There was hopelessness in the old man's eyes as he struggled to breathe. He had walking pneumonia and each breath took great effort. Doctor Evans pressed a damp cloth on his patient's forehead, hoping to bring down his fever. He had done everything he could to help the old man, but it didn't seem enough. His lungs were filled with fluid. It had been two weeks, and he wasn't improving. How he wished he could have done more!
A few years ago Doctor Evans had decided to move to this small town in southern Mexico to help the poor and underprivileged. Because of his compassion for the people, he was dearly loved. Some would give him a sack of potatoes or a basket of eggs for payment and that was just fine with the good doctor. He was deeply touched by the humility and love of these people.
Doctor Evans did not know much about the old man. An officer found him slumped against the wall of a store and immediately took him to the doctor's office. The man was homeless and didn't claim to have any family. His thin white hair touched his shoulders and his leathery olive skin was deeply wrinkled. The man's protruding nose and sharp features gave him the look of the ancient Aztecs, which Doctor Evans had seen in magazines. Was he really a descendant of Montezuma as he claimed? That was what he had said as they talked one day and he was quite proud of his heritage.
When the old man said he was ready to meet his Maker, he had pointed to his bag and bequeathed all his belongings to the good doctor for taking care of him. Doctor Evans had told him that he would live and not to worry, but now he began doubting it. He was not improving at all, and he was laboring with each breath he took. His pulse was weak, and he acted as if he had no will to live. This elderly man was gasping for air, and there wasn't much Doctor Evans could do for him.
The old man smiled and nodded at the doctor as he said, "I'm ready. I'm not afraid of death."
Doctor Evans was not sure how to respond. The man gazed toward the ceiling and his lips parted with surprise as if looking at someone in another world, the world beyond this one. He began singing a solemn melody that sounded like a religious chant. The soft chanting of his deep voice was like a prayer, and Doctor Evans was mesmerized by what he saw and heard. After a few minutes, the old man finished his song. He turned toward the doctor and gave a faint smile. Then he closed his eyes. He had a peaceful countenance as he breathed his last breath.
Doctor Evans looked at his watch. It was 3:00 p.m., March 1st, 1926. He pulled the sheet over his patient's head and called for a nurse. With a frown, he pushed his fingers through his hair. He took the old man's bag and walked out of the room. He would put an advertisement in the paper and perhaps someone would recognize the old man's name and retrieve his belongings. Who was he? Did he have a family? Was he really a descendent of Montezuma?
* * *
Many miles northward in southern Idaho, a mine had collapsed and trapped a group of men inside. While waiting for help, they tried not to think of their desperate situation. The dust was finally settling from the cave-in and the damp cave smelled musty.
John Roberts sighed as he leaned his head against the wall. He couldn't even see his hand in front of his face. This sort of darkness was unnerving, and the fear of being trapped was lingering in everyone's mind. Claustrophobia was a continuous fear to most. Being confined in a small space was more than some could handle.
When John heard his friend groan, he asked, "Are you all right, Charley?"
"Naw. When the cave collapsed, it crushed my thigh."
"Are you trapped? Can you move?"
"No, I can't move. I'll be all right, though. Help will come soon enough."
John sighed. "Why didn't you say something?"
"Because you'd turn on the lantern and use up all the oxygen by digging me outta here. You'll need every bit of air you can save. Every man here needs to conserve his energy."
"Baloney!" said John with disgust.
Without hesitation, he moved toward his friend and began removing one rock after another. All the while, Charley complained and grumbled.
"Oh pipe down!" said John with authority. "You're using too much oxygen with all your complaining."
The men smiled as they slowly moved toward the sound of Charley's voice. In the darkness they began shoveling with their hands, taking stones and large rocks and tossing them aside. After a time, Charley gave up and laid back, exhausted, and tried to relax as the men worked diligently to get him out.
As John worked, his thoughts went back to the reason they were in this situation. It was because of Elena. Of course, it wasn't her fault that he was here, stuck in this mine. It was his own fault. He found himself falling in love with her and that frightened him to no end. He was a confirmed bachelor. He was treading in new territory, with new feelings and emotions, something he hadn't expected. That was why he decided to "run away" and try mining for a season with his best friend Charlie. He sighed as he thought about their situation. Now they were trapped in a mine. Hopefully they would be rescued before they ran out of air.
Present day - A beautiful spring morning in May!
The old wooden chest seemed to beckon the girls as they eyed it with curiosity. It had a mysterious look about it, although anything ancient and forbidden piqued their interest. What adventure would they discover within the chest?
The last time they rummaged through the attic, their father adamantly told them that precious family treasures were inside and they were never to open it without adult supervision. If they did, they would be punished...whatever that meant. That was several years ago when they were kids. They were no longer children and considered themselves adults. Summer vacation had to be more exciting than this. College was out, and they wanted to explore new horizons.
Sharlene's eyes were bright with enthusiasm as she turned to her sisters and said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Faith nodded. "Of course!"
April, the oldest, said cautiously, "But we shouldn't without permission. Besides, we're supposed to bring more stuff up here to store."
"Oh, pooh!" Faith furrowed her brow. "It's about time we found out what's in this old dilapidated chest. Oh my gosh! We're adults."
Faith did have a point. Without hesitation, they all walked straight for the chest. April knelt down beside it. She carefully unbuckled the leather straps that hugged the chest and allowed them to fall to the floor. She unlatched the lever that was holding it shut and slowly raised the lid. As it creaked open, Sharlene and Faith held their breath and stared at the contents in the chest.
April's heart picked up speed as she whispered, "Our family legacy!"
"What?" asked Faith.
"That's what you see right here. When I asked about this chest, Mama told me that everything inside belonged to our grandparents and great-grandparents...our family legacy."
Faith knelt beside her and began searching the chest. She squealed with excitement when she saw an old lavender dress lying on top. The tag pinned to it said, "Elena Roberts."
"Oh my goodness," she whispered in awe.
She pulled it out and walked to a gold-framed floor-length mirror, which was leaning against the wall. She unpinned the tag, carefully unfolded the dress, and noticed that it was the style of the roaring twenties. She gently slipped it over her head and buttoned it. Turning around and peering over her shoulder in the mirror, she stared at her figure with pleasure.
"Isn't it gorgeous?" she said breathlessly as she smoothed her hands over the soft material.
Faith turned toward the stairs when she heard the sound of footsteps.
"Out of the way, girls!" came a masculine voice from the stairway of the attic.
Matthew trudged up the steps with an old faded armchair over his head. The back of it covered his face, blocking his vision. "Good thing I go to gym every day. Who would you get to lift all this heavy stuff?"
Faith giggled. "Are you bragging about your biceps again, Matthew?"
"Of course not..." He hesitated and then grinned. "Well, maybe just a little."
"I thought so."
When Matthew plopped the chair down, he looked at Faith curiously. "Whoa! Where did you find that?"
"It's my great-grandma Roberts' dress."
"On your mom's side?"
"No, my dad's."
"But isn't your mom's middle name Roberts?"
"What a coincidence! I just assumed it was her mother's maiden name. Many times women do that out of respect for their parents. Is she a distant relative to the Roberts then?"
Faith burst into laughter. "You mean a cousin to my dad?"
"Oooo! Gross!" She shook her head. "Of course not!"
"Are you sure?"
"Well, I don't think so."
He heard the uncertainty in her voice and he smiled. "Hey, maybe she was named after that actress, Julia Roberts," he said with amusement.
"I doubt it very much, Matthew," Faith laughed.
"Have you ever asked her about it?"
"Yes, I have. And she doesn't know. I told her that it's a very unusual middle name for a girl. Usually they have names like Julia Ann or something like that."
"Hmmm!" Matthew shook his head with curiosity. "Well, I think she ought to find out. Don't you?"
When he heard April talking excitedly, he turned toward her and watched with interest. She was looking through an old chest as she spoke.
Raising his brow, Matthew asked, "What's going on?"
"This is dad's trunk," said Faith. "It has family treasures and heirlooms. He told us to never get into it without adult supervision."
Matthew snickered. "So who's the adult here?"
Faith slapped his arm and he chuckled teasingly.
"Wow! Look at this," said April as she picked up two yellowed envelopes. One was addressed to John Roberts and another was addressed to a man named Charley. She could barely make out Charley's name because the envelope was smudged. She pulled out the letter from her great-grandfather and unfolded it. The writing was in cursive. It was so fluent and graceful.
"Look!" said April with excitement in her voice. "Why don't we write this beautifully today? Why haven't we taken more pride in our penmanship?"
Matthew shrugged. "It's the curse of the computer. Why write...when we can type? All we have to do is push a button and out comes our letter."
She laughed as she began reading. Then she smiled and said, "Great-grandpa wrote this letter to his friend, Charley, asking him to be his best man at his wedding. Apparently they were very close."
She unfolded the second letter and noticed that it was addressed to "The Happy-go-lucky Bachelor." With a smile, she read the letter. After a while, she became solemn and then her eyes gradually widened as she exclaimed, "Oh my!"
"What?" inquired Sharlene.
"This is a letter from Charley. He's thanking great-grandpa for saving his life in a collapsed mine. According to this letter, they were both miners. If it weren't for Grandpa, his friend would have died." She gently bit her lip as she looked at Matthew. "Wow! Grandpa was a hero. A real hero!"
"Listen to this." April read, "If you wouldn't have pushed me out of the way when the mine collapsed, I would have had more than a hurt thigh to worry about. I wouldn't be around for your wedding, as you well know. You saved my life, John, and I will never forget it. Talking about the wedding, I can't believe you're finally tying the knot. What a doll! I knew you were moonstruck! As to your question: Yes, I'll be on my feet and out of this hospital in no time and will be able to stand beside you at the wedding."
This letter was a treasure. April had found out something about her great-grandfather that she had never known before. She wanted to find out more about him, the man whom her own father was named after. She had so many questions running through her mind. What possessed him to become a miner? What other interesting experiences did he have? What was he like? How long had he been mining and why had he chosen this occupation? Why had his best friend addressed him as the "Happy-go-lucky Bachelor" in his letter? What was that all about? She had a feeling there was much more to this story...but what?
With the utmost care, she placed the letters in the trunk. She was grateful that her father had kept these priceless treasures.
Sharlene picked up an old journal, yellowed with age and opened it.
Matthew walked toward the girls and knelt on one knee, resting an arm on his thigh. "What's that?"
"This is Great-grandpa Evans' journal," Sharlene said in awe as she turned each fragile page. "He was a doctor. It even has formulas for some of his remedies."
After turning several pages, she came upon a small piece of parchment. She unfolded it with curiosity and studied it carefully.
"What's that?" asked Matthew.
"I'm not sure. I can't figure it out. It looks like scrawling of some sort."
Matthew reached for the stiffened document and turned it around in his hands, trying to figure out which end was up. After a moment, he grinned mischievously as he exclaimed, "Whoa! Do you know what this is? It's a pirate's treasure map."
As everyone laughed, Sharlene shook her head and pointed to the journal. "No, Matthew. Not a pirate's treasure map! Look at this. Grandpa wrote that one of his patients claimed to be a descendant of Montezuma, the Aztec King. He writes that his patient was worried the map would get into the wrong hands and asked him to protect it because it leads to great treasure...Montezuma's treasure."
Matthew looked confused as he rubbed his chin. Could this be true? Was it possible? Could it really be Montezuma's treasure?
Matthew was a twenty-five year old professor, working at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah. He was tall with sandy red hair and baby-blue eyes. He had adorable dimples with a light smattering of freckles on his upper cheeks.
He pursed his lips in thought. After a few moments, he finally smiled. "Have you heard about Montezuma's treasure?"
Faith wrinkled her nose and shook her head, "Not really. I'm not much of a history buff."
Sharlene and Faith were twins with dark brown hair, chocolate brown eyes, and an olive-toned complexion. They were quite the beauties. At age nineteen, they both were students at Dixie State College. The twins were complete opposites. Sharlene was quiet and soft-spoken, and loved to sit and read for hours. Faith was the talkative, animated, and active one.
April, on the other hand, had a silky, fair complexion. She had sky blue eyes and high cheekbones. She was the sensible one in the family, always reminding others of their duties. She was twenty-one years of age and taught the art of pottery.
"Well," Matthew began. "I'll tell you what I know."
He walked to the overstuffed armchair and sat down. Leaning back and resting his head against the chair, he told the girls what he knew about Montezuma's treasure.
"The story begins in the early 1500s when Cortez arrived in Mesoamerica. Montezuma thought Cortez was the Great White God Quetzalcoatl, who had promised to return one day. It didn't take long for Montezuma to realize that he had made a mistake. Cortez was a cruel man and began treating the Aztecs abominably. The king, for his own reasons, refused to fight Cortez, but the people had had enough and decided to rebel.
"After a great and terrible battle, the Spanish conquistadors were driven back, away from Tenochtitlan, Mexico. During this rebellion, Montezuma was killed, either by the Spaniards or his own people. No one knows for sure. While the Spaniards were taking care of their wounded, the Aztecs quickly bundled up their treasure and took off with it. They had to protect it with their lives."
"Why was the treasure so important to them?" asked Sharlene.
"Because it was sacred. For years, they kept the treasure in honor of their god when he returned. It was a gift to Quetzalcoatl and was estimated at around $10,000,000 worth of gold and jewels."
"Ten million? Wow!" Faith's eyes widened. "But how do we know the treasure really existed? How do we know that it's not just a myth?"
Matthew nodded. "Good question, Faith. Cortez actually left a record telling about the Aztec gold. In 1519, his chronicler, Bernal Diaz, recorded what he saw in the village. If I remember it correctly, he wrote, 'All the riches of the world were in that room.'"
"How do you do it?" asked April with wonder in her eyes.
"Remember so much. Quote things you read."
Matthew shrugged his shoulders and grinned. "My mind's like a steel trap." He chuckled. "Anyway, Diaz said that he saw a golden wheel in the form of a sun that was as big as a cartwheel with pictures engraved upon it. There was a silver one, which was an imitation of the moon, and golden statuettes in the shape of jaguars. When Cortez finally won the battle and entered the room where the treasure was kept, he found nothing. After searching the whole village, he found a few statues which had been thrown in the lake."
"In the lake?" asked Faith with astonishment.
"Yeah. The Aztecs tried to hide what they didn't take with them. They didn't think he would look in a lake, I suppose. The archeologists figured the rest had been transported to a faraway land where Cortez would never find it."
April walked over to Matthew, knelt down in front of him, and asked in almost a whisper, "Will you please help us find this treasure?"
Matthew grinned. "What? Are you serious?"
Sharlene and Faith joined their sister. All three of them were staring at Matthew with anticipation, waiting for an answer.
"Please?" asked April. The corners of her lips turned up as she gave a charming smile. "We have the map. Help us, Matthew!"
He gazed at April and noticed the softness of her wavy honey-blond hair resting upon her shoulder. He noticed her pleading eyes and her delightful smile that said more than words could say. How he loved this woman in front of him! And she didn't even know it. How could he refuse her? Those gorgeous blue eyes, soft with wonder; those eyes that made him feel weak in the knees. And that smile! She was an enchanting young woman. How he wished he could just take her in his arms....
He shook his head, trying to get his senses back. She didn't think of him as anything more than just a friend. One day, he thought to himself. One day I'll tell her how I feel. One day I'll take her in my arms and kiss that smile right off her face.
One of the reasons he hadn't expressed his feelings to her was because he didn't want to lose the friendship they had. If she didn't respond to him, he would feel uncomfortable around her. Matthew frowned. He was between a rock and a hard place.
"Please, Matthew," April begged as she touched his arm and smiled, as if she knew he was going to give in.
His heart melted at her touch. Matthew gave a crooked smile and placed his hand upon hers. He groaned good-naturedly, just for effect. "Hey, I love an adventure just like anyone else. Sure, I'll help."