant. It was courteous to so promptly accept my rather casual invitation, due to no want of respect to you, I assure you, but designed not to attract the attention of the curious. Be seated, please - here, where you can look into the garden."
Don Pascual smiled with easy deprecation. He pulled the old-fashioned bell-cord before he seated himself in the deep chair opposite his guest. Here the pair exchanged a curious and friendly glance, the dark man with candid gravity that held a smile, the younger with a mixture of interest and of irrepressible reverence. Manuel, entering presently with coffee and sherbet interrupted this silent interchange.
"Now first we will smoke and enjoy this excellent Mocha," began Don Pascual when the man had departed. "And you shall tell me, perhaps, where you have been in the world recently and what has brought you in the first place to this out-of-the-way corner of the earth."
"I am afraid I am but an idle fellow, Don Pascual. But I am always somehow on the scent of strange knowledge, and this town lies on the border, as you of course know, of what was a very ancient civilization - one reputed to have been in possession of the Sacred Lore, which is a name I have heard applied in some parts of the world to that which I am forever seeking. The recent archaeological finds in this vicinity looked promising to me so I came up here to look about. I am always hoping to chance upon some gateway, or to find a clue that will guide me in my search for the ultimate secret - "
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