The Masters of Atlantis

Free The Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis

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Authors: Charles Portis
Pharris White, still neckless but trimmed down a bit and wearing a tan fedora. White was now in the FBI, which had become something of a haven for lawyers seeking to avoid military service. He shook the warrant in Mr. Jimmerson’s face. “I mean to serve this personally,” he said. “If you’re holding out on me, Jimmerson, I’ll put you away in a cell with Popper. Nothing would please me more. This Master of Gnomons business doesn’t cut any ice with me. Did you ever hear of misprision of a felony? Accessory after the fact? Here, I want to see that cap.” He examined the Poma with rough disdain and even placed it clownishly atop his own head. The agent in charge of the raid spoke sharply to him about these unprofessional antics and made him return it.
    Mr. Jimmerson said he was confident that he would hear from Austin in the next few days. The draft evasion matter could only be a misunderstanding. A telephone call to the Navy Department would clear it up at once. From Popper’s secretary the agents learned that Popper had been singing and humming snatches of California songs in recent weeks.
    Thus there were signs in abundance pointing to the Golden State, Popper believing that one could not lay it on too thickly, and it was there that the search for him was foolishly pressed.

POPPER AND GOLESCU stepped off the Burlington Zephyr in Denver, well short of San Francisco, and then took a bus to the old mining town of Hogandale, Colorado, high in the mountains, at the headwaters of the Rio Puerco, known locally as the Pig River or Nasty River. Popper carried one suitcase and a perforated box with Squanto in it. Golescu had a good deal of luggage, including two sacks of dried mud. Wasting no time, they rented a derelict house at the foot of the sloping main street of Hogandale and went to work.
    It was a hard winter for the two city men, neither of whom had ever handled an axe or shovel. At night they tramped through the snow to the abandoned gold mines and collected buckets of dirt. The frozen ground was utterly lifeless, a mineral waste, but Golescu had the European notion that the back country of America was alive with snakes and scorpions and so took great care where he placed his feet. Popper assured him that these vermin were asleep. The real menace to the hikers of America, he said, was the rusty nail. Boards bearing these upright nails were lying about everywhere. Puncture your foot on one and within an hour your jaw would be locked firmly shut, never again to open, and you would be raving with brain fever. Golescu minced his steps with even greater care. By day the two men chopped wood and stoked the iron stoves and tended their potted plants.
    The professor had brought with him a plentiful supply of seeds and cuttings. Soon every windowsill in the old two-story frame house was crowded with pots and makeshift receptacles, from each of which sprouted a spiky green shaft. The pots were tagged by number. A log was kept for each one. There was detailed information as to the different potting soils—the fertilizer content, the acid-alkali balance and, most important of all, the origin of the soil, the mine it came from, whether the Perkins Drift, the Old Woman No. 2 or the Black Dog. In addition, there were control pots, some containing pure sand and others gold-free mud from the banks of the Potomac in Washington.
    This plant that was the focus of all their attention was creeping bagweed, or Blovius reptans , a mat-forming vine found growing rank in England and Europe along roadsides and in ditches and untended lots. The pinnate leaves of bagweed were alternately evergreen and deciduous, so that while some leaves were shed over the year, the vine was never barren of greenery. In this respect it was like the magnolia tree and the live oak. Bagweed, which had a way of choking out other vegetation, was universally despised by gardeners. Live stock refused to eat it. Even goats turned away

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