Magick7's Moonlight Stories Index





An Aztec Mummy


Charles B. Cory





I was standing in a museum looking at a case of mummies. One of them was marked "Mummy of an Aztec, found in a Cliff Dwelling," and it interested me very much. In size it was that of a small man, and was in a fine state of preservation, with the exception that the bones of the legs were exposed, and more or less disintegrated, in some places. The hands, even to the finger nails, were perfect, however, and there was a silver ring on the index finger. One hand grasped a large stone axe—the handle being modern. The right hand rested across the chest, clasping a necklace of silver wire.

"Interesting specimen, is it not?" said a voice at my side.

"Quite so," I replied. "But I doubt if it is really an Aztec mummy."

"What makes you think that?" asked the voice sharply.

"Because I don't believe the Aztecs buried their dead in Cliff Dwellings. However, it is an interesting mummy, and in a wonderful state of preservation."

I was so interested in examining the mummy that I had spoken without turning my head. Now, however, I looked up and saw a tall, gaunt figure of a man dressed in a suit of corduroy, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat, or sombrero, such as is generally worn on the Western plains.

"Well," he remarked, "in my opinion, it is a pretty good mummy. I made it myself, and ought to know."

"Excuse me, what did you say?" I asked, thinking I had not understood him aright.

"I said that was one of my mummies."

"What do you mean by that, sir?" I asked.

"You will understand when I tell you I was a dealer in curiosities, and during my time I furnished museums with a great many interesting and valuable specimens; when trade was slow, I occasionally helped nature a little, but that is all over now."

"Have you given up the business?" I asked.

"Had to; but perhaps you do not know that I am dead," answered my companion. "Fell from a cliff last year and broke my neck."

"Did you, indeed?" I answered, trying to appear interested.

"That's what I did. But let me tell you about that mummy. There was a scientific chap who came to our place and wanted to buy Aztec relics. Me and my partner made a trade with him and sold him a lot of stuff; but he was very anxious to be taken where he could dig some up for himself, 'to be sure of the authenticity and antiquity of the relics.' Well, me and my pard figured up that it might be to our advantage to take him to a good Cliff Dwelling, and we arranged that he should pay us so much for everything he dug up. If he found a mummy we got one hundred dollars; if stone hatchets and axes, two dollars each; arrow-heads, ten cents each; for stone matats and grinders, one dollar each, taking them as they came; and whole pottery, five dollars."

"Where did you find the mummy? Did you know of the cave?" I asked.

"Well, we knew where there were lots of caves, and where there were Indian graveyards. With the aid of a little stain and judicious arrangement of a body we prepared a fine Aztec mummy. Of course we used the body of an Indian, one who had been dead for a long time and was dried up and crumbly. My partner was a clever chap, and he fixed up the axe and the silver necklace, and we took the outfit and started for the Verde Cañon. We picked out a good-sized cave, and dug a hole in the floor, in which we carefully placed the mummy and covered him up with dry dust; then we wet the clay over him, leaving the floor hard and smooth as before. We also buried about fifty axes and two or three hundred arrow-heads, and half a dozen nice specimens of Indian pottery, which we burned up good and black.

"After we had 'salted' the cave to our satisfaction, we partly sealed up the entrance and returned to Flagstaff."

"Was that acting quite fair?"

"Fair? Why, how do you think that poor man would have felt if he had come all the way out to Arizona, and gone to all the expense of his car-fare and outfit, and then found nothing? It was philanthropy, my dear sir, the height of philanthropy."

"Was he pleased with the mummy?"

"Pleased? Why, bless your dear, innocent soul, he screamed with joy like a child, when we accidentally discovered a piece of a toe while digging in the bottom of the cave! He dropped on his knees and removed every particle of dirt with his hands, and almost cried over it. He carried on so that my partner nearly gave us away. He was a chump about some things: if anything pleased him, he would laugh, and his laugh sounded like the bray of a jackass.

"Well, sir, when this scientific chap got down on his knees, and commenced to paw the earth away from the fake mummy, my partner began to gurgle. I knew what was coming and punched him in the ribs, but it did no good. The scientific chap looked up and asked what was the matter.

"'Matter?' shouted my pard, and then he roared and yelled and howled.

"A look of doubt and annoyance came into our victim's eyes; but pard saved himself just in time.

"'Look!' he yelled between his paroxysms of laughter, 'look at that buzzard over there! I'm damned if he ain't the funniest buzzard I ever saw in my life,' and then he roared and yelled and jumped about. 'Look at him,' he laughed; 'see him fly! did you ever see anything so funny?'

"I am not sure but what the scientist thought he was crazy, but anyhow, he didn't catch on to what he was laughing at, and pretty soon went on with his digging. We stayed there three days and dug the whole place up and took back with us a basket full of stone axes, arrow-heads, three large prehistoric vases, and the mummy. He drove the wagon himself every step of the way, for fear something would get broken, and when we got to Flagstaff he spent two days packing the relics."

"Do you consider that sort of thing quite honorable?" I asked.

"Honorable? What is that you say, you squint-eyed dude? Now, my boy, don't get fresh with me just because I am dead and can't jump you."

I hastened to pacify him.

"Well, that's all right, but if you had said that to me last year when I was alive I would have marked squares all over your body with a piece of chalk and then played hop-scotch on you."

"I meant no offence," I said humbly.

"Maybe you didn't. But just you make another break like that, and I won't forget it; you will have to die sometime, and then,—oh, mamma!"

"Is your partner dead?" I asked.

"No, Jim is not dead by a long shot. I went down to see him last winter at his place in California, where he has opened up a new store. He has a good tourist trade—made a lot of money this year out of mermaids and sea-devils—there was a run on sea-devils this winter. He makes them out of fishes.

"The mermaids he makes out of fishes' tails and Indian children—robs the graveyards, you know. Some of them are really fine and artistic. I tell you he is an artist in his line.

"He has a branch store still somewhere in New Mexico, and made a stack of money last winter in Navajo blankets and scalp-trimmed Indian arms and shields. It is the scalp trimming which catches the tourist. He gets most of his scalps from California, from hospitals there; but when he is short, horse hair does pretty well, especially for old Indian scalps.

"And then, Navajo blankets. Holy smoke, a gold mine isn't in it! They make them of Germantown wool and aniline dyes, and they cost at the factory all the way from six bits to $10, and sell to the tourist for various prices; sometimes as high as $75 or $80. Oh, I tell you he is shrewd; some day he will be worth a million!

"Sometimes a chap goes into his shop and poses as an expert—those are the kind of jays that fill Jim's soul with joy. The fellow will pull over a pile of blankets, and after looking at them wisely, will say, 'Haven't you got any real good blankets? These are Germantown wool and mineral dyes.'

"Then Jim will say—'Ah, I see you know something about blankets.'

"'Oh, yes; a little,' answers the expert.

"'The fine old-style blankets are mighty hard to get now,' remarks Jim.

"'I know they are,' remarks the wise tourist, 'but still they are to be had sometimes, are they not? Come, now, haven't you got something choice hidden away?'

"Then Jim will look about, as though fearful that somebody might see him, and will steal softly into a back room and pull from beneath his bed a good cheap blanket—worth about $3—and spread it out lovingly in front of the tourist.

"'There,' he whispers; 'look at that; that is not for sale. I am keeping that for myself, but I thought you would like to see it, as it is very evident you know a good deal about blankets; isn't it a beauty?'

"Then the tourist 'bites,' and asks him what it is worth, and admires it, agrees with him as to the splendid old dyes and fine preservation of the native wool prepared in the manner of the old Navajo, speaks of its great rarity, and at last ends by asking Jim what he will take for it, and usually carries it away with him, having paid three or four times the value of a really good blanket.

"I've seen Jim pull their legs so hard they'd pretty near limp when they went out. Ah, those were happy days!"

The departed heaved a deep sigh, and gazed silently at his handiwork.

"Well," he said, "I must be going; I have a lot of things I want to do before morning, but hope to run across you sometime again. Glad you like the mummy. I forgot to mention that most of the teeth were gone when we first got it, and Jim put in a fine new set, and improved it a whole lot."

I glanced at the mummy, and when I looked up again, my companion had disappeared.