By C. B. CORY
“No,” said the curiosity dealer, “that mummy is not for sale. I had too big a job to get it.”
“Tell me about it,” I asked.
The curiosity dealer carefully closed and locked the case, and then meditatively rolled a cigarette.
“Well, it was this way: you see I was out after snakes and other natural history specimens. I had a special order from a chap in New York for three hundred snakes, he wanted some big rattlers. I think I sent him some that pleased him; anyhow he paid for them all right. I had a customer who wanted a rattlesnake with a very big rattle, and I fixed up a snake for him on this trip and sent it to him afterwards. It had one hundred and eighteen rattles! I glued a lot of rattles together, and by taking off the buttons it was pretty hard to see where they were joined. This rattle was more than a foot long.
“There was another Eastern chap wanted an ibex, which he said was found up in these mountains. It had light-colored horns curved over at the tips like a chamois and striped legs and eyes that stuck out like an antelope. He had heard about the ibex and wanted a pair. I told him I had often killed them, but they were hard to get.”
“What is an ibex?” I asked.
“I’ll be hanged if I know,” answered the collector. “But there are fellows in these mountains who say that there really are such animals, and if he wanted to have an ibex, and had to have an ibex, I might as well get him an ibex as anybody else, even if I had to make one.
“But to get back to my story. I had a big outfit on this trip and I expected to get a lot of curios one way and another, what with snakes and animals of various kinds, besides all the things that I might pick up in the way of baskets and Indian relics, which might prove salable. My outfit consisted of two wagons, five horses, and I had a Mexican along to look after the teams and do the cooking.
“After being out some two weeks we found ourselves near what is called ‘Montezuma’s Castle,’ up by the Verde. There are a lot of caves scattered about up there, supposed to have been made by the Cave Dwellers, and many of them had never been touched or examined.
“I had an offer of good money for a mummy, and had tried making them from the bodies of Indian children, but I never could get them to look real. The bones are not crumbly enough, and the rags which the real mummies are done up in are pretty difficult to imitate.
“I was mighty anxious to explore the big caves, so off we went to the place, and I tell you the old ruin they call ‘Montezuma’s Castle’ is a dandy, and don’t you forget it. The castle is built on a ledge high up on the side of a mountain which hangs over at the top. The only way to get up is by ladders or ropes, and it is mighty hard to get there even then.
“Right near there, on the face of the high cliff, there are a lot of fine old Cliff dwellings, and some of them are more than one hundred feet from the base. These cliffs are straight up and down, sometimes nearly smooth, but often with narrow broken ledges here and there on the face of the wall.
“One particular cave which seemed to be a rather large one was about fifty feet up, and immediately below it were two or three small ledges, which, after I had looked the place over, seemed to me to be sufficiently wide to hold a ladder; and I came to the conclusion that if I wished to explore one of these caves I had better try the one in question.
“In my outfit I had two large tents, nine by fourteen, and the poles of these tents, it seemed to me, would answer very well for ladders if I connected them by pieces of rope. It was not necessary to make the steps very near together, and by cutting notches in the poles and tying pieces of rope across I succeeded in making two very good ladders, one fourteen feet long, with the two top poles, one from each tent; and two small ladders, each about seven feet. I made these last from the four upright tent poles, there being two to each tent, as you know.
“The foot of the cliff was rough, and the first fifteen feet or so we could climb easily to a broad ledge, then there came a space between nine and ten feet in height, which was as smooth and perpendicular as a wall. Here my first ladder was put up. Two small ledges above this, some three feet apart, and a wider ledge four feet higher, allowed me to climb up, without the use of ladders, to another ledge.
“From here I ran another small ladder up to a ledge which was between two and three feet wide; from this ledge to the entrance of the cave was about twelve feet, and my fourteen-foot ladder answered finely, but the difficulty was, it had to stand so straight that it was rather ticklish business going up; one could not help feeling that a slip or a little backward jerk would topple it over into the valley below, and as from the ledge where it stood to the bottom was some forty feet, a tumble on to the rocks would prove most unpleasant.
“However, my Mexican, Antonio, held the ladder, and by very careful work I succeeded in reaching the mouth of the cave and crawling in. I had no sooner entered than I felt pretty sure it had never previously been visited by any one since the original inhabitants left it. The first thing I did was to take a stout piece of twine from my pocket and fasten the end of the ladder to a piece of rock. Then I felt easier.
“There were numerous bits of broken pottery scattered about and one nearly perfect specimen. Besides these there was a very interesting bit of stone carving. These things I gathered together and placed in a heap near the entrance. I then went back and, taking a small hatchet which I had brought with me, commenced to dig about in the floor and pretty soon found this little child mummy.
“By the time I had taken it out I was pretty thirsty and hot, as you may suppose. I was careful and did not hurry matters, and the cave was like an oven.
“Wrapping the little mummy carefully in a big handkerchief which I had tied round my neck, I untied the twine from the ladder, and lowered the bundle slowly down to Antonio, my Mexican, who was standing at the foot of the top ladder. It reached him safely, but while he was untying it I carelessly dropped the end of the string. I went back, however, and gathered up the other relics, intending to take some of them down with me and then come back for the rest if I could not manage them all the first time.
“While I was looking them over I heard a crash and the sound of tumbling stones, and looking out I saw that the ladder had fallen, and commenced to curse Antonio for his carelessness; but imagine my horror when I saw him throw down the bottom ladder and then run as fast as he could towards the camp. My first and only thought was to pay Antonio for his treachery. It was evidently his intention to leave me safely housed in a place from which I could never escape alive, and start off the proud owner of the two wagons, five horses, and various valuables which he believed my boxes to contain.
“My revolver was still in my belt, and hastily pulling it I commenced shooting at the running figure, now some sixty or seventy yards distant. The first bullet knocked up a cloud of dust about three feet to his right and a little ahead, the second was still worse, but at the third he turned sideways, staggered on several paces, and fell among some loose rocks in a way that must have been unpleasant. He tried to get up again, but I now had his range pretty well and hit him again with the sixth shot; after that he lay pretty quiet, although I thought I saw him move his arm once or twice. I reloaded, having plenty of cartridges in my belt, and began shooting at him again. This time I hit him three times out of six shots, and as he had not moved for some minutes I concluded that he was dead.
“Then I began to think over how I was going to get down. I was very thirsty and it was tantalizing to see the water down in the valley sparkling in the sunlight. It looked very clear and refreshing.
“I thought and thought, and the more I thought the more hopeless it seemed to me to plan a way to get down alive. There was one ladder still standing, the second one, but there was a space of some thirty feet before I could reach it. I had absolutely nothing, not even a string, to aid me in getting down.
“There was no use hoping for help from any one, for the place was rarely visited, and it might be weeks before any person would discover that I was there. I was getting more thirsty all the time, and, at last, I hated to go to the mouth of the cave, hot as it was inside, because the sight of the water nearly drove me mad. I amused myself by occasionally taking a shot at Antonio. I had his range down pretty fine, now, and rarely missed him. It was getting late, and the sun had long since sunk out of sight. Above the mountains there was one tall peak which I could see up the ca’on. It stood out in the sunlight bright and shining, even after the ca’on had become quite dark.
“As the sun sank lower and lower the darkness crept gradually up until only the very top was left a shining point. For a few minutes it shone a fiery red and then the light was gone like a huge torch which flickers and goes out.
“Then the night noises commenced: the incessant, maddening croaking of the frogs and now and then an owl.
“Did you ever hear the frogs in Arizona?”
I responded in the affirmative.
“Well, then, you know something about what they sound like, and know they can give Eastern frogs cards and spades and beat them easy. But you don’t know what they sound like when you are really thirsty!”
“Probably not,” I answered.
“Well,” continued the curiosity dealer, “I knew nothing could be done until morning, so I lay down and tried to sleep. I was very nervous and could not help fearing that in the night I might walk in my sleep or roll to the mouth of the cave and tumble out. I do not think I really slept at all, but lay in a half-dazed condition until it was light enough for me to see things in the ca’on below.
“Strange to say, I was not hungry, although I had eaten nothing since the previous morning. My whole thoughts were concentrated on the one desire, something to drink! I thought and pondered, trying to think of some possible way to get down! At one time I thought seriously of jumping to the ledge below, but I knew that it would be impossible for me to stay on it even if my legs were not broken by the fall, and that to jump meant practically to commit suicide!
“At last a thought occurred to me that I might possibly make a rope out of my clothes. I had a large pocket-knife and a hatchet, and no sooner had the thought suggested itself than I commenced to undress. My canvas coat, shirt, and trousers and some thin underclothes constituted my entire wardrobe, and by carefully cutting them into strips wide enough to bear my weight, and yet narrow enough to give sufficient length, I succeeded in making a kind of a rope with which I hoped I could succeed in reaching the second ladder without broken bones!
“I could not work steadily, as it was impossible for me to avoid getting up and now and then walking about the cave. I suffered so with the heat and thirst, that the hope of escape alone kept me from going mad. At last the rope was done and tied together with various knots. It had a creepy sort of stretchy feeling when I pulled on it, but I had no alternative but to trust to it, it was that or nothing, and nothing meant death from thirst in a very short time.
“I succeeded in fixing the hatchet firmly into and across a cleft in the rock where it was split, and it gave me something to tie the rope to which I was satisfied would hold my weight. I tied the end of the rope to the hatchet handle and threw the other end down, and was mighty glad to see that it reached within four or five feet of the middle ledge.
“I was stark naked excepting my shoes, and I tell you it was no easy task letting one’s self down over the sharp edges of the rock. Every moment I expected one of the knots to give way, and I shall never forget the feeling which came over me as I swung myself clear of the ledge and hung swaying on that improvised rope which seemed to stretch and grow thin in a way which sent cold shivers running up and down my spine. It seemed a year before I reached the ledge. I went down pretty slow, sparing the rope as much as I could by supporting part of my weight by digging my toes into every little crack and crevice I could find, but I got there at last, and when I did, I sat down on the ledge and cried like a baby.
“Well, that is the story. Of course I got down the rest of the way all right, or I wouldn’t be here; but I don’t know as I would have done it if Antonio had pulled down the second ladder instead of the bottom one. He was evidently in too much of a hurry to do the job up right. After reaching the second ladder, it was no kind of a trick to slide it down and use it over again. The first thing I did when I got down was to run as fast as I could to the river and drink as much water as I dared, then I lay down in the water and enjoyed it. Talk about your Paradise Cocktails, they are not to be compared with that Verde River water which I tasted that day!”
“Oh, yes, he is there yet, I believe, although I have never been back since to see, and I hope I never will. My first experience among the Cliff Dwellers was all sufficient.”
Richard Edwards has a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism from Bowling Green State University and an M.S. in Education from the University of Akron. Managing editor of Drunk Duck, poetry editor for Prairie Margins, reporter for Miscellany, Akron Journal, Lorain Journal, and The BG News. He has also worked as a professional writer and editor in the medical publishing industry for several years. For the last 15 years Richard has also taught literature and writing at the secondary and post-secondary levels. He works much of the time with at-risk students.