Infomotions, Inc.The Lost City / Badger, Joseph E., Jr, 1848-1909



Author: Badger, Joseph E., Jr, 1848-1909
Title: The Lost City
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): ixtli; bruno; professor featherwit; featherwit; waldo; uncle phaeton; edgecombe; phaeton; aztec; professor; uncle; yonder; lord hua; young aztec
Contributor(s): Leonard, W. E. [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 58,695 words (short) Grade range: 10-12 (high school) Readability score: 58 (average)
Identifier: etext783
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The Lost City

by Joseph E. Badger, Jr.

January, 1997  [Etext #783]


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THE LOST CITY BY JOSEPH E. BADGER, JR.


CONTENTS.

CHAPTER
I.      NATURE IN TRAVAIL
II.     PROFESSOR FEATHERWIT TAKING NOTES
III.    RIDING THE TORNADO
IV.     THE PROFESSOR'S LITTLE EXPERIMENT 
V.      THE PROFESSOR'S UNKNOWN LAND
VI.     A BRACE OF UNWELCOME VISITORS
VII.    THE PROFESSOR'S GREAT ANTICIPATIONS
VIII.   A DUEL TO THE DEATH
IX.     GRAPPLING A QUEER FISH
X.      RESCUED AND RESCUERS
XI.     ANOTHER SURPRISE FOR THE PROFESSOR
XII.    THE STORY OF A BROKEN LIFE
XIII.   THE LOST CITY OF THE AZTECS
XIV.    A MARVELLOUS VISION
XV.     ASTOUNDING, YET TRUE
XVI.    CAN IT BE TRUE?
XVII.   AN ENIGMA FOR THE BROTHERS
XVIII.  SOMETHING LIKE A WHITE ELEPHANT
XIX.    THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN GOD
XX.     THE PROFESSOR AND THE AZTEC
XXI.    DISCUSSING WAYS AND MEANS
XXII.   A DARING UNDERTAKING
XXIII.  A FLIGHT UNDERGROUND
XXIV.   THE SUN CHILDREN'S PERIL
XXV.    WALDO GOES FISHING
XXVI.   DOWN AMONG THE DEAD
XXVII.  PENETRATING GRIM SECRETS
XXVIII. BROUGHT BEFORE THE GODS
XXIX.   BENEATH THE SACRIFICIAL STONE
XXX.    AGAINST OVERWHELMING ODDS
XXXI.   DEFENDING THE SUN CHILDREN
XXXII.  ADIEU TO THE LOST CITY




THE LOST CITY.



CHAPTER I.

NATURE IN TRAVAIL.

"I say, professor?"

"Very well, Waldo; proceed."

"Wonder if this isn't a portion of the glorious climate, broken
loose from its native California, and drifting up this way on a
lark?"

"If so, said lark must be roasted to a turn," declared the third
(and last) member of that little party, drawing a curved
forefinger across his forehead, then flirting aside sundry drops
of moisture.  "I can't recall such another muggy afternoon, and
if we were only back in what the scientists term the cyclone
belt--"

"We would be all at sea," quickly interposed the professor, the
fingers of one hand vigorously stirring his gray pompadour, while
the other was lifted in a deprecatory manner.  "At sea, literally
as well as metaphorically, my dear Bruno; for, correctly
speaking, the ocean alone can give birth to the cyclone."

"Why can't you remember anything, boy?" sternly cut in the
roguish-eyed youngster, with admonitory forefinger, coming to the
front.  "How many times have I told you never to say blue when
you mean green?  Why don't you say Kansas zephyr?  Or
windy-auger?  Or twister?  Or whirly-gust on a corkscrew
wiggle-waggle?  Or--well, almost any other old thing that you
can't think of at the right time?  W-h-e-w!  Who mentioned
sitting on a snowdrift, and sucking at an icicle?  Hot?  Well,
now, if this isn't a genuine old cyclone breeder, then I wouldn't
ask a cent!"

Waldo Gillespie let his feet slip from beneath him, sitting down
with greater force than grace, back supported against a gnarled
juniper, loosening the clothes at his neck while using his other
hand to ply his crumpled hat as a fan.

Bruno laughed outright at this characteristic anticlimax, while
Professor Featherwit was obliged to smile, even while compelled
to correct.

"Tornado, please, nephew; not cyclone."

"Well, uncle Phaeton, have it your own way.  Under either name, I
fancy the thing-a-ma-jig would kick up a high old bobbery with a
man's political economy should it chance to go bu'st right there!

And, besides, when I was a weenty little fellow I was taught
never to call a man a fool or a liar--"

"Waldo!" sharply warned his brother, turning again.

"So long as I knew myself to be in the wrong," coolly finished
the youngster, face grave, but eyes twinkling, as they turned
towards his mistaken mentor.  "What is it, my dear Bruno?"

"There is one thing neither cyclone nor tornado could ever
deprive you of, Kid, and that is--"

"My beauty, wit, and good sense,--thanks, awfully!  Nor you, my
dear Bruno, although my inbred politeness forbids my explaining
just why."

There was a queer-sounding chuckle as Professor Featherwit turned
away, busying himself about that rude-built shed and shanty which
sheltered the pride of his brain and the pet of his heart, while
Bruno smiled indulgently as he took a few steps away from those
stunted trees in order to gain a fairer view of the stormy
heavens.

Far away towards the northeast, rising above the distant hill,
now showed an ugly-looking cloud-bank which almost certainly
portended a storm of no ordinary dimensions.

Had it first appeared in the opposite quarter of the horizon,
Bruno would have felt a stronger interest in the clouds, knowing
as he did that the miscalled "cyclone" almost invariably finds
birth in the southwest.  Then, too, nearly all the other symptoms
were noticeable,--the close, "muggy" atmosphere; the deathlike
stillness; the lack of oxygen in the air, causing one to breathe
more rapidly, yet with far less satisfying results than usual.

Even as Bruno gazed, those heavy cloud-banks changed, both in
shape and in colour, taking on a peculiar greenish lustre which
only too accurately forebodes hail of no ordinary force.

His cry to this effect brought the professor forth from the
shed-like shanty, while Waldo roused up sufficiently to speak:

"To say nothing of yonder formation way out over the salty drink,
my worthy friends, who intimated that a cyclone was born at sea?"

Professor Featherwit frowned a bit as his keen little rat-like
eyes turned towards that quarter of the heavens; but the frown
was not for Waldo, nor for his slightly irreverent speech.

Where but a few minutes before there had been only a few light
clouds in sight, was now a heavy bank of remarkable shape, its
crest a straight line as though marked by an enormous ruler,
while the lower edge was broken into sharp points and irregular
sections, the whole seeming to float upon a low sea of grayish
copper.

"Well, well, that looks ugly, decidedly ugly, I must confess,"
the wiry little professor spoke, after that keen scrutiny.

"Really, now?" drawled Waldo, who was nothing if not contrary on
the surface.  "Barring a certain little topsy-turvyness which is
something out of the ordinary, I'd call that a charming bit
of--Great guns and little cannon-balls!"

For just then there came a shrieking blast of wind from out the
northeast, bringing upon its wings a brief shower of hail,
intermingled with great drops of rain which pelted all things
with scarcely less force than did those frozen particles.

"Hurrah!" shrilly screamed Waldo, as he dashed out into the
storm, fairly revelling in the sudden change.  "Who says this
isn't 'way up in G?' Who says--out of the way, Bruno!  Shut that
trap-door in your face, so another fellow may get at least a
share of the good things coming straight down from--ow--wow!"

Through the now driving rain came flashing larger particles, and
one of more than ordinary size rebounded from that curly pate,
sending its owner hurriedly to shelter beneath the scrubby trees,
one hand ruefully rubbing the injured part.

Faster fell the drops, both of rain and of ice, clattering
against the shanty and its adjoining shed with an uproar audible
even above the sullenly rolling peals of heavy thunder.

The rain descended in perfect sheets for a few minutes, while the
hailstones fell thicker and faster, growing in size as the storm
raged, already beginning to lend those red sands a pearly tinge
with their dancing particles.  Now and then an aerial monster
would fall, to draw a wondering cry from the brothers, and on
more than one occasion Waldo risked a cracked crown by dashing
forth from shelter to snatch up a remarkable specimen.

"Talk about your California fruit!  what's the matter with good
old Washington Territory?" he cried, tightly clenching one fist
and holding a hailstone alongside by way of comparison.  "Look at
that, will you?  Isn't it a beauty?  See the different shaded
rings of white and clear ice.  See--brother, it is as large as my
fist!"

But for once Professor Phaeton Featherwit was fairly deaf to the
claims of this, in some respects his favourite nephew, having
scuttled back beneath the shed, where he was busily stowing away
sundry articles of importance into a queerly shaped machine which
those rough planks fairly shielded from the driving storm.

Having performed this duty to his own satisfaction, the professor
came back to where the brothers were standing, viewing with them
such of the storm as could be itemised.  That was but little,
thanks to the driving rain, which cut one's vision short at but a
few rods, while the deafening peals of thunder prevented any
connected conversation during those first few minutes.

"Good thing we've got a shelter!" cried Waldo, involuntarily
shrinking as the plank roof was hammered by several mammoth
stones of ice.  "One of those chunks of ice would crack a
fellow's skull just as easy!"

Yet the next instant he was out in the driving storm, eagerly
snatching at a brace of those frozen marvels, heedless of his own
risk or of the warning shouts sent after him by those
cooler-brained comrades.

Thunder crashed in wildest unison with almost blinding sheets of
lightning, the rain and hail falling thicker and heavier than
ever for a few moments; but then, as suddenly as it had come, the
storm passed on, leaving but a few scattered drops to fetch up
the rear.

"Isn't that pretty nearly what people call a cloudburst, uncle
Phaeton?" asked Bruno, curiously watching that receding mass of
what from their present standpoint looked like vapour.

"Those wholly ignorant of meteorological phenomena might so
pronounce, perhaps, but never one who has given the matter either
thought or study," promptly responded the professor, in no wise
loth to give a free lecture, no matter how brief it might be,
perforce.  "It is merely nature seeking to restore a disturbed
equilibrium; a current of colder air, in search of a temporary
vacuum, caused by--"

"But isn't that just what produces cy--tornadoes, though?"
interrupted Waldo, with scant politeness.

"Precisely, my dear boy," blandly agreed their mentor, rubbing
his hands briskly, while peering through rain-dampened glasses,
after that departing storm.  "And I have scarcely a doubt but
that a tornado of no ordinary magnitude will be the final outcome
of this remarkable display.  For, as the record will amply prove,
the most destructive windstorms are invariably heralded by a fall
of hail, heavy in proportion to the--"

"Then I'd rather be excused, thank you, sir!" again interrupted
the younger of the brothers, shrugging his shoulders as he
stepped forth from shelter to win a fairer view of the space
stretching away towards the south and the west.  "I always
laughed at tales of hailstones large as hen's eggs, but now I
know better.  If I was a hen, and had to match such a pattern as
these, I'd petition the legislature to change my name to that of
ostrich,--I just would, now!"

Bruno proved to be a little more amenable to the law of
politeness, and to him Professor Featherwit confined his sapient
remarks for the time being, giving no slight amount of valuable
information anent these strange phenomena of nature in travail.

He spoke of the different varieties of land-storms, showing how a
tornado varied from a hurricane or a gale, then again brought to
the front the vital difference between a cyclone, as such, and
the miscalled "twister," which has wrought such dire destruction
throughout a large portion of our own land during more recent
years.

While that little lecture would make interesting reading for
those who take an interest in such matters, it need scarcely be
reproduced in this connection, more particularly as, just when
the professor was getting fairly warmed up to his work, an
interruption came in the shape of a sharp, eager shout from the
lips of Waldo Gillespie.

"Look--look yonder!  What a funny looking cloud that is!"

A small clump of trees growing upon a rising bit of ground
interfered with the view of his brother and uncle, for Waldo was
pointing almost due southeast; yet his excitement was so
pronounced that both the professor and Bruno hastened in that
direction, stopping short as they caught a fair sight of the
object indicated.

A mighty mass of wildly disturbed clouds, black and green and
white and yellow all blending together and constantly shifting
positions, out of which was suddenly formed a still more ominous
shape.

A mass of lurid vapour shot downwards, taking on the general
semblance of a balloon, as it swayed madly back and forth, an
elongating trunk or tongue reaching still nearer the earth, with
fierce gyrations, as though seeking to fasten upon some support.

Not one of that trio had ever before gazed upon just such another
creation, yet one and all recognised the truth,--this was a
veritable tornado, just such as they had read in awed wonder
about, time and time again.

Neither one of the brothers Gillespie were cravens, in any sense
of the word, but now their cheeks grew paler, and they seemed to
shrink from yonder airy monster, even while watching it grow into
shape and awful power.

Professor Featherwit was no less absorbed in this wondrous
spectacle, but his was the interest of a scientist, and his pulse
beat as ordinary, his brain remaining as clear and calm as ever.

"I hardly believe we have anything to fear from this tornado, my
lads," he said, taking note of their uneasiness.  "According to
both rule and precedent, yonder tornado will pass to the east of
our present position, and we will be as safe right here as though
we were a thousand miles away."

"But,--do they always move towards the northeast, uncle Phaeton?"

"As a rule, yes; but there are exceptions, of course.  And unless
this should prove to be one of those rare ex--er--"

"Look!" cried Waldo, with swift gesticulation.  "It's coming this
way, or I never--ISN'T it coming this way?"

"Unless this should prove to be one of those rare exceptions, my
dear boy, I can promise you that--Upon my soul!" with an abrupt
change of both tone and manner, "I really believe it IS coming
this way!"

"It is--it is coming!  Get a move on, or we'll never know--hunt a
hole and pull it in after you!" fairly screamed Waldo, turning in
flight.



CHAPTER II.
PROFESSOR FEATHERWIT TAKING NOTES.

"To the house!" cried the professor, raising his voice to
overcome yonder sullen roar, which was now beginning to come
their way.  "Trust all to the aeromotor, and 'twill be well with
us!"

The wiry little man of science himself fell to work with an
energy which told how serious he regarded the emergency, and,
acting under his lead, the brothers manfully played their part.

Just as had been done many times before this day, a queer-looking
machine was shoved out from the shed, gliding along the wooden
ways prepared for that express purpose, while Professor
Featherwit hurried aboard a few articles which past experience
warned him might prove of service in the hours to come, then
sharply cried to his nephews:

"Get aboard, lads!  Time enough, yet none to spare in idle
motions.  See!  The storm is drifting our way in deadly earnest!"

And so it seemed, in good sooth.

Now fairly at its dread work of destruction, tearing up the rain
dampened dirt and playing with mighty boulders, tossing them here
and there, as a giant of olden tales might play with jackstones,
snapping off sturdy trees and whipping them to splinters even
while hurling them as a farmer sows his grain.

Just the one brief look at that aerial monster, then both lads
hung fast to the hand-rail of rope, while the professor put that
cunning machinery in motion, causing the air-ship to rise from
its ways with a sudden swooping movement, then soaring upward and
onward, in a fair curve, as graceful and steady as a bird on
wing.

All this took some little time, even while the trio were working
as men only can when dear life is at stake; but the
flying-machine was afloat and fairly off upon the most marvellous
journey mortals ever accomplished, and that ere yonder
death-balloon could cover half the distance between.

"Grand!  Glorious!  Magnificent!" fairly exploded the professor,
when he could risk a more comprehensive look, right hand tightly
gripping the polished lever through which he controlled that
admirable mechanism.  "I have longed for just such an
opportunity, and now--the camera, Bruno!  We must never neglect
to improve such a marvellous chance for--get out the camera,
lad!"

"Get out of the road, rather!" bluntly shouted Waldo, face
unusually pale, as he stared at yonder awful force in action. "Of
course I'm not scared, or anything like that, uncle Phaeton,
but--I want to rack out o' this just about the quickest the law
allows!  Yes, I DO, now!"

"Wonderful!  Marvellous!  Incredible!  That rara avis, an
exception to all exceptions!" declared the professor, more deeply
stirred than either of his nephews had ever seen him before.  "A
genuine tornado which has no eastern drift; which heads as
directly as possible towards the northwest, and at the same
time--incredible!"

Only ears of his own caught these sentences in their entirety,
for now the storm was fairly bellowing in its might, formed of a
variety of sounds which baffles all description, but which, in
itself, was more than sufficient to chill the blood of even a
brave man.  Yet, almost as though magnetised by that frightful
force, the professor was holding his air-ship steady, loitering
there in its direct path, rather than fleeing from what surely
would prove utter destruction to man and machine alike.

For a few moments Bruno withstood the temptation, but then leaned
far enough to grasp both hand and tiller, forcing them in the
requisite direction, causing the aeromotor to swing easily around
and dart away almost at right angles to the track of the tornado.

That roar was now as of a thousand heavily laden trains rumbling
over hollow bridges, and the professor could only nod his
approval when thus aroused from the dangerous fascination.
Another minute, and the air-ship was floating towards the rear of
the balloon-shaped cloud itself, each second granting the
passengers a varying view of the wonder.

True to the firm hand which set its machinery in motion, the
flying-machine maintained that gentle curve until it swung around
well to the rear of the cloud, where again Professor Featherwit
broke out in ecstatic praises of their marvellous good fortune.

" 'Tis worth a life's ransom, for never until now hath mortal
being been blessed with such a magnificent opportunity for taking
notes and drawing deductions which--"

The professor nimbly ducked his head to dodge a ragged splinter
of freshly torn wood which came whistling past, cast far away
from the tornado proper by those erratic winds.  And at the same
instant the machine itself recoiled, shivering and creaking in
all its cunning joints under a gust of wind which seemed composed
of both ice and fire.

"Oh, I say!" gasped Waldo, when he could rally from the sudden
blow.  "Turn the old thing the other way, uncle Phaeton, and
let's go look for--well, almost anything's better than this old
cyclone!"

"Tornado, lad," swiftly corrected the man of precision, leaning
far forward, and gazing enthralled upon the vision which fairly
thrilled his heart to its very centre.  "Never again may we have
such another opportunity for making--"

They were now directly in the rear of the storm, and as the
air-ship headed across that track of destruction, it gave a
drunken stagger, casting down its inmates, from whose parching
lips burst cries of varying import.

"Air!  I'm choking!" gasped Bruno, tearing open his shirt-collar
with a spasmodic motion.

"Hold me fast!" echoed Waldo, clinging desperately to the
life-line.  "It's drawing me--into the--ah!"

Even the professor gave certain symptoms of alarm for that
moment, but then the danger seemed past as the ship darted fairly
across the storm-trail, hovering to the east of that aerial
phantom.

There was no difficulty in filling their lungs now, and once more
Professor Featherwit headed the flying-machine directly for the
balloon-shaped cloud, modulating its pace so as to maintain their
relative position fairly well.

"Take note how it progresses,--by fits and starts, as it were,"
observed Featherwit, now in his glory, eyes asparkle and muscles
aquiver, hair bristling as though full of electricity, face
glowing with almost painful interest, as those shifting scenes
were for ever imprinted upon his brain.

"Sort of a hop, step, and jump, and that's a fact," agreed Waldo,
now a bit more at his ease since that awful sense of suffocation
was lacking.  "I thought all cyclones--"

"Tornado, my DEAR boy!" expostulated the professor.

"I thought they all went in holy hurry, like they were sent for
and had mighty little time in which to get there.  But this
one,--see how it stops to dance a jig and bore holes in the
earth!"

"Another exception to the general rule, which is as you say,"
admitted the professor.  "Different tornadoes have been timed as
moving from twelve to seventy miles an hour, one passing a given
point in half a score of seconds, at another time being
registered as fully half an hour in clearing a single section.

"Take the destructive storm at Mount Carmel, Illinois, in June of
'77.  That made progress at the rate of thirty-four miles an
hour, yet its force was so mighty that it tore away the spire,
vane, and heavy gilded ball of the Methodist church, and kept it
in air over a distance of fifteen miles.

"Still later was the Texas tornado, doing its awful work at the
rate of more than sixty miles an hour; while that which swept
through Frankfort, Kansas, on May 17, 1896, was fully a half-hour
in crossing a half-mile stretch of bottom-land adjoining the
Vermillion River, pausing in its dizzy waltz upon a single spot
for long minutes at a time."

"Couldn't have been much left when it got through dancing, if
that storm was anything like this one," declared Waldo, shivering
a bit as he watched the awful destruction being wrought right
before their fascinated eyes.

Trees were twisted off and doubled up like blades of dry grass.
Mighty rocks were torn apart from the rugged hills, and huge
boulders were tossed into air as though composed of paper.  And
over all ascended the horrid roar of ruin beyond description,
while from that misshapen balloon-cloud, with its flattened top,
the electric fluid shone and flashed, now in great sheets as of
flame, then in vicious spurts and darts as though innumerable
snakes of fire had been turned loose by the winds.

Still the aerial demon bored its almost sluggish course straight
towards the northwest, in this, as in all else, seemingly bent on
proving itself the exception to all exceptions as Professor
Featherwit declared.

The savant himself was now in his glory, holding the tiller
between arm and side, the better to manipulate his hand-camera,
with which he was taking repeated snap-shots for future
development and reference.

Truly, as he more than once declared, mortal man never had, nor
mortal man ever would have, such a glorious opportunity for
recording the varying phases of nature in travail as was now
vouchsafed themselves.

"Just think of it, lads!" he cried, almost beside himself with
enthusiasm.  "This alone will be sufficient to carry our names
ringing through all time down the corridors of undying fame! This
alone would be more than enough to--Look pleasant, please!"

In spite of that awful vision so perilously close before them,
and the natural uncertainty which attended such a reckless
venture, Waldo could not repress a chuckle at that comical
conclusion, so frequently used towards himself when their uncle
was coaxing them to pose before his pet camera.

"Is it--surely this is not safe, uncle Phaeton?" ventured Bruno,
as another retrograde gust of air smote their apparently frail
conveyance with sudden force.

"Let's call it a day's work, and knock off," chimed in Waldo. "If
the blamed thing should take a notion to balk, and rear back
on its haunches, where'd we come out at?"

Professor Featherwit made an impatient gesture by way of answer.
Speech just then would have been worse than useless, for that
tremendous roaring, crashing, thundering of all sounds, seemed to
fall back and envelop the air-ship as with a pall.

A shower of sand and fine debris poured over and around them,
filling ears and mouths, and blinding eyes for the moment,
forcing the brothers closer to the floor of the aerostat, and
even compelling the eager professor to remit his taking of notes
for future generations.

Then, thin and reed-like, yet serving to pierce that temporary
obscurity and horrible jangle of outer sounds, came the voice of
their relative:

"Fear not, my children!  The Lord is our shield, and so long as
he willeth, just so long shall we--Ha!  didn't I tell ye so?"

For the blinding veil was torn away, and once again the trio of
adventurers might watch yonder grandly awesome march of
devastation.

"Heading direct for the Olympics!" declared Professor Featherwit,
digging the sand out of his eyes and striving to clean his
glasses without removing them, clinging to tiller and camera
through all.  "What a grand and glorious guide 'twould be for
us!"

"If we could only hitch on--like a tin can to the tail of a dog!"
suggested Waldo, with boyish sarcasm.  "Not any of that in mine,
thank you!  I can wait.  No such mighty rush.  No,--SIR!"

There came no answer to his words, for just then that swooping
air-demon turned to vivid fire, lightning playing back and forth,
from side to side, in every conceivable direction, until in spite
of the broad daylight its glory pained those watching eyes.

"Did you ever witness the like!" awesomely cried Bruno, gazing
like one fascinated.  "Who could or would ever believe all that,
even if tongue were able to portray its wondrous beauty?"

"What a place that would be for popping corn!" contributed Waldo,
practical or nothing, even under such peculiar circumstances. "If
I had to play poppy, though, I'd want a precious long handle
to the concern!"

More intensely interested than ever, Professor Featherwit plied
his shutter, taking shot after shot at yonder aerial phenomena,
feeling that future generations would surely rise up to call him
blessed when the results of his experiments were once fairly
spread before the world.

And hence it came to pass that still more thrilling experiences
came unto these daring navigators of space, and that almost
before one or the other of them could fairly realise that greater
danger really menaced both their air-ship and their lives.

Another whirly-gust of sand and other debris assailed the
flying-machine, and while sight was thus rendered almost useless
for the time being, the aerostat began to sway and reel from side
to side, shivering as though caught by an irresistible power, yet
against which it battled as though instinct with life and
brain-power.

Once again the adventurers found it difficult to breathe, while
an unseen power seemed pressing them to that floor as
though--Thank heaven!

Just as before, that cloud was swept away, and again air came to
fill those painfully oppressed lungs.  Once again the trio
cleared their eyes and stared about, only to utter simultaneous
cries of alarm.

For, brief though that period of blindness had been, 'twas amply
sufficient to carry the aeromotor perilously near yonder
storm-centre, and though Professor Featherwit gripped hard his
tiller, trying all he knew to turn the air-ship for a safer
quarter,-'twas all in vain!

"Haste,--make haste, uncle Phaeton!" hoarsely panted Bruno,
leaning to aid the professor.  "We will be sucked in and--hasten,
for life!"

"I can't,--we're already--in the--suction!"



CHAPTER III.
RIDING THE TORNADO.

Whether it was that the air-ship itself had increased its speed
during those few moments of dense obscurity, or whether the madly
whirling winds had taken a retrograde movement at that precise
time, could only be a matter of conjecture; but the ominous fact
remained.

The aerostat was fairly over the danger-line, and, despite all
efforts being made to the contrary, was being drawn directly
towards that howling, crashing, thundering mass of destructive
energy.

Already the inmates felt themselves being sucked from the
flying-machine, and instinctively tightened their grip upon
hand-rail and floor, gasping and oppressed, breath failing, and
ribs apparently being crushed in by that horrible pressure.

"Hold fast--for life!" pantingly screamed Professor Featherwit,
as he strove in vain to check or change the course of his
aeromotor, now for the first time beyond control of that
master-hand.

A few seconds of soul-trying suspense, during which the
flying-machine shivered from stem to stern, almost like a human
creature in its death-agony, creaking and groaning, with shrill
sounds coming from those expanded, curved wings, as the suction
increased; then--

A merciful darkness fell over those sorely imperilled beings, and
the vessel itself seemed about to be overwhelmed by an avalanche
of sand and dirt and mixed debris.  Then came a dizzy, rocking
lurch, followed by a shock which nearly cast uncle and nephews
from their frantic holds, and the air-ship appeared to be whirled
end for end, cast hither and yon, wrenched and twisted as though
all must go to ruin together.

A blast as of superheated air smote upon them one moment, while
in the next they were whirled through an icy atmosphere, then
tossed dizzily to and fro, as their too-frail vehicle spun upward
as though on a journey to the far-away stars.

A shrieking blast of wind served to briefly clear away the
choking dust, affording the trio a fleeting glimpse of their
immediate surroundings:  hurtling sticks and stones, splintered
tops of trees, shrubs with wildly lashing roots freshly torn from
the bed of years, all madly spinning through a blinding,
scorching, freezing mass of crazily battling winds, the different
currents twining and weaving in and out, as so many hideous
serpents at play.

A moment thus, then that horrid uproar grew still more deafening,
and the air-ship was whirled high and higher, in a dizzy dance,
those luckless creatures clinging fast to whatever their frenzied
hands might clutch, feeling that this was the end of all.

Further sight was denied them.  They were powerless to move a
limb, save as jerked painfully by those shrieking currents.
Breath was taken away, and an enormous weight bore down upon
them, threatening to produce a fatal collapse through their ribs
giving way.

Upward whirled the flying-machine, powerless now as those
wretched beings within its cunning shape, smitten sharply here
and there by some of those ascending missiles, yet without
receiving material injury; until a last shivering lurch came,
ending in a sudden fall.

A dizzying swoop downward, but not to death and destruction, for
the aerostat alighted easily upon what appeared to be a sort of
air-cushion, and, though unsteady for a brief space, then settled
upon an even keel.

"Cling fast--for life!" huskily gasped the professor, unwittingly
repeating the caution which had last crossed his lips, which he
had ever since been striving to enunciate, faithful to his
guardianship over these, his sole surviving relatives.

"I don't--where are we?"

Waldo lifted his head to peer with half-blind eyes about them, in
which action he was imitated by both brother and uncle; but, for
a brief space, they were none the wiser.

All around the aeromotor rose a wall of whirling winds, seemingly
impenetrable, apparently within reach of an extended arm,
changing colour with each fraction of a second, hideously
beautiful, yet never twice the same in blend or mixture.

A hollow, strangely sounding roar was perceptible; one instant
coming as from the far distance, then from nigh at hand, causing
the air-ship to quiver and tremble, as a sentient being might in
the presence of a torturing death.

"Look--upward!" panted Bruno, a few seconds later, his face as
pale as that of a corpse, in spite of the dirt and blotches of
sticky mud with which he had been peppered during that dizzy
whirl.

Mechanically his companions in peril obeyed, catching breath
sharply, as they saw a clear sky and yellow sunshine far
above,--so awfully far they were, that it seemed like looking
upward from the bottom of an enormously deep well.

And then the marvellous truth flashed upon the brain of Phaeton
Featherwit, almost robbing him of all power of speech.  Still he
managed to jerkily ejaculate:

"We're inside,--riding the--tornado--itself!"

Then those whirling winds closed quickly above them, shutting out
the sunlight, hiding the heavens from their view, enclosing that
vehicle and its occupants, as they were borne away into unknown
regions, within the very heart of the tornado itself!

Yet, incredible as it surely seems, no actual harm came to the
trio or to their flying-machine as it swayed gently upon its airy
cushion, although from every side came the horrid roar of
destruction, while ever and anon they could glimpse a wrestling
tree or torn mass of shrubbery whizzing upward and outward, to be
flung far away beyond the vortex of electrical winds.

Once more came that awful sense of suffocation.  That painted
pall closed down upon them, robbing their lungs of air, one
instant fairly crisping their hair with a touch of fire, only to
send an icy chill to their veins a moment later.

In vain they struggled, fighting for breath, as a fish gasps when
swung from its native element.  While that horrid pressure
endured, man, youth, and boy alike were powerless.

Again the pall lifted, folding back and blending with those madly
circling currents, once again affording a glimpse of yonder
far-away heavens, so marvellously clear, and bright, and peaceful
in seeming!

Weakened by those terrible moments, Bruno and Waldo lay gasping,
trembling, faint of heart and ill of body, yet filling their
lungs with comparatively pure air,--pity there was so little of
it to win!

Professor Featherwit still had thought and care for his nephews
rather than himself alone, and pantingly spoke, as he dragged
himself to the snug locker, where many important articles had
been stowed away:

"Here--suck life--compressed air!"

With husky cries the brothers caught at the tubes offered, the
method of working which had so often been explained by their
relative.

Once more the tube became a chamber, and that horrid force
threatened to flatten their bodies; but the worst had passed, for
that precious cylinder now gave them air to inhale, and they were
enabled to wait for the lifting of the cloud once more.

Thanks to this important agency, strength and energy both of body
and of mind now came back to the air-voyagers, and after a little
they could lift their heads to peer around them with growing
wonder and curiosity.

There was little room left for doubting the wondrous truth, and
yet belief was past their powers during those first few minutes.

All around them whirled and sped those maddened winds, curling
and twisting, rising and falling, mixing in and out as though
some unknown power might be weaving the web of destiny.

Now dull, now brilliant, never twice the same, but ever changing
in colour as in shape, while stripes and zigzags of lightning
played here and there with terrifying menace, those walls of wind
held an awfully fascinating power for uncle and nephews.

From every side came deadened sounds which could bear but a
single interpretation:  the tornado was still in rapid motion,
was still tearing and rending, crushing and battering, leaving
dire destruction and ruin to mark its advance, and these were the
sounds that recorded its ugly work.

In goodly measure revived by the compressed air, which was
regulated in flow to suit his requirements by a device of his
own, Professor Featherwit now looked around with something of his
wonted animation, heedless of his own peril for the moment, so
great was his interest in this marvellous happening.

So utterly incredible was it all that, during those first few
minutes of rallying powers, he dared not express the belief which
was shaping itself, gazing around in quest of still further
confirmation.

He took note of the windy walls about their vessel, rising upward
for many yards, irregular in shape and curvature here and there,
but retaining the general semblance of a tube with flaring top.
He peered over the edge of the basket, to draw back dizzily as he
saw naught but yeasty, boiling, seething clouds below,--a
veritable air-cushion which had served to save the pet of his
brain from utter destruction at the time of falling within--

Yes, there was no longer room for doubt,--they were actually
inside the distorted balloon, so dreaded by all residents of the
tornado belt!

"What is it, uncle?" huskily asked Bruno, likewise rallying under
that beneficial influence.  "Where are we now?"

"Where I'm wishing mighty hard we wasn't, anyhow!" contributed
Waldo, with something of his usual energy, although, judging from
his face and eyes, the youngster had suffered more severely than
either of his comrades in peril.

Professor Featherwit broke into a queerly sounding laugh, as he
waved his free hand in exultation before speaking:

"Where no living being ever was before us, my lads,--riding the
tornado like a--ugh!"

The air-ship gave an awkward lurch just then, and down went the
little professor to thump his head heavily against one corner of
the locker.  Swaying drunkenly from side to side, then tossing up
and down, turning in unison with those fiercely whirling clouds,
the aeromotor seemed at the point of wreck and ruin.

Desperately the trio clung to the life-lines, clenching teeth
upon the life-giving tubes as that terrible pressure increased so
much that it seemed impossible for the human frame to longer
resist.

Fortunately that ordeal did not long endure, and again relief
came to those so sorely oppressed.  A brief gasping, sighing,
stretching as the aerostat resumed its level position, merely
rocking easily within that partial vacuum, and then Waldo huskily
suggested:

"Looks like the blame thing was sick at the stomach!"

No doubt this was meant for a feeble attempt at joking, but
Professor Featherwit took it for earnest, and made quick reply:  

"That is precisely the case, my dear lad, and I am greatly joyed
to find that you are not so badly frightened but that you can
assist me in taking notes of this wondrous happening.  To think
that we are the ones selected for--"

"I say, uncle Phaeton."

"Well, my lad?"

"If this thing is really sick at the stomach, when will it erupt?
I'd give a dollar and a half to just get out o' this, science or
no science, notes or no notes at all!"

"Patience, my dear boy," gravely spoke the little man of science,
busily studying those eddying currents like one seeking a fairly
safe method of extrication from peril.  "It may come far sooner
than you think, and with results more disastrous than feeble
words can tell.  We surely are a burden such as a tornado must be
wholly unaccustomed to, and I really believe these alternations
are spasmodic efforts of the cloud itself to vomit us forth;
hence you were nearer right than you thought in making use of
that expression."

Just then came a rush of icy air, and Bruno pantingly cried:

"I'm swelling up--like Aesop's--bullfrog!"



CHAPTER IV.
THE PROFESSOR'S LITTLE EXPERIMENT.

Again those involuntary riders of the tornado were tossed
violently to and fro in their seemingly frail ship, while the
balloon itself appeared threatened with instant dissolution,
those eddying currents growing broken and far less regular in
action, while the fierce tumult grew in sound and volume a
thousandfold.

All around the air-ship now showed ugly debris, limbs and boughs
and even whole trunks of giant trees being whirled upward and
outward, each moment menacing the vessel with total destruction,
yet as frequently vanishing without infringing seriously upon
their curious prison.

Sand and dirt and fragments of shattered rock whistled by in an
apparently unending shower, only with reversed motion, flying
upward in place of shooting downward to earth itself.

Speech was utterly impossible under the circumstances, and the
fate-tossed voyagers could only cling fast to the hand-rail, and
hold those precious air-tubes in readiness for the worst.

Never before had either of the trio heard such a deafening crash
and uproar, and little wonder if they thought this surely must
herald the crack of doom!

The tornado seemed to reel backward, as though repulsed by an
immovable obstacle, and then, while the din was a bit less
deafening, Professor Featherwit contrived to make himself heard,
through screaming at the top of his voice:

"The mountain range, I fancy!  It's a battle to the--"

That sentence was perforce left incomplete, since the storm-demon
gave another mad plunge to renew the battle, bringing on a
repetition of that drunken swaying so upsetting to both mind and
body.

A few seconds thus, then the tornado conquered, or else rose
higher in partial defeat, for their progress was resumed, and
comparative quiet reigned again.

The higher clouds curved backward, affording a wider view of the
heavens far above, and, as all eyes turned instinctively in that
direction, Bruno involuntarily exclaimed:

"Still daylight!  I thought--how long has this lasted?"

"It's the middle o' next week; no less!" positively affirmed his
brother.  "Don't tell me!  We've been in here a solid month, by
my watch!"

Instead of making reply such as might have been expected from one
of his mathematical exactness, Professor Featherwit gave a cry of
dismay, while hurriedly moving to and fro in their contracted
quarters, for the time being forgetful of all other than this,
his great loss.

"What is it, uncle Phaeton?" asked Bruno, rising to his knees in
natural anxiety.  "Surely nothing worse than has already happened
to us?"

"Worse?  What could be worse than losing for ever--the camera,
boys; where is the camera, I ask you?"

Certainly not where the professor was looking, and even as he
roared forth that query, his heart told him the sad truth; past
doubting, the instrument upon whose aid he relied to place upon
record these marvellous facts, so that all mankind might see and
have full faith, was lost,--thrown from the aerostat, to meet
with certain destruction, when the vessel first came within the
tornado's terrible clutch.

"Gone,--lost,--and now who will believe that we ever--oh, this is
enough to crush one's very soul!" mourned the professor, throwing
up his hands, and sinking back to the floor of the flying-machine
in a limp and disheartened heap for the time being.

Neither Bruno nor Waldo could fully appreciate that grief, since
thoughts and care for self were still the ruling passion with
both; but once more they were called upon to do battle with the
swaying of the winds, and once again were they saved only through
that life-giving cylinder of compressed air.

Presently, the heart-broken professor rallied, as was his nature,
and, with a visible effort putting his great loss behind him,
endeavoured to cheer up his comrades in peril.

"So far we have passed through all danger without receiving
material injury,--to ourselves, I mean,--and surely it is not too
much to hope for eventual escape?" he said, earnestly, pressing
the hands of his nephews, by way of additional encouragement.

"Yes," hesitated Bruno, with an involuntary shiver, as he glanced
around them upon those furiously boiling clouds, then cast an eye
upward, towards yonder clear sky.  "Yes, but--in what manner?"

"What'll we do when the cyclone goes bu'st?" cut in Waldo, with
disagreeable bluntness.  "It can't go on for ever, and when it
splits up,--where will we be then?"

"I wish it lay within my power to give you full assurance on all
points, my dear boys," the professor made reply.  "I only wish I
could ensure your perfect safety by giving my own poor remnant of
life--"

"No, no, uncle Phaeton!" cried the brothers, in a single breath.

"How cheerfully, if I only might!" insisted the professor, his
homely face wearing an expression of blended regret and unbounded
affection.  "But for me you would never have encountered these
perils, nor ever--"

Again he was interrupted by the brothers, and forced to leave
that regret unspoken to the end.

"Only for you, uncle Phaeton, what would have become of us when
we were left without parents, home, fortune?  Only for you,
taking us in and treating us as though of your own flesh and
blood--"

"As you are, my good lads!  Let it pass, then, but I must say
that I do wish--well, well, let it pass, then!"

A brief silence, which was spent in gripping hands and with eyes
giving pledges of love and undying confidence; then Professor
Featherwit spoke again, in an entirely different vein.

"If nothing else, we have exploded one fallacy which has never
met with contradiction, so far as my poor knowledge goes."

"And that is--what, uncle Phaeton?"

"Observe, my lads," with a wave of his hand towards those
whirling walls, and then making a downward motion.  "You see that
we are floating in a partial vacuum, yet where there is air
sufficient to preserve life under difficulties.  And by looking
downward--careful that you don't fall overboard through
dizziness, though!"

"Looks as though we were floating just above a bed of ugly wind!"
declared Waldo, after taking a look below.

"Precisely; the aerostat rests upon an air-cushion amply solid
enough to sustain far more than our combined weight.  But what is
the generally accepted view, my dear boys?"

"You tell, for we don't know how," frankly acknowledged Waldo.

"Thanks.  Yet you are now far wiser than all of the scientists
who have written and published whole libraries concerning these
storm formations, but whose fallacies we are now fully prepared
to explode, once for all, through knowledge won by personal
investigation--ahem!"

Strange though it may appear, the professor forgot the mutual
danger by which they were surrounded, and trotted off on his
hobby-horse in blissful pride, paying no attention to the hideous
uproar going on, only raising his voice higher to make it heard
by his youthful auditors.

"The common belief is that, while these tornadoes are hollow,
even through the trunk or tongue down to its contact with the
earth, that hollow is caused by a constant suction, through which
a steady stream of debris is flowing, to be sown broadcast for
miles around after emerging from the open top of the so-called
balloon."

"But it isn't at all like that," eagerly cried Waldo, pointing to
where the fragments were flowing upward through those walls
themselves, yet far enough from that hollow interior to be but
indistinctly seen save on rare occasions.  "Look at 'em scoot,
will ye?  Oh, if we could only climb up like that!"

Professor Featherwit was keenly watching and closely studying
that very phenomena through all, and now he gave a queer little
chuckle, as he nodded his head with vigour, before dryly
speaking.

"Well, it might be done; yes, it might be done, and that with no
very serious difficulty, my lad."

"How?  Why not try it on, then?"

"To meet with instant death outside?" sharply queried Bruno.  "It
would be suicidal to make the attempt, even if we could; which I
doubt."

Waldo gave a sudden cry, pointing upward where, far above that
destructive storm, could be seen a brace of buzzards floating on
motionless wings, wholly undisturbed by the tumult below.

"If we were only like that!" the lad cried, longingly.  "If a
flying-machine could be built like those turkey-buzzards!  I
wish--well, I do suppose they're about the nastiest varmints ever
hatched, but just now I'd be willing to swap, and wouldn't ask
any boot, either!"

Apparently the professor paid no attention to this boyish plaint,
for he was fumbling in the locker, then withdrew his hand and
uncoiled an ordinary fish-line, with painted float attached.

Before either brother could ask a question, or even give a guess
at his purpose, Professor Phaeton flung hook and cork into those
circling currents, only to have the whole jerked violently out of
his grip, the line flying upward, to vanish from the sight of
all.

That jerk was powerful enough to cut through the skin of his
hand, but the professor chuckled like one delighted, as he sucked
away the few drops of blood before adding:

"I knew it!  It CAN be done, and if the worst should come to
pass, why should it not be done?"

Before an answer could be vouchsafed by either of the brothers,
the pall swooped down upon them once more, and again the supply
of natural air was shut off, while their vessel was rocked and
swayed crazily, just as though the delayed end was at last upon
them.

For several minutes this torture endured, each second of which
appeared to be an hour to those imperilled beings, who surely
must have perished, as they lay pinned fast to the floor of the
aerostat by that pitiless weight, only for the precious air-tubes
in connection with that cylinder of compressed air.

After a seeming age of torment the awful pressure was relaxed,
leaving the trio gasping and shivering, as they lay side by side,
barely conscious that life lingered, for the moment unable to
lift hand or head to aid either self or another.

In spite of his far greater age, Professor Featherwit was first
to rally, and his voice was about the first thing distinguished
by the brothers, as their powers began to rally.

"Shall we take our chances, dear boys?" the professor was saying,
in earnest tones.  "I believe there is a method of escaping from
this hell-chamber, although of what may lie beyond--"

"It can't well be worse than this!" huskily gasped Bruno.

"Anything--everything--just to get out o' here!" supplemented
Waldo, for once all spirits subdued.

"It may be death for us all, even if we do get outside," gravely
warned the professor.  "Bear that in mind, dear boys.  It may be
that not one of us will escape with life, after--"

"How much better to remain here?" interrupted Bruno.  "I felt
death would be a mercy--then!  And I'd risk anything, everything,
rather than go through such another ordeal!  I say,--escape!"

"Me too, all over!" vigorously decided Waldo, lifting himself to
both knees as he added:  "Tell us what to do, and here I am, on
deck, uncle."

Even now Professor Phaeton hesitated, his eyes growing dimmer
than usual as they rested upon one face after the other, for
right well he knew how deadly would be the peril thus invited.

But, as the brothers repeated their cry, he turned away to
swiftly knot a strong trail-rope to a heavy iron grapnel, leaving
the other end firmly attached to a stanchion built for that
express purpose.

"Hold fast, if you value life at all, dear boys!" he warned, then
added:  "Heaven be kind to you, even if my life pays the forfeit!
Now!"

Without further delay, he cast the heavy grapnel into that mass
of boiling vapour, then fell flat, as an awful jerk was given the
aerostat.



CHAPTER V.
THE PROFESSOR'S UNKNOWN LAND.

There was neither time nor opportunity for taking notes, for that
long rope straightened out in the fraction of a second, throwing
all prostrate as the flying-machine was jerked upward with awful
force.

All around them raged and roared the mighty winds, while missiles
of almost every description pelted and pounded both machine and
inmates during those few seconds of extraordinary peril.

Fortunately neither the professor nor his nephews could fairly
realise just what was taking place, else their brains would
hardly have stood the test; and fortunately, too, that ordeal was
not protracted.

A hideous experience while it lasted, those vicious currents
dragging the aerostat upward out of the air-chamber by means of
grapnel and rope, then casting all far away in company with
wrecked trees and bushes, and even solider materials, all
shrouded for a time in dust and debris, which hindered the
eyesight of both uncle and nephews.

Through it all the brothers were dimly aware of one fact uncle
Phaeton was shrilly bidding them cling fast and have courage.

All at once they felt as though vomited forth from a volcano
which alternately breathed fire and ice, the clear light of
evening bursting upon their aching, smarting eyes with actual
pain, while that horrid roar of warring elements seemed to pass
away in the distance, leaving them--where, and how?

"We're falling to--merciful heavens!  Hold fast, all!" screamed
the professor, desperately striving to regain full command of
their air-ship.  "The tiller is jammed, but--"

To all seeming, the aerostat had sustained some fatal damage
during that brief eruption caused by the professor's little
experiment, for it was pitching drunkenly end for end, refusing
to obey the hand of its builder, bearing all to certain death
upon the earth far below.

Half stupefied with fear, the brothers clung fast to the
life-line and glared downward, noting, in spite of themselves,
how swiftly yonder dark tree-tops and gray crags were shooting
heavenward to meet them and claim the sacrifice.

With fierce energy Professor Featherwit jerked and wrenched at
the steering-gear, uttering words such as had long been foreign
to his lips, but then--just when destruction appeared
inevitable--a wild cry burst from his lungs, as a broken bit of
native wood came away in his left hand, leaving the lever free as
of old!

And then, with a dizzying swoop and rapid recovery, the gallant
air-ship came back to an even keel, sailing along with old-time
grace and ease, barely in time to avoid worse mishap as the crest
of a tall tree was brushed in their passage.

"Saved,--saved, my lads!" screamed the professor, as his
heart-pet soared upward once more until well past the
danger-line.  "Safe and sound through all,--praises be unto the
Lord, our Father!"

Neither brother spoke just then, for they lay there in half
stupor, barely able to realise the wondrous truth:  that their
lives had surely been spared them, even as by a miracle!

That swooping turn now brought their faces towards the tornado,
which was at least a couple of miles distant, rapidly making that
distance greater even while continuing its work of destruction.

"And we--were in it!" huskily muttered Bruno, his lids closing
with a shiver, as he averted his face, unwilling to see more.

"Heap sight worse than being in the soup, too, if anybody asks
you," declared Waldo, beginning to rally both in strength and in
spirit.  "But--what's the matter with the old ship, uncle
Phaeton?"

For the aerostat was indulging itself in sundry distressing
gyrations, pretty much as a boy's kite swoops from side to side,
when lacking in tail-ballast, while the professor seemed unable
to keep the machine under complete control.

"Nothing serious, only--hold fast, all!  I believe 'twould be as
well to make our descent, for fear something--steady!"

Just ahead there appeared a more than usually open space in the
forest, and, quite as much by good luck as through actual skill,
Professor Featherwit succeeded in making a landing with no more
serious mishap than sundry bruises and a little extra
teeth-jarring.

As quickly as possible, both Bruno and Waldo pitched themselves
out of the partially disabled aeromotor, the elder brother
grasping the grapnel and taking a couple of turns of the strong
rope around a convenient tree-trunk, lest the ship escape them
altogether.

"No need, my gallant boy!" assured the professor, an instant
later.  "All is well,--all IS well, thanks to an over-ruling
Providence!"

In spite of this expressed confidence, he hurriedly looked over
his pet machine, taking note of such injuries as had been
received during that remarkable journey, only giving over when
fairly satisfied that all damage might be readily made good,
after which the aerostat would be as trustworthy as upon its
first voyage on high.

Then, grasping the brothers each by a hand, he smiled genially,
then lifted eyes heavenward, to a moment later sink upon his
knees with bowed head and hands folded across his bosom.

Bruno and Waldo imitated his action, and, though no audible words
were spoken, never were more heartfelt prayers sent upward, never
more grateful thanks given unto the Most High.

Boy, youth, and man alike seemed fairly awed into silence for the
next few minutes, unable to so soon cast off the spell which had
fallen upon them, one and each, when realising how mercifully
their lives had been spared, even after all earthly hope had been
abandoned.

As usual, however, Waldo was first to rally, and, after silently
moving around the aerostat, upon which the professor was already
busily at work by the last gleams of the vanished sun, he paused,
legs separated, and hands thrust deep into pockets, head perking
on one side as he spoke, drawlingly:

"I say, uncle Phaeton?"

"What is it, Waldo?"

"It'll never do to breathe even a hint of all this, will it?"

"Why so, pray?"

"Whoever heard it would swear we were bald-headed liars right
from Storytown!  And yet,--did it really happen, or have I been
dreaming all the way through?"

Professor Featherwit gave a brief, dry chuckle at this, rising
erect to cast a deliberate glance around their present location,
then speaking:

"Without I am greatly mistaken, my dear boy, you will have still
other marvellous happenings to relate ere we return to what is,
rightfully or wrongfully, called civilisation."

"Is that so?  Then you really reckon--"

"For one thing, my lad, we are now fairly entered upon a terra
incognita, so far as our own race is concerned.  In other
words,--behold, the Olympics!"

Both Bruno and Waldo cast their eyes around, but only a
circumscribed view was theirs.  The shades of evening were
settling fast, and on all sides they could see but mighty trees,
rugged rocks, a mountain stream from whose pebbly bed came a
soothing murmur.

"Nothing so mighty much to brag of, anyway," irreverently quoth
Waldo, after that short-lived scrutiny.  "It wouldn't fetch a
dollar an acre at auction, and for my part,--wonder when the gong
will sound for supper?"

That blunt hint was effective, and, letting the subject drop for
the time being, even the professor joined in the hurry for an
evening meal, to which one and all felt able to do full justice.

Although some rain had fallen at this point as well, no serious
difficulty was experienced in kindling a fire, while Waldo had
little trouble in heaping up a bounteous supply of fuel.

Through countless ages the forest monarchs had been shedding
their superfluous boughs, while here and there lay an entire
tree, overthrown by some unknown power, and upon which the
brothers made heavy requisition.

Professor Featherwit took from the locker a supply of tinned
goods, together with a patent coffee-pot and frying-pan, so
convenient where space is scarce and stowage-room precious.

With water from the little river, it took but a few minutes more
to scent the evening with grateful fumes, after which the
adventurous trio squatted there in the ruddy glow, eating,
sipping, chatting, now and again forced to give thanks for their
really miraculous preservation after all human hopes had been
exhausted.

Although Professor Featherwit was but little less thankful for
the wondrous leniency shown them, he could not altogether refrain
from mourning the loss of his camera, with its many snap-shots at
the tornado itself, to say nothing of what he might have secured
in addition, while riding the storm so marvellously.

More to take his thoughts away from that loss than through actual
curiosity in the subject offered by way of substitute, Bruno
asked for further light upon the so-called terra incognita.

"Of course it isn't really an unknown land, though, uncle
Phaeton?" he added, almost apologetically.  "In this age, and
upon our own continent, such a thing is among the
impossibilities."

"Indeed?  And, pray, how long since has it been that you would,
with at least equal positivity, have declared it impossible to
enter a tornado while in wildest career, yet emerge from it with
life and limb intact?"

"Yes, uncle, but--this is different, by far."

"In one sense, yes; in another, no," affirmed the professor, with
emphatic nod, brushing the tips of his fingers together, as he
moved back to assume a more comfortable position inside the
air-ship, then quickly preparing a pipe and tobacco for his
regular after-meal smoke.

A brief silence, then the professor spoke, clearly, distinctly:

"Washington has her great unknown land, quite as much as has the
interior of Darkest Africa, my boys, besides enjoying this
peculiar advantage:  while adventurous white men have traversed
those benighted regions in every direction, even though little
permanent good may have been accomplished, this terra incognita
remains virgin in that particular sense of the word."

"You mean, uncle?"

"That here in the Olympic region you see what is literally an
unknown, unexplored scope of country, as foreign to the foot of
mankind as it was countless ages gone by.  So far as history
reads, neither white man nor red has ever ventured fairly within
these limits; a mountainous waste which rises from the level
country, within ten or fifteen miles of the Straits of San Juan
de Fuca, in the north, the Pacific Ocean in the west, Hood's
Canal in the east, and the barren sand-hills lying to the far
south.

"This irregular range is known upon the map as the Olympics, and,
rising to the height of from six to eight thousand feet, shut in
a vast unexplored area.

"The Indians have never penetrated it, so far as can be
ascertained, for their traditions say that it is inhabited by a
very fierce tribe of warriors, before whose might and strange
weapons not one of the coast tribes can stand."

"One of the Lost Tribes of Israel, shouldn't wonder," drawlingly
volunteered Waldo, stifling a yawn, and forced to rub his
inflamed eyes with a surreptitious paw.

Professor Featherwit, though plainly absorbed in his curious
theory, was yet quick to detect this evidence of weariness, and
laughed a bit, with change of both tone and manner, as he spoke
further:

"That forms but a partial introductory to my lecture, dear lads,
but perhaps it might be as well to postpone the rest for a more
propitious occasion.  You have undergone sore trials, both
of--Hark!"

Some sound came to his keen ears, which the brothers failed to
catch, but as they bent their heads in listening, another noise
came, which proved startling enough, in all conscience,--a
shrill, maniacal screech, which sent cold chills running races up
each spine.



CHAPTER VI.
A BRACE OF UNWELCOME VISITORS.

Instinctively the brothers drew nearer each other, as though for
mutual protection, each one letting hand drop to belt where a
revolver was habitually carried, but which was lacking now,
thanks to the great haste with which they had taken wing at the
approach of the tornado.

"What is it?  What can it mean?" asked Bruno and Waldo, almost in
the same breath, as those fierce echoes died away in the
distance.

Professor Featherwit made no immediate reply, but by the glow of
yonder camp-fire he fumbled inside the magic locker, fetching
forth firearms, then speaking in hushed tones:

"Wait.  Listen for--I knew it!"

From the opposite quarter came what might easily have been an
echo of that first wild screech, only louder, longer, more
savage, if such a thing be possible.

Prepared though they now were, neither brother could refrain from
shrinking and shuddering, so hideously that cry sounded in their
ears.  But their uncle spoke in cool, clear tones:

"There is nothing supernatural about that, my lads.  A panther or
mountain lion, I dare say, scenting the fumes of our cookery, and
coming to claim a share."

"Then it isn't--Nothing spookish, uncle Phaeton?" ventured Waldo,
in slightly unsteady tones.

The professor gave swift assurance upon that point, and, rallying
as few youngsters would have done under like circumstances, the
brothers grasped the weapons supplied their hands, waiting and
watching for what was to come.

Once, twice, thrice those savage calls echoed far and wide, but
with each repetition losing a portion of their terrors; and
knowing now that prowling beasts surely were drawing nigh the
camp-fire, the flying machine was abandoned by the trio, all
drawing closer to the fire, which might prove no slight
protection against attack.

Then followed a period of utter silence, during which their eyes
roved restlessly around, striving to sight the four-footed enemy
ere an actual attack could be made.

Professor Featherwit was first to glimpse a pair of greenish eyes
in silent motion, and, giving a low hiss of warning to his
nephews, that same sound serving to check further progress on the
part of the wild beast, his short rifle came to a level, then
emitted a peculiar sound.

Only the keenest of ears could have noted that, for only the
fraction of an instant later followed a sharp explosion, the
darkness beyond being briefly lit up by a yellowish glare.

"That's enough,--beware its mate!" cried the professor, keenly
alert for whatever might ensue; but the words were barely across
his lips when, with a vicious snarl, a furry shape came flying
through the air, knocking Featherwit over as he instinctively
ducked his head with arm flying up as additional guard.

Both man and beast came very near falling into the fire itself,
and there ensued a wild, confused scramble, out of which the
brothers singled their enemy, Waldo opening fire with a revolver,
at close range, each shot causing the lion to yell and snarl most
ferociously.

A cat-like recovery, then the fatal leap might have followed, for
the confused professor was rising to his feet again, fairly in
front of the enraged brute; but ere worse came, Waldo and Bruno
were to the rescue, one firing as rapidly as possible, his
brother driving a keen-bladed knife to the very hilt just back of
that quivering forearm.

One mad wrestle, in which both lads were overthrown, then the
gaunt and muscular brute stretched its length in a shivering
throe, dead even while it strove to slay.

Just as the professor hurried to the front, beseeching his boys
to keep out of peril if they loved him; at which Waldo laughed
outright, although never had he felt a warmer love for the same
odd-speaking, queer-acting personage than right at that moment.

"I'm all right; how's it with you, sir?  And--Bruno?"

"Without a scratch to remember it by," promptly asserted the
elder brother, likewise regaining his feet and taking hasty
account of stock.  "No fault of his, though!" giving that carcass
a kick as he spoke.  "My gracious!  I caught just one glimpse of
them, and I was ready to make affidavit that each fang would
measure a foot, while his claws--"

"Would pass through an elephant and clinch on the other side,"
declared Waldo, stooping far enough to lift one of those armed
paws.  "But, I say, Bruno, how awfully they have shrunk, since
then!"

Whether so intended or not, this characteristic break caused a
mutual laugh, and, as there was neither sound nor sign of further
danger from like source, one and all satisfied their curiosity by
minutely inspecting the huge brute, stirring up the fire for that
purpose.

"An ugly customer, indeed, if we had given him anything like a
fair show," gravely uttered the professor.  "Only for your prompt
assistance, my dear boys, what would have become of poor me?"

"We acted on our own account, as well, please remember, uncle.
And even so, after all you have done for us since--"

"What was it you shot at, uncle Phaeton?" interrupted Waldo, who
was constitutionally averse to aught which savoured of sentiment.
"Another one of these--little squirrels, was it?"

Snatching up a blazing brand, the lad moved off in that
direction, whirling the torch around his head until it burst into
clear flame, then lowering it closer to a bloody heap of fur and
powerful limbs, to give a short ejaculation of wondering awe.

It was a headless body upon which he gazed, ragged fragments of
skin and a few splinters of bone alone remaining to tell that a
solid skull had so recently been thereon.

Professor Phaeton gave another of his peculiar little chuckles,
as he drew near, then patted the compact little rifle with which
he had wrought such extraordinary work:  a weapon of his own
invention, as were the dynamite-filled shells to match.

"Although I am rather puny myself, boys, with this neat little
contrivance I could fairly well hold my own against man or
beast," he modestly averred.

"A modern David," gravely added Bruno, while Waldo chimed in
with:

"What a dandy Jack the Giant-killer you would have been, uncle
Phaeton, if you had only lived in the good old days!  I wish--and
yet I don't, either!  Of course, it might have been jolly old
sport right then, but now,--where'd I be, to-day?"

"A day on which has happened a miracle far more marvellous than
all that has been set down in fairyland romance, my dear son,"
earnestly spoke the professor.  "And when the astounding truth
shall have been published, broadcast, throughout all Christendom,
what praises--"

"How thoroughly we shall be branded liars, and falsificationers
from 'way up the crick'!" exploded the youngster, making a wry
grimace and moving on to view the headless lion from a different
standpoint.

"He means well, uncle Phaeton," assured Bruno, in lowered tones.
"He would not knowingly hurt your feelings, sir, but--may I speak
out?"

"Why not?" quickly.  "Surely I am not one to stand in awe of,
lad?"

"One to be loved and reverenced, rather," with poorly hidden
emotion; then rallying, to add, "But when one finds it impossible
to realise all that has happened this afternoon, when one feels
afraid to even make an effort at such belief, how can the boy be
blamed for feeling that all others would pronounce us mad
or--wilful liars?"

Professor Phaeton saw the point, and made a wry grimace while
roughing up his pompadour and brushing his closely trimmed beard
with doubtful hand.  After all, was the whole truth to be ever
spoken?

"Well, well, we can determine more clearly after fully weighing
the subject," he said, turning back towards the flying-machine.
"And, after all, what has happened to us thus far may not seem so
utterly incredible after our explorations are completed."

"Of this region, do you mean, sir?"

"Of the Olympic mountains, and all their mountainous chain may
encompass,--yes," curtly spoke the man of hopes, stepping inside
the aerostat to perfect his arrangements for the night.

Waldo took greater pleasure in viewing the mountain lion towards
whose destruction he had so liberally contributed, but when he
spoke of removing the skin, Bruno objected.

"Why take so much trouble for nothing, Waldo?  Even if we could
stow the pelts away on board, they would make a far from
agreeable burden.  And if what I fancy lies before us is to come
true, the more lightly we are weighted, the more likely we are to
come safely to--well, call it civilisation, just for a change."

"Then you believe that uncle Phaeton is really in earnest about
exploring this region, Bruno?"

"He most assuredly is.  Did you ever know him to speak idly, or
to be otherwise than in earnest, Waldo?"

"Well, of course uncle is all right, but--sometimes--"

A friendly palm slipped over those lips, cutting short the speech
which might perchance have left a sting behind.  And yet the
worthy professor had no more enthusiastic acolyte than this same
reckless speaking youngster, when the truth was all told.

Leaving the animals where they had fallen, for the time being,
the brothers passed over to where rested the aeromotor, finding
the professor busily engaged in rigging up a series of fine
wires, completely surrounding the flying-machine, save for one
narrow, gate-like arrangement.

"Beginning to feel as though you could turn in for all night, eh,
my boys?" came his cheery greeting.

"Well, somehow I do feel as though 'the sandman' had been making
his rounds rather earlier than customary," dryly said Waldo,
winking rapidly.  "I believe there must have been a bit more wind
astir to-day than common, although neither of you may have
noticed the fact."

Professor Featherwit chuckled softly while at work, but neither
he nor Bruno made reply in words.  And then, his arrangements
perfected save for closing the circuit, which could only be done
after all hands had entered the air-ship, he spoke to the point:

"Come, boys.  You've had a rough bit of experience this day, and
there may be still further trouble in store, here in this unknown
land.  Better make sure of a full night's rest, and thus have a
reserve fund to draw upon in case of need."

There was plenty of sound common sense in this adjuration, and,
only taking time to procure a can of fresh water from yonder
stream, the two youngsters stepped within that charmed circle,
permitting their uncle to close the circuit, and then test the
queer contrivance to make sure all was working nicely.

A confused sound broke forth, resembling the faraway tooting of
tin horns, which blended inharmoniously with the ringing of
nearer bells, all producing a noise which was warranted to arouse
the heaviest sleeper from his soundest slumber.

"That will give fair warning in case any intruder drifts this
way," declared the professor, chucklingly, then sinking down and
wrapping himself up in a close-woven blanket, similar to those
employed by the boys.

"Even a ghost, or a goblin, do you reckon, uncle Phaeton?"

"Should such attempt to intrude, yes.  Go to sleep, you young
rascal!"

But that proved to be far more readily spoken than lived up to.
Not but that the brothers were weary, jaded, and sore of muscle
enough to make even the thought of slumber agreeable; but their
recent experience had been so thrilling, so nerve-straining, so
far apart from the ordinary routine of life, that hours passed
ere either lad could fairly lose himself in sleep.

Still, when unconsciousness did steal over their weary brains, it
proved to be all the more complete, and after that neither Bruno
nor Waldo stirred hand or foot until, well after the dawn of a
new day, Professor Featherwit shook first one and then the other,
crying shrilly:

"Turn out, youngsters!  A new day, and plenty of work to be
done!"



CHAPTER VII.
THE PROFESSOR'S GREAT ANTICIPATIONS.

A stretch and a yawn, which in Waldo's case ended in a prolonged
howl, which would not have disgraced either of their four-footed
visitors of the past evening, then the brothers Gillespie sprung
forth from the flying-machine, entering upon a race for the
brawling mountain stream, "shedding" their garments as they ran.

"First man in!" cried Bruno, whose clothes seemed to slip off the
more readily; but Waldo was not to be outdone so easily, and,
reckless of the consequences, he plunged into the eddying pool,
with fully half of his daylight rig still in place.

The water proved to be considerably deeper than either brother
had anticipated, and Waldo vanished from sight for a few seconds,
then reappearing with lusty puff and splutter, shaking the pearly
drops from his close-clipped curls, while ranting:

"Another vile fabrication nailed to the standard of truth, and
clinched by the hammer of--ouch!"

A wild flounder, then the youngster fairly doubled himself up,
acting so strangely that Bruno gave a little cry of alarm; but
ere the elder brother could take further action, Waldo swung his
right arm upward and outward, sending a goodly sized trout
flashing through the air to the shore, crying in boyish
enthusiasm:

"Glory in great chunks!  I want to camp right here for a year to
come!  Will ye look at that now?"

Bruno had to dodge that writhing missile, and, before he could
fairly recover himself, Waldo had floundered ashore, leaving a
yeasty turmoil in his wake, but then throwing up a dripping hand,
and speaking in an exaggerated whisper:

"Whist, boy!  On your life, not so much as the ghost of a
whimper!  The hole's ramjammed chuck full of trout, and we'll
have a meal fit for the gods if--where's my fishing tackle?"

Bruno picked up the trout, so queerly brought to light, really
surprised, but feigning still further, as he made his
examination.

"It really IS a trout, and--how long have you carried this about
in your clothes, Waldo Gillespie?"

"Not long enough for you to build a decent joke over it, brother
mine.  Just happened so.  Tried to ram its nose in one of my
pockets, and of course I had to take him in out of the wet.
Pool's just full of them, too, and I wouldn't wonder if--oh, quit
your talking, and do something, can't you, boy?"

Vigorously though he spoke, Waldo wound up with a shiver and
sharp chatter of teeth as the fresh morning air struck through
his dripping garments.  He gave a coltish prance, as he turned to
seek his fishing tackle; but, unfortunately for his hopes of
speedy sport, the professor was nigh enough to both see and hear,
and at once took charge of the reckless youngster.

"Wet to the hide, and upon an empty stomach, too!  You foolish
child!  Come, strip to the buff, and put on some of these
garments until--here by the fire, Waldo."

And thus taken in tow, the lad was forced to slowly but
thoroughly toast his person beside the freshly started fire,
ruefully watching his brother deftly handle rod and line, in a
remarkably short space of time killing trout enough to furnish
all with a bounteous meal.

"And I was the discoverer, while you reap all the credit, have
all the fun!" dolefully lamented Waldo, when the catch was
displayed with an ostentation which may have covered just a tiny
bit of malice.  "I'll put a tin ear on you, Amerigo Vespucius!"

"All right; we'll have a merry go together, after you've cleaned
the trout for cooking, lad," laughed his elder.

Waldo gazed reproachfully into that bright face for a brief
space, then bowed head in joined hands, to sob in heartfelt
fashion, his sturdy frame shaking with poorly suppressed
grief--or mirth?

Bruno passed an arm caressingly over those shoulders, murmuring
words of comfort, earnestly promising to never sin again in like
manner, provided he could find forgiveness now.  And then, with
deft touch, that same hand held his garment far enough for its
mate to let slip a wriggling trout adown his brother's back.

Waldo howled and jumped wildly, as the cold morsel slipped along
his spine, and ducking out of reach, the elder jester called
back:

"Land him, boy, and you've caught another fish!"

Although laughing heartily himself, Professor Featherwit deemed
it a part of wisdom to interfere now, and, ere long, matters
quieted down, all hands engaged in preparing the morning meal,
for which all teeth were now fairly on edge.

If good nature had been at all disturbed, long before that
breakfast was despatched it was fully restored, and of the trio,
Waldo appeared to be the most enthusiastic over present
prospects.

"Why, just think of it, will you?" he declaimed, as well as might
be with mouth full of crisply fried mountain trout.  "where the
game comes begging for you to bowl it over, and the very fish try
to jump into your pockets--"

"Or down your back, Amerigo," interjected Bruno, with a grin.

"Button up, or you'll turn to be a Sorry-cus--tomer, old man,"
came the swift retort, with a portentous frown.  "But, joking
aside, why not?  With such hunting and fishing, I'd be willing to
sign a contract for a round year in this region."

"To say nothing of exploration, and such discoveries as naturally
attend upon--"

"Then you really mean it all, uncle Phaeton?"

Leaning back far enough to pluck a handful of green leaves, which
fairly well served the purpose of a napkin, Professor Featherwit
brought forth pipe and pouch, maintaining silence until the
fragrant tobacco was well alight.  Then he gave a vigorous nod of
his head, to utter:

"It has been the dearest dream of my life for more years gone by
than you would readily credit, my lads; or, in fact, than I would
be wholly willing to confess.  And it was with an eye single to
this very adventure that I laboured to devise and perfect yonder
machine."

"A marvel in itself, uncle Phaeton.  Only for that, where would
we have been, yesterday?" seriously spoke the elder Gillespie.

"I know where we wouldn't have been:  inside that blessed
cy-nado!"

"Nor here, where you can catch brook trout in your clothes
without the trouble of taking them off, youngster."

"And where you'll catch a precious hiding, without you let up
harping on that old string; it's way out of tune already, old
man,"

"Tit for tat.  Excuse us, please, uncle Phaeton.  We're like
colts in fresh pasture, this morning," brightly apologised Bruno,
for both.

Apparently the professor paid no attention to that bit of
sparring between his nephews, staring into the glowing camp-fire
with eyes which surely saw more than yellow coals or ruddy flames
could picture; eyes which burned and sparkled with all the fires
of distant youth.

"The dearest dream of all my life!" he repeated, in half dreamy
tones, only to rouse himself, with a a start and shoulder shake,
an instant later, forcing a bright smile as he glanced from face
to face.  "And why not?  How better could my last years be
employed than in piercing the clouds of mystery, and doubt, and
superstition, with which this vast tract has been enveloped for
uncounted ages?"

"Is it really so unknown, then, uncle Phaeton?" hesitatingly
asked Bruno, touched, in spite of himself, by that intensely
earnest tone and expression.  "Of course, I know what the Indians
say; they are full of a rude sort of superstitious awe, which--"

"Which is one of the surest proofs that truth forms a foundation
for that very superstition," quickly interjected the professor.
"It is an undisputed fact that there are hundreds upon hundreds
of square miles of terra incognita, lying in this corner of
Washington Territory.  No white man ever fairly penetrated these
wilds, even so far as we may have been carried while riding the
tornado.  Or, if so, he assuredly has never returned, or made
known his discoveries."

"Provided there was anything beyond the ordinary to see or
experience, shouldn't we add, uncle?" suggested Waldo, modestly.

"There is,--there must be!  No matter how wildly improbable their
traditions may seem in our judgment, it only takes calm
investigation to bring a fair foundation to light.  In regard to
this vast scope of country, go where you will among the natives,
question whom you see fit, as to its secrets, and you will meet
with the same results:  a deep-seated awe, a belief which cannot
be shaken, that here strange monsters breed and flourish, matched
in magnitude and power by an armed race of human beings, before
whose awful might other tribes are but as ants in the pathway of
an elephant."

Waldo let escape a low, prolonged whistle of mingled wonder and
incredulity, but Bruno gave him a covert kick, himself too deeply
interested to bear with a careless interruption just then.

"Of course there may be something of exaggeration in all this,"
admitted the enthusiastic professor.  "Undoubtedly, there is at
least a fair spice of that; but, even so, enough remains to both
waken and hold our keenest interest.  Listen, and take heed, my
good lads.

"You have often enough, of late days, noticed these mountains,
and if you remark their altitude, the vast scope of country they
dominate, the position they fill, you must likewise realise one
other fact:  that an immense quantity of snow in winter, rain in
spring and autumn, surely must fall throughout the Olympics.
Understand?"

"Certainly; why not, uncle Phaeton?"

"Then tell me this:  where does all the moisture go to?  What
becomes of the surplus waters?  For it is an acknowledged fact
that, though rivers and brooks surely exist in the Olympics, not
one of either flows away from this wide tract of country!"

The professor paused for a minute, to let his words take full
effect, then even more positively proceeded:

"You may say, what I have had others offer by way of solution,
that all is drained into a mighty inland sea or enormous lake.
Granting so much, which I really believe to be the truth as far
as it goes, why does that lake never overflow?  Of all that
surely must drain into its basin, be that enormously wide and
deep as it may, how much could ordinary evaporation dispose of?
Only an infinitesimal portion; scarcely worth mentioning in such
connection.  Then,--what becomes of the surplusage?"

Another pause, during which neither Gillespie ventured a
solution; then the professor offered his own suggestion:

"It must flow off in some manner, and what other manner can that
be than--through a subterranean connection with the Pacific
Ocean?"

Bruno gave a short ejaculation at this, while Waldo broke forth
in words, after his own particular fashion:

"Jules Verne redivivus!  Why can't WE take a trip through the
centre of the earth, or--or--any other little old thing like
that?"

"With the tank of compressed air as a life-preserver?" laughed
Bruno, in turn.  "That might serve, but; unfortunately, we have
only the one, and we are three in number, boy."

"Only two, now; I'm squelched!" sighed the jester, faintly.

If the professor heard, he heeded not.  Still staring with vacant
gaze into the fire, his face bearing a rapt expression curious to
see, he broke into almost unconscious speech:

"An enormous inland sea!  Where float the mighty ichthyosaurus,
the megalosaurus, in company with the gigantic plesiosaurus! Upon
whose sloping shores disport the enormous mastodon, the
stately megatherium, the tremendous--eh?"

For Waldo was now afoot, brandishing a great branch broken from a
dead tree, uttering valiant war-whoops, and dealing tremendous
blows upon an imaginary enemy, spouting at the top of his voice a
frenzied jargon, which neither his auditors nor himself could
possibly make sense out of.

Bruno, ever sensitive through his affectionate reverence for
their uncle, caught the youngster, and cast him to earth,
whereupon Waldo pantingly cried:

"Go on, please, uncle Phaeton.  It's next thing to a museum and
menagerie combined, just to hear--"

"Will you hush, boy?" demanded Bruno, yet unable to wholly
smother a laugh, so ridiculous did it all sound and seem.

But Professor Featherwit declined, his foxy face wrinkling in a
bashful laugh.  Whether so intended or not, he had been brought
down to earth from that dizzy flight, and now was fairly himself
again.

"Well, my dear boys, I dare say it seems all a matter of jest and
sport to you; yet, after our riding in the centre of a tornado
for uncounted miles, coming forth with hardly a scratch or a
bruise to show for it all, who dare say such things may not be,
even yet?"

"But,--those strange creatures are gone; the last one perished
thousands upon thousands of years ago, uncle Phaeton."

"So it is said, and so follows the almost universal belief.  Yet
I have seen, felt, cooked, tasted, and ate to its last morsel a
steak from a mammoth.   True, the creature was dead; had been
preserved for ages, no doubt, within the glacier which finally
cast it forth to human view; yet who would have credited such a
discovery, only fifty years ago?  He who dared to even hint at
such a thing would have been derided and laughed at, pronounced
either fool or lunatic.  And so,--if we should happen to discover
one or all of those supposedly extinct creatures here in this
terra incognita, I would be overjoyed rather than astounded."

Bruno looked grave at this conclusion, but Waldo was not so
readily impressed, and, with shrugging shoulders, he made answer:

"Well, uncle, I'm not quite so ambitious as all that comes to.
May I give you my idea of it all?"



CHAPTER VIII.
A DUEL TO THE DEATH.

Professor Featherwit nodded assent, and, after a brief chuckle,
Waldo resumed:

"You can take all those big fellows with the jaw-breaking names,
but as for me, smaller game will do.  Maybe a fellow couldn't
fill his bag quite so full, nor quite so suddenly, but there
would be a great deal more sport, and a mighty sight less danger,
I take it!"

It was by no means difficult to divine that the professor had not
yet spoken all that busied his brain, but the thread was broken,
his pipe was out, and, emptying the ashes by tapping pipe-bowl
against the heel of his shoe, he rose erect, once more the man of
action.

"You will have to clear up, lads, for I must make such few
repairs as are necessary to restore the aerostat to a state of
efficiency.  So long as that remains in serviceable condition, we
will always have a method of advance or retreat.  Without
it--well, I'd rather not think of the alternative."

That dry tone and quiet sentence did more than all else to
impress the brothers with a sense of their unique position.  Back
came the remembrance of all they had gathered concerning this
strange scope of country since first settling down fairly within
the shadows of the Olympics, there to put that strange machine
together, preparing for what was to prove a wonder-tour through
many marvellous happenings.

Times beyond counting they had been assured by the natives that
no mortal could fairly penetrate that vast wilderness.  Natural
obstacles were too great for any man to surmount, without saying
aught of what lay beyond; of the enormous animals, such as the
civilised world never knew or fought with; of the terrible
natives, taller than the pines, larger than the hills, more
powerful by far than the gods themselves, eager to slay and to
devour,--so eager that, at times, living flesh and blood was more
grateful than all to their depraved tastes!

"Do you really reckon there is anything in it all, Bruno?" asked
the younger brother in lowered tones, glancing across to where
their uncle was busily engaged in those comparatively trifling
repairs.

"It hardly seems possible, and yet--would the members of four
different tribes tell a story so nearly alike, without they had
at least a foundation of truth to go upon?"

"That's right.  And yet--the inland sea sounds natural enough. We
know, too, that there are such things as underground rivers,
outside of Jules Verne's yarns.  But those animals,--or
reptiles,--which?"

"Both, I believe," answered Bruno, with a subdued laugh.

"That's all right, old man.  I never was worth a continental when
it came to such things.  I prefer to live in the present, and
so--well, now, will you just look at that old cow!"

In surprise Waldo pointed across to where a bovine shape showed
not far beyond the pool at the base of the miniature waterfall;
but his brother had a fairer view, and, instantly divining the
truth, grasped an arm and hastily whispered:

"Hush, boy; can't you see?  It's a buffalo, a hill buffalo,
and--"

"Quick!  the guns are in the machine!  Down, Bruno, and maybe we
can get a shot and--"

His eager whisper was cut short, though not by grip of arm or act
by his brother.  A rumbling roar broke forth from the further
side of that mountain stream, and as the dense bushes beyond were
violently agitated, the hill buffalo wheeled that way with
marvellous rapidity.

Just as a long head and mighty shoulders spread the shrubbery
wide apart, jaws opening and lips curling back to lay great teeth
bare, while another angry sound, half growl, half snort, only too
clearly proclaimed that monster of the mountains, a grizzly bear.

"Smoke o' sacrifice!" gasped Waldo, as the grizzly suddenly
upreared its mighty bulk, head wagging, paws waving in queer
fashion, lolling tongue lending the semblance of drollery rather
than viciousness.

"This way; to your guns, boys!" cautiously called out the
professor, whose notice had likewise been caught by those unusual
sounds, and who had already armed himself with his pet dynamite
gun.

"Careful!  He'll make a break for us at first sight, unless--down
close, and crawl for it, brother!"

Bruno set the good example, and Waldo was not too proud of spirit
to humble himself in like manner.  Although this was their first
glimpse of "Old Eph" in his native wilds, both brothers
entertained a very respectful opinion of his prowess.

Under different circumstances their expectations might have been
more fully met, but just now the grizzly seemed wholly occupied
with the buffalo bull, whose sturdy bulk and armed front so
resolutely opposed his further progress towards that common goal,
the pool of water.

The boys quickly reached the flying-machine and gripped the
Winchester rifles which Professor Featherwit had drawn forth from
the locker at first sight of the dangerous game.  Thus armed,
they felt ready for whatever might come, and stood watching
yonder rivals with growing interest.

"Will you look at that, now?" excitedly breathed Waldo, eyes
aglow, as he saw the bull cock its tail on high and tear up the
soft soil with one fierce sweep of its cloven hoof, shaking head
and giving vent to a low but determined bellow.

"It means a fight unto the death, I think," whispered the
professor.

"It's dollars to doughnuts on the bear," predicted Waldo.  "Scat,
you bull-headed idiot!  Don't you know that you're not deuce high
to his ace?  Can't you see that he can chew you up like--"

"Are you mighty sure of all that, boy?" laughingly cut in Bruno;
for at that moment the buffalo made a sudden charge at his
upright adversary, knocking the grizzly backward in spite of its
viciously flying paws.

"Great Peter on a bender!  If I ever--no, I never!"

Even the professor was growing excited, holding the dynamite gun
under one arm while gently tapping palms together as an encore.

Naturally enough, their sympathies were with the buffalo, since
the odds seemed so immensely against him; but their delight was
short-lived, for, instead of following up the advantage so
bravely won, the bull fell back to paw and bellow and shake his
shaggy front.

With marvellous activity for a brute of his enormous bulk and
weight, the grizzly recovered its feet, then lumbered forward
with clashing teeth and resounding growls.

Nothing loath, the buffalo met that charge, and for a short space
of time the struggle was veiled by showers of leaf-mould and damp
dirt cast upon the air as the rivals fought for supremacy--and
for life.

For that this was destined to be a duel to the very death not one
of those spectators could really doubt.  That encounter may have
been purely accidental, but the creatures fought like enemies of
long standing.

As their relative positions changed, the buffalo contrived to get
in another vigorous butt, sending bruin end for end down that
gentle slope to souse into the pool of water, that cool element
cutting short a savage roar of mad fury.

Then the trio of spectators could take notes, and with something
of sorrow they saw that the buffalo had already suffered
severely, bleeding from numerous great gashes torn by the
grizzly's long talons, while one bloody eye dangled below its
socket, held only by a thread of sinew.

Nor had bruin escaped without hurt, as all could see when he
floundered out of the water, bent upon renewing the duel; but
there was little room left for doubting what the ultimate result
would be were the animals left to their own devices.

Like all bold, free-hearted lads, Waldo ever sympathised with the
weaker, and now, unable to hold his feelings in check, he gave a
short cry, levelling his Winchester and opening fire upon the
grizzly, just as it won fairly clear of the water.

Stung to fury by those pellets, the brute reared up with a horrid
roar, turning as though to charge this new enemy; but ere he
could do more, the professor's gun spoke, and as the dynamite
shell exploded, bruin fell back a writhing mass, his head
literally smashed to pieces.

Heedless of all else, the wounded buffalo charged with lusty
bellow, goring that quivering mass with unabated fury, though its
life was clearly leaking out through those ghastly cuts and
slashes.

A brief pause, then Professor Featherwit swiftly reloaded his
gun, sending another shell across the stream, this time more as a
boon than as punishment.

Smitten fairly in the forehead, the bull dropped as though
beneath a bolt of lightning, life going out without so much as a
single struggle or a single pang.

"Twas better thus," declared the professor, as Waldo gave a
little ejaculation of dismay.  "He must have bled to death in a
short time, and this was true mercy.  Besides, buffalo meat is
very good eating, and the day may come when we shall need all we
can get.  Who knows?"

After the animals were inspected, and due comment made upon the
awfully sure work wrought by the dynamite gun, the professor
suggested that, while he was completing repairs upon the
aeromotor, the brothers should secure a supply of fish and of
flesh, cooking sufficient to provide for several meals, for there
was no telling just when they would have an equal chance.

"Just as soon as we can put all in readiness," he continued, "I
am going to leave this spot.  My first wish is to thoroughly test
the aerostat, to make certain it has received no serious injury. 
Then, if all promises well, I mean to begin our tour of
exploration, hoping that we may, at least, find something well
worthy the strange reputation given these Olympics by the
natives."

Without raising any objections, the brothers fell to work, Bruno
looking after the flesh, while Waldo undertook to supply the
fish.  That was but fair, since he had been cheated out of
catching the first mess.

Not a little to his delight, the professor found that the
flying-machine would promptly answer his touch and will, rising
easily off the ground, then descending at call, evidently having
passed through the ordeal of the bygone evening without serious
harm.

Still, all this consumed time, and it was after a late dinner
that everything was pronounced in readiness for an ascension: 
the meat and fish nicely cooked and packed for carriage, a pot of
strong coffee made and stowed beyond risk of leakage, the
flying-machine itself quivering in that gentle breeze as though
eager to find itself once more afloat far above the earth and its
obstructions to easy navigation.

Waldo expressed some grief at leaving a spot where game came in
such plentitude to find the hunter, and trout simply longed to be
caught; but upon being assured of other opportunities, perhaps
even more delightful, he sighed and gave consent to mount into
space.

"Only--don't ask me to tackle any of those big dictionary fellows
such as you talked about this morning, uncle Phaeton, for I
simply can't; they'd get away with my baggage while I was trying
to spell their names and title--and all that!"

Without any difficulty the aeromotor was sent out of and above
the forest, heading towards the northwest; that is, direct for
the heart of the Olympics, of whose marvels Professor Featherwit
held such exalted hopes and expectations.

Grim and forbidding those mountains looked as the air-ship sailed
swiftly over them, opening up a wider view when the bare, rugged
crest was once left fairly to the rear.  Save for those bald
crowns, all below appeared a solid carpet of tree-tops, now
lower, there higher, yet ever the same:  seemingly impenetrable
to man, should such an effort be made.

Once fairly within the charmed circle, leaving the rocky ridge
behind, Professor Featherwit slackened speed, permitting the ship
to drift onward at a moderate pace, one hand touching the
steering-gear, while its fellow held a pair of field-glasses to
his eager eyes.

All at once he gave a half-stifled cry, partly rising in his
excitement, then crying aloud in thrilling tones:

"The sea,--an inland sea!"



CHAPTER IX.
GRAPPLING A QUEER FISH.

At nearly the same moment both Bruno and Waldo caught a glimpse
of water, shining clear and distinct amidst that sombre setting;
but as yet a tree-crested elevation interfered with the prospect,
and it was not until after the course of the air-ship had been
materially changed, and some little time had elapsed, that aught
definite could be determined as to the actual spread of that body
of water.

This proved to be considerable, although it needed but a single
look into the professor's face to learn that his eager hopes and
exalted anticipations fell far short of realisation.

"Well, it's a sea all right," generously declared Waldo, giving a
vigorous sniff by way of strengthening his words.  "I can smell
the salt clear from this.  A sea, even if it isn't quite so large
as others,--what one might term a lower-case c!"

If nothing else, that generous effort brought its reward in the
dry little chuckle which escaped the professor's lips, and a
kindly glow showed through his glasses as he turned towards Waldo
with a nod of acknowledgment.

"Barring the salty scent, my dear boy, which probably finds birth
in your kindly imagination.  So, on the whole, perhaps 'twould be
just as well to term it a lake."

"One of no mean dimensions, at any rate, uncle Phaeton."

"True, Bruno," with a nod of agreement, yet with forehead
contracting into a network of troubled lines.  "Naturally so, and
yet--surely this must be merely a portion?  Unless--yet I fail to
see aught which might be interpreted as being--"

Promptly responding to each touch of hand upon steering-gear, the
aeromotor swung smoothly around, sailing on even keel right into
the teeth of the gentle wind, by this time near enough to that
body of water for the air-voyagers to scan its surface:  a
considerable expanse, all told, yet by no means of such magnitude
as Professor Featherwit had anticipated.

Too deeply absorbed in his own thoughts to notice the little
cries and ejaculations which came from the brothers, he caused
the aerostat to rise higher, slowly sweeping that extended field
with his glasses.

He could see where several streams entered the body of water,
coming from opposite points of the compass, and thus confirming
at least one portion of his explained theory; but, so far as his
visual powers went, there was no other considerable body of water
to be discovered.

"Yet, how can that contracted basin contain all the drainage from
this vast scope of country?  How can we explain the stubborn fact
of--What now, lads?"

An abrupt break, but one caused by the eager cry and loud speech
from the lips of the younger Gillespie.

"Looky yonder!  Isn't that one o' those sour-us dictionary
fellows on a bender?  Isn't that--but I don't--no, it's only--"

"Only a partly decayed tree gone afloat!" volunteered Bruno, with
a merry laugh, as his eager brother drew back in evident chagrin.

"Well, that's all right.  It ought to've been one, even if it
isn't.  What's the use in coming all this way, if we're not going
to discover something beyond the common?  And my sour-us is worth
more than one of the other kind, after all; get it ashore and you
might cook dinner for a solid month by it; now there!"

It was easily to be seen that Waldo had been giving free rein to
his expectations ever since the professor's little lecture, but
his natural chagrin was quickly forgotten in a matter of far
greater interest.

Professor Featherwit had resumed his scrutiny of yonder body of
water, slowly turning his glasses while holding the air-ship on a
true course and even keel.

For a brief space nothing interfered with the steady motion of
the field-glasses, but then something called for a more thorough
examination, and little by little the savant leaned farther
forward, breath coming more rapidly, face beginning to flush with
deepening interest.

Bruno took note of all this, and, failing to see aught to account
for the symptoms with unaided eyes, at length ventured to speak.

"What is it, uncle Phaeton?  Something of interest, or your
looks--"

Professor Featherwit gave a start, then lowered the glasses and
reached them towards his nephew, speaking hurriedly:

"You try them, Bruno; your eyes are younger, and ought to be
keener than mine.  Yonder; towards the lower end of the--the
lake, please."

Nothing loath, Gillespie complied, quickly finding the correct
point upon which the professor's interest had centred, holding
the glasses motionless for a brief space, then giving vent to an
eager ejaculation.

"What is it all about, bless you, boy?" demanded Waldo, unable
longer to curb his hot impatience.  "Another drifting tree, eh?"

"No, but,--did you see it, uncle?"

"I saw something which--what do YOU see, first?"

"A great big suck,--a monster whirlpool which is hollowed like--"

"I knew it!  I felt that must be the true solution of it all!"
cried uncle Phaeton, squirming about pretty much as one might
into whose veins had been injected quicksilver in place of
ordinary blood.  "The outlet!  Where the surplus waters drain off
to the Pacific Ocean!"

"I say, give me a chance, can't you?" interrupted Waldo, grasping
the glasses and shifting his station for one more favourable as a
lookout.

He had seen sufficient to catch the right angle, and then gave a
suppressed snort as he took in the view.  Half a minute thus,
then a wild cry escaped his lips, closely followed by the words:

"Now I DO see something!  And it isn't a drifting tree, either!
Or, that is, something else which--shove her closer, uncle
Phaeton! True as you live, there's something caught in yonder big
suck which is--closer, for love of glory!"

"If this is another joke, Waldo--"

"No, no, I tell you, Bruno!  Shove her over, uncle, for, without
this glass is hoodooed, we're needed right yonder,--and needed
mighty bad, too!"

Little need of so much urging, by the way, since Professor
Featherwit was but slightly less excited by their double
discovery, and even before the glasses were clapped to Waldo's
eyes the aerostat swung around to move at full speed towards that
precise quarter of the compass.

"What is it you see, then, boy?" demanded Bruno, itching to take
the glasses, yet straining his own vision towards that as yet
far-distant spot.

"Something like--oh, see how the water is running out,--just like
emptying a bathtub through a hole at the bottom!  And see what--a
man caught in the whirl, true's you're a foot high, uncle!"

"A man?  Here?  Impossible,--incredible, boy!" fairly exploded
the professor, not yet ready to relinquish his cherished belief
in a terra incognita.

The air-voyagers were swiftly nearing that point of interest, and
now keen-eyed Bruno caught a glimpse of a drifting object which
had been drawn within the influence of yonder whirlpool, but
which was just as certainly a derelict from the forest.

"Another floating tree-trunk for Waldo!" he cried, with a short
laugh, feeling far from unpleased that the intense strain upon
his nerves should be thus lessened.  "Try it again, lad, and
perhaps--"

"Try your great-grandmother's cotton nightcap!  Don't you suppose
I can tell the difference between a tree and a--"

"Ranting, prancing, cavorting 'sour-us' right out of Webster's
Unabridged, eh, laddy-buck?"

"That's all right, if you can only keep on thinking that way, old
man; but if yonder isn't a fellow being in a mighty nasty pickle,
then I wouldn't even begin to say so!  And--you look, uncle
Phaeton, please."

Nothing loath, the professor took the proffered glasses, and but
an instant later he, too, gave a sharp cry of amazement, for he
saw, clinging to the trunk of a floating tree, swiftly moving
with those circling waters, a living being!

And but a few seconds later, Bruno made the same discovery,
greatly to the delight of his younger brother.

"A man!  And living, too!"

"Of course; reckon I'd make such a howl about a floater?" bluntly
interjected Waldo.  "But I'll do my crowing later on.  For now
we've got to get the poor fellow out of that,--just got to yank
him
out!"

Through all this hasty interchange of words, the aeromotor was
swiftly progressing, and now swung almost directly above the
whirlpool, giving all a fair, unobstructed view of everything
below.

The suction was so great that a sloping basin was formed, more
than
one hundred yards in diameter, while the actual centre lay a
number
of feet lower than the surrounding level.

Half-way down that perilous slope a great tree was revolving, and
to this, as his forlorn hope, clung a half-clad man, plainly
alive,
since he was looking upward, and--yes, waving a hand and uttering
a cry for aid and succour.

"Help!  For love of God, save me!"

"White,--an American, too!" exploded Waldo, taking action as by
brilliant inspiration.  "Hang over him, uncle, for I'm going--to
go fishing--for a man!"

Waldo was tugging at the grapnel and long drag-rope.  Bruno was
quick to divine his intention, and lent a deft hand, while the
professor manipulated the helm so adroitly as to keep the
flying-machine hovering directly above yonder imperilled
stranger, leaning far over the hand-rail to shout downward:

"Have courage, sir, and stand ready to help yourself!  We will
rescue you if it lies within the possibilities of--we WILL save
you!"

"You bet we just will, and right--like this," spluttered Waldo,
as he cast the grapnel over the rail and swiftly lowered it by
the rope.  "Play you're a fish, stranger, and when you bite, hang
on like grim death to a--steady, now!"

Fortunately nothing occurred to mar the programme so hastily
arranged, for the drift was drawing nearer the centre of the
whirl, and if once fairly caught by that, nothing human could
preserve the stranger from death.

"Make a jump and grab it, if you can't do better!" cried Waldo,
intensely excited now that the crisis was at hand.

The long rope with its iron weight swayed awkwardly in spite of
all he could do to steady it, and as each one of the three prongs
was meant for catching and holding fast to whatever they touched,
there was no slight risk of impaling the man, thus giving him the
choice of another and still more painful death.

Then, with a desperate grasp, a death-clutch, he caught one arm
of the grapnel, holding fast as the shock came.  He was carried
clear of the tree, and partly submerged in the water as his added
weight brought the flying-machine so much lower.

"Up, up, uncle Phaeton!" fairly howled Waldo, at the same time
tugging at the now taut rope, in which he was ably seconded by
his brother.  "For love of--higher, uncle!"

Then the noble machine responded to the touch of its builder,
lifting the dripping stranger clear of the whirling currents,
swinging him away towards yonder higher level, where a fall would
not prove so quickly fatal.  And then the eager professor gave a
shrill cheer as he saw the man, by a vigorous effort, draw his
body upward sufficiently far to throw one leg over an arm of the
grapnel itself.

Knowing now that the rescued was in no especial peril, uncle
Phaeton left the air-ship to steer itself long enough for his
nimble hands to take several turns of the drag-rope around the
cleat provided for that express purpose, thus relieving both
Bruno and Waldo of the heavy strain, which might soon begin to
tell upon them.

"Hurrah for we, us, and company!" cried Waldo, relieving his
lungs of a portion of their pent-up energy, then leaning
perilously far over the edge of the machine to encourage the
queer fish he had hooked.



CHAPTER X.
RESCUED AND RESCUERS.

Despite their very natural excitement, caused by this peril and
its
foiling, Professor Featherwit retained nearly all his customary
coolness and presence of mind.

Readily realising that after such a grim ordeal would almost
certainly come a powerful revulsion, his first aim was to swing
the stranger far enough away from the whirlpool to give him a
fair chance for life, in case he should fall, through dizziness
or physical collapse, from the end of the drag-rope.

This took but a few seconds, comparatively speaking, though,
doubtless, each moment seemed an age to the rescued stranger. 
Then the professor slowed his ship, looking around in order to
determine upon the wisest route to take.

For one thing, it would be severe work to draw the stranger
bodily up and into the aerostat.  For another, unless he should
grow weak, or suffer from vertigo, both time and labour would be
saved by taking him direct to the shore of this broad lake.

As soon as the rope was made fast, and the strain taken off their
muscles as well as their minds, Bruno flashed a look around,
naturally turning his eyes in the direction of the whirlpool.

Although less than a couple of minutes had elapsed since the man
was lifted off the circling drift, even thus quickly had the end
drawn nigh; for, even as he looked that way, Gillespie saw the
great trunk sucked into the hidden sink, the top rising with a
shiver clear out of the water as the butt lowered, a hollow,
rumbling sound coming to all ears as--

"Gone!" cried Bruno, in awed tones, as the whole drift vanished
from sight for ever.

"Sucked in by Jonah's whale, for ducats!" screamed Waldo,
excitedly.  "Fetch on your blessed 'sour-us' of both the male and
female sect!  Trot 'em to the fore, and if my little old suck
don't take the starch out of their backbones,--they DID have
backbones, didn't they, uncle Phaeton?"

Professor Featherwit frowned, and shook his head in silent
reproof.  More nearly, perhaps, than either of the boys, he
realised what an awful peril this stranger had so narrowly
escaped.  It was far too early to turn that escape into jest,
even for one naturally light of heart.

He leaned over the hand-rail, peering downward.  He could see the
rescued man sitting firmly in the bend of the grapnel, one hand
tightly gripping the rope, its mate shading his eyes, as he
stared fixedly towards the whirling death-pool, from whose jaws
he had so miraculously been plucked.

There was naught of debility, either of body or of mind, to be
read in that figure, and with his fears on that particular point
set at rest, for the time being, Professor Featherwit called out,
distinctly:

"Is it all well with you, my good friend?  Can you hold fast
until the shore is reached, think?"

"Heaven bless you,--yes!" came the reply, in half-choked tones.
"If I fail in giving thanks--"

"Never mention it, friend; it cost us nothing," cheerily
interrupted the professor, then adding, "Hold fast, please, and
we'll put on a wee bit more steam."

The flying-machine was now fairly headed for a strip of shore
which offered an excellent opportunity for making a safe landing,
and as that accelerated motion did not appear to materially
affect the stranger, it took but a few minutes to clear the lake.

"Stand ready to let go when we come low enough, please," warned
the professor, deftly managing his pet machine for that purpose.

The stranger easily landed, then watched the flying-machine with
painfully eager gaze, hands clasped almost as though in prayer. 
A more remarkable sight than this half-naked shape, burned brown
by the sun, poorly protected by light skins, with sinew
fastenings, could scarcely be imagined; and there was something
close akin to tears in more eyes than one when he came running in
chase, arms outstretched, and voice wildly appealing:

"Oh, come back!  Take me,--don't leave me,--for love of God and
humanity, don't leave me to this living death!"

Professor Featherwit called back a hasty assurance, and brought
the air-ship to a landing with greater haste than was exactly
prudent, all things considered; but who could keep cool blood and
unmoved heart, with yonder piteous object before their eyes?

When he saw that the flying-machine had fairly landed, and beheld
its inmates stepping forth upon the sands with friendly
salutations, the rescued stranger staggered, hands clasping his
temples for a moment of drunken reeling, then he fell forward
like one smitten by the hand of sudden death.

Professor Featherwit called out a few curt directions, which were
promptly obeyed by his nephews, and after a few minutes'
well-directed work consciousness was restored, and the stranger
feebly strove to give them thanks.

In vain these were set aside.  He seemed like one half-insane
from joy, and none who saw and heard could think that all this
emotion arose from the simple rescue from the whirlpool.  Nor did
it.

Wildly, far from coherently, the poor fellow spoke, yet something
of the awful truth was to be gleaned even from those broken,
disjointed sentences.

For ten years an exile in these horrible wilds.  For ten years
not a single glimpse of white face or figure.  For ten ages no
intelligible voice, save his own; and that, through long disuse,
had threatened to desert him!

"Ten years!" echoed Waldo, in amazement.  "Why didn't you rack
out o' this, then?  I know I would; even if the woods were full
of--'sour-us' and the like o' that!  Yes, SIR!"

A low, husky laugh came through those heavily bearded lips, and
the stranger flung out his hands in a sweeping gesture, sunken
eyes glowing with an almost savage light as he spoke with more
coherence:

"Why is it, young gentleman?  Why did I not leave, do you ask?
Look!  All about you it stretches:  a cell,--a death-cell, from
which escape is impossible!  Here I have fought for what is ever
more precious than bare life:  for liberty; but though ten awful
years have rolled by, here I remain, in worse than prison! 
Escape?  Ah, how often have I attempted to escape, only to fail,
because escape from these wilds is beyond the power of any person
not gifted with wings!"

"Ten years, you say, good friend?  And all that time you have
lived here alone?" asked the professor, curiously.

"Ten years,--ten thousand years, I could almost swear, only for
keeping the record so carefully, so religiously.  And--pitiful
Lord!  How gladly would I have given my good right arm, just for
one faraway glimpse of civilisation!  How often--but I am
wearying you, gentlemen, and you may--pray don't think that I am
crazy; you will not?"

Both the professor and Bruno assured him to the contrary, but
Waldo was less affected, and his curiosity could no longer be
kept within bounds.  Gently tapping one hairy arm, he spoke:

"I say, friend, what were you doing out yonder in the big suck?
Didn't you know the fun was hardly equal to the risk, sir?"

"Easy, lad," reproved the professor; but with a a smile, which
strangely softened that haggard, weather-worn visage, the
stranger spoke:

"Nay, kind sir, do not check the young gentleman.  If you could
only realise how sweet it is to my poor ears,--the sound of a
friendly voice!  For so many weary years I have never heard one
word from human lips which I could understand or make answer to.
And now,--what is it you wish to know, my dear boy?"

"Well, since you've lived here so long, surely you hadn't ought
to get caught in such a nasty pickle; unless it was through
accident?"

"It was partly accidental.  One that would have cost me dearly
had not you come to my aid so opportunely.  And yet,--only for
one thing, I could scarcely have regretted vanishing for ever
down that suck!"

His voice choked, his head bowed, his hands came together in a
nervous grip, all betokening unusual agitation.  Even Waldo was
just a bit awed, and the stranger was first to break that silence
with words.

"How did the mishap come about, is it, young gentleman?" he said,
a wan smile creeping into his face, and relaxing those tensely
drawn muscles once more.  "While I was trying to replenish my
stock of provisions, and after this fashion, good friends.

"I was fishing from a small canoe, and as the bait was not taken
well, I must have fallen into a day dream, thinking of--no
matter, now.  And during that dreaming, the breeze must have
blown me well out into the lake, for when I was roused up by a
sharp jerk at my line, I found myself near its middle, without
knowing just how I came there.

"I have no idea what sort of fish had taken my bait,--there are
many enormous ones in the lake,--but it proved far too powerful
for me to manage, and dragged the canoe swiftly through the
water, heading directly for the outlet, yonder."

"Why didn't you let it go free, then?"

"The line was fastened to the prow, and I could not loosen it in
time.  I drew my knife,--one of flint, but keen enough to
serve,--only to have it jerked out of my hand and into the water.
Then, just as the fish must have plunged into the suck, I
abandoned my canoe, jumping overboard."

"That's just what I was wondering about," declared Waldo, with a
vigorous nod of his head.  "Yet we found you--there?"

"Because I am a wretchedly poor swimmer.  I managed to reach a
drift which had not yet fairly entered the whirl, but I could do
nothing more towards saving myself.  Then--you can guess the
rest, gentlemen."

"And the canoe?" demanded Waldo, content only when all points
were made manifest.

"I saw it dragged down the centre of the suck," with an
involuntary shiver.  "The fish must have plunged into the
underground river, whether willingly or not I can only surmise. 
But all the while I was drifting yonder, around and around, with
each circuit drawing closer to the awful end, I could not help
picturing to myself how the canoe must have plunged down, and
down, and--burr-r-r!"

A shuddering shiver which was more eloquent than words; but Waldo
was not yet wholly content, finding an absorbing interest in that
particular subject.

"You call it a river:  how do you know it's a river?"

"Of course, I can only guess at the facts, my dear boy," the
stranger made reply, smiling once more, and, with an almost timid
gesture, extending one hairy paw to lightly touch and gently
stroke the arm nearest him.

Bruno turned away abruptly, for that gesture, so simple in
itself, yet so full of pathos to one who bore in mind those long
years of solitary exile, brought a moisture to his big brown eyes
of which, boy-like, he felt ashamed.

Professor Featherwit likewise took note, and with greater
presence of mind came to the rescue, lightly resting a hand upon
the stranger's half-bare shoulder while addressing his words to
the youngster.

A tremulous sigh escaped those bearded lips, and their owner drew
closer to the wiry little aeronaut, plainly drawing great comfort
from that mere contact.  And with like ease uncle Phaeton lifted
one of those hairy arms to rest it over his own shoulders,
speaking briskly the while.

"There is only one way of demonstrating the truth more clearly,
my youthful inquisitor, and that is by sending you on a voyage of
exploration.  Are you willing to make the attempt, Waldo?"

"Not this evening; some other evening,--maybe!" drawing back a
bit, with a shake of his curly pate to match.  "But, I say, uncle
Phaeton--"

"Allow me to complete my say, first, dear boy," with a bland
smile. "That is easily done, though, for it merely consists of
this: yonder sink, or whirlpool, is certainly the method this
lake has of relieving itself of all surplus water.  Everything
points to a subterranean river which connects this lake with the
Pacific Ocean."

"Wonder how long I'd have to hold my breath to make the trip?"



CHAPTER XI.
ANOTHER SURPRISE FOR THE PROFESSOR.

The stranger laughed aloud at this, then seemed surprised that
aught of mirth could be awakened where grief and despair had so
long reigned supreme.

"You will come with me to--to my den, gentlemen?" he asked, still
nervous, and plainly loath to do aught which indicated a return
to his recent dreary method of living.

"Is the distance great?" asked Professor Featherwit, with a
glance towards the aeromotor, then flashing his gaze further, as
though to guard against possible harm coming to that valuable
piece of property.

More than ever to be guarded now, since the words spoken by this
exile.  Better death in yonder mighty whirlpool than a half-score
years' imprisonment here!

Not so very far, he was assured, while it would be comparatively
easy to float the air-ship above the trees, there of no
extraordinary growth.

At the same time this assurance was given, the stranger could not
mask his uneasiness of mind, and it was really pitiful to see one
so strong in body and limb, so weak otherwise.

But uncle Phaeton was a fairly keen judge of human nature, and
possessed no small degree of tact.  Divining the real cause of
that dread, he took the easiest method of allaying it, speaking
briskly as he moved across to the aerostat.

"Bear the gentleman company, my lads, while I manage the ship. 
You will know what signals to make, and I can contrive the rest."

Again the recluse laughed, but now it was through pure joy, such
as he had not experienced for long years gone by.  He was not to
be deserted by his rescuers from the whirlpool, and that was
comfort enough for the moment.

Thanks to that guidance, but little time was cut to waste,
Professor Featherwit taking the flying-machine away from the
shore of the lake, floating slowly above the tree-tops, guiding
his movements by those below, finally effecting a safe landing in
a miniature glade, at no great distance from the "den" alluded to
by their new-found friend.

"It will be perfectly safe here," the exile hastened to give
assurance, as that landing was made.  "Then, too, this is the
only spot nigh at hand from which a hasty ascent could well be
made, even with such an admirable machine as yours.  Ah, me!"
with a long breath which lacked but little of being a sigh, as he
keenly, eagerly examined the aerostat.  "A marvel!  Who would
have dared predict such another, only a dozen years ago?  I
thought we had drawn very close to perfection while I was in the
profession, but this,--marvellous!"

Both words and manner gave the keen-witted professor a clew to
one mystery, and he quickly spoke:

"Then you were familiar with aerostatics, sir?  Your name is--"

"Edgecombe,--Cooper Edgecombe."

"What?" with undisguised surprise in face as in voice. 
"Professor Edgecombe, the celebrated balloonist who was lost so
long ago?"

"Ay!  lost here in this thrice accursed wilderness!" passionately
cried the exile; then, as though abashed by his own outburst, he
turned away, pausing again only when at the entrance to his
dreary refuge of many years.

"Give the poor fellow his own way until he has had time to rally,
boys," muttered uncle Phaeton, in lowered tones, before following
that lead.  "I can understand it better, now, and this is--still
is the terra incognita of which I have dreamed so long!"

That refuge proved to be a large, fairly dry cavern, the entrance
to which was admirably masked by vines and creepers, while the
stony soil just there retained no trace of footprints to tell
dangerous tales.

Mr.  Edgecombe vanished, but not for long.  Then, showing a
light, formed of fat and twisted wick in a hollowed bit of
hardwood, he begged his rescuers to enter.

No second invitation was needed, for even the professor felt a
powerful curiosity to learn what method had been followed by this
enforced exile; how he had managed to live for so many weary
years.

With only that smoky lamp to shed light around the place,
critical investigation was a matter of time and painstaking,
although a general idea of the cavern was readily formed.

High overhead arched the rocky roof, blackened by smoke, and
looking more gloomy than nature had intended.  The side walls
were likewise irregular, now showing tiny niches and nooks, then
jutting out to form awkward points and elbows, which were but
partially disguised by such articles of wear and daily use as the
exile had collected during the years gone by, or since his
occupancy first began.

So much the professor took in with his initial glances, but then
he left Waldo and his brother to look more closely, himself
giving thought to the being whom they had so happily saved from
the whirlpool.

"Professor Edgecombe!" he again exclaimed, grasping those
roughened hands to press them cordially.  "I ought to have
recognised you at sight, no doubt, since I have watched your
ascents time and time again."

The exile smiled faintly, shaking his head and giving another
sigh.

"Ah, me!  'twas vastly different, then.  I only marvel that you
should give me credit when I lay claim to that name, so long--it
has long faded from the public's memory, sir."

But uncle Phaeton shook his head, decidedly.

"No, no, I assure you, my friend; far from it.  Whenever the
topic is brought to the front; whenever aerostatics are
discussed, your name and fame are sure to play a prominent part. 
And yet,--you disappeared so long ago, never being heard of
after--"

"After sailing away upon the storm for which I had waited and
prayed, for so many weary, heart-sick months!"

"So the rumour ran, but we all believed that must be an
exaggeration, and not for a long time was all hope abandoned.
Then, more hearts than one felt sore and sad at thoughts of your
untimely fate."

"A fate infinitely worse than ordinary death such as was credited
me," huskily muttered the exile.  "Ten years,--and ever since I
have been here, helpless to extricate myself, doomed to a living
death, which none other can ever fully realise!  Doomed to--to--"

His voice choked, and he turned away to hide his emotions.

Professor Featherwit thoroughly appreciated the interruption
which came through Waldo's lips just at that moment.

"Oh, I say,--uncle Phaeton!"

"What is it, lad?  Don't meddle with what doesn't--"

"Looking can't hurt, can it?  And to think people ever got along
with such things as these!"

Waldo was squared before sundry articles depending from the side
wall, and as the professor drew closer, he, too, displayed a
degree of interest which was really remarkable.

A gaily colored tunic of thickly quilted cotton was hanging
beside an oddly shaped war club, the heavier end of which was
armed with blades of stone which gleamed and sparkled even in
that dim light.  And attached to this weapon was another, hardly
less curious:  a knife formed of copper, with heft and blade all
from one piece of metal.

"Here is the rest of the outfit," said Edgecombe, holding forth a
bow and several feathered arrows with obsidian heads.

Professor Featherwit gave a low, eager cry as he handled the
various articles, both face and manner betraying intense delight,
which found partial vent in words a little later.

"Wonderful!  Marvellous!  Superb!  I envy you, sir; I can't help
but envy your possession of so magnificent--and so
well-preserved, too!  That is the marvel of marvels!"

"Well, to be sure, I haven't used them very much.  The bow and
arrows I could manage fairly well, after busy practice.  They
have saved me from more than one hungry night.  But as for the
rest--"

"You might have worn the--Is it a ghost-dance shirt, though?"
hesitatingly asked Waldo, gingerly fingering the wadded tunic.

"Waldo, I'm ashamed of you, boy!" almost harshly reproved the
professor.  "Ghost-dance shirt, indeed!  And this one of the most
complete--the only perfectly preserved specimen of the ancient
Aztec--pray, my good friend, where did you discover them?  Surely
there can be no burial mounds so far above the latitude where
that unfortunate race lived and died?"

Mr. Edgecombe shook his head, with a puzzled look, then made
reply:

"No, sir.  I took these all from an Indian I was forced to kill
in order to save my own life.  I never thought--You are ill,
sir?"

"Bless my soul!" ejaculated the professor, falling back a pace or
two, then sitting down with greater force than grace, all the
while gazing upon those weapons like one in a daze.  "Found
them--Indian--killed him in order to--bless my soul!"

Then, with marvellous activity for one of his age, the professor
recovered his footing, mumbling something about tripping a heel,
then resumed his examination of the curiosities as though he had
care for naught beside.

Cooper Edgecombe turned away, and the professor improved the
opportunity by muttering to the brothers:

"Careful, lads.  Give the poor fellow his own way in all things,
for he is--he surely must be--eh?"

Forefinger covertly tapped forehead, for there was no time
granted for further explanations.  Edgecombe turned again,
speaking in hard, even strained tones:

"Fifteen years ago this month, on the 27th, to be exact, a
balloon with two passengers was carried away on a terrific gale
of wind which blew from the southeast.  This happened in
Washington Territory.  Can you tell me--has anything ever been
heard of either balloon or its inmates?"

Professor Featherwit shook his head in negation before saying:

"Not to my knowledge, though doubtless the prints of the day--"

Cooper Edgecombe shook both head and hand with strange
impatience.

"No, no.  I know they were never heard from up to ten years ago,
but since then--I am a fool to even dream of such a thing, and
yet,--only for that faint hope I would have gone mad long ago!"

Indeed, he looked little less than insane as it was.



CHAPTER XII. THE STORY OF A BROKEN LIFE.

This was the idea that occurred to both uncle and nephews, but
they had seen and heard enough to excuse all that, and Professor
Featherwit spoke again, in mildly curious tones:

"Sorry I am unable to give you better tidings, my good friend,
but, so far as my knowledge extends, nothing has come to light of
recent years.  And--if not a leading question--were those
passengers friends of your own?"

"Only--merely my--my wife and little daughter," came the totally
unexpected reply, followed by a forced laugh which sounded
anything but mirthful.

Uncle Phaeton, intensely chagrined, hastened to apologise for his
luckless break, but Cooper Edgecombe cut him short, asking that
the matter be let drop for the time being.

"I will talk; I feel that I must tell you all, or lose what few
wits I have left," he declared, huskily.  "But not right now.  It
is growing late.  You must be hungry.  I have no very extensive
larder, but with my little will go the gratitude of a man who--"

His voice choked, and he left the sentence unfinished, hurrying
away to prepare such a meal as his limited means would permit.

While Edgecombe was kindling a fire in one corner of the cavern,
opening a pile of ashes to extract the few carefully cherished
coals by means of which the wood was to be fired, uncle and one
nephew left the den to look after the flying-machine and
contents.

Bruno remained behind, in obedience to a hint from the professor,
lest the exile should dread desertion, after all.

"Take these in and open them, Waldo," said the professor,
selecting several cans from the stock in the locker.  "Poor
fellow!  'Twill be like a foretaste of civilisation, just to see
and smell, much less taste, the fruit."

"Even if he has turned looney, eh, uncle Phaeton?"

"Careful, boy!  I hardly think he is just that far gone; but,
even if so, what marvel?  Think of all he must have suffered
during so many long, dreary years!  and--his wife and child!  I
wonder--I do wonder if he really killed--but that is incredible,
simply and utterly incredible!  An Aztec--here--alive!"

"Dead, uncle Phaeton," corrected Waldo.  "Killed the redskin, he
said, and I really reckon he meant it.  Why not, pray?"

"But--an Aztec, boy!" exclaimed the bewildered savant, unable to
pass that point.  "The tunic of quilted cotton, the escaupil! 
The maquahuitl, with its blades of grass!  The bow and arrows
which--all, all surely of Aztecan manufacture, yet seemingly
fresh and serviceable as though in use but a month ago!  And the
race extinct for centuries!"

"Well, unless he's a howling liar from 'way up the crick, he
extincted one of 'em," cheerfully commented Waldo, bearing his
canned fruit to the cavern.

Professor Featherwit followed shortly after, finding the exile
busy preparing food, looking and acting far more naturally than
he had since his rescue from the whirlpool.  And then, until the
evening meal was announced, uncle Phaeton hovered near those
amazing curiosities, now gazing like one in a waking dream, then
gingerly fingering each article in turn, as though hoping to find
a solution for his enigma through the sense of touch.

Taken all in all, that was far from a pleasant or enjoyable meal.
A sense of restraint rested upon each one of that little company,
and not one succeeded in fairly breaking it away, though each
tried in turn.

Despite the struggle made by the exile to hold all emotions well
under subjection, Cooper Edgecombe failed to hide his almost
childish delight at sight and taste of those canned goods, and it
did not require much urging on the part of his rescuers to ensure
his partaking freely.

But the cap-sheaf came when uncle Phaeton, true to his habit of
long years, after eating, produced pipe and pouch, the fragrant
tobacco catching the exile's nostrils and drawing a low,
tremulous cry from his lips.

No need to ask what was the matter, for that eager gaze, those
quivering fingers, were enough.  And just as though this had been
his express purpose, the professor passed the pipe over, quietly
speaking:

"Perhaps you would like a little smoke after your supper, my good
friend?  Oblige me by--"

"May I?  Oh, sir, may I--really taste--oh, oh, oh!"

Bruno struck a match and steadied the pipe until the tobacco was
fairly ignited, then drew back and left the exile to himself for
the time being.  And, as covert glances told them, never before
had their eyes rested upon mortal being so intensely happy as was
the long-lost aeronaut then and there.

At a sign from the professor, Bruno and Waldo silently arose and
left the cavern, bearing their guardian company to where the
air-ship was resting.  And there they busied themselves with
making preparations for the night, which was just settling over
that portion of the earth.

Presently Cooper Edgecombe appeared, the empty pipe in hand, held
as one might caress an inestimable treasure, a dreamy, almost
blissful expression upon his sun-browned face.

"I thank you, sir, more than tongue can tell," he said, quietly,
as he restored the pipe to its owner.  "If you could only realise
what I have suffered through this deprivation!  I, an inveterate
smoker; yet suddenly deprived of it, and so kept for ten long
years!  If I had had a pipe and tobacco, I believe--but enough."

"I can sympathise with you, at least in part, my friend.  Will
you have another smoke, by the way?"

"No, no, not now; I feel blessed for the moment, and more might
be worse than none, after so long deprivation.  And--may I talk
openly to you, dear, kind friends?  May I tell you--am I selfish
in wishing to trouble you thus?  Ten years, remember, and not a
soul to speak with!"

He laughed, but it was a sorry mirth; and not caring to trust his
tongue just then, uncle Phaeton nodded his head emphatically
while filling his pipe for himself.  But Waldo never lacked for
words, and spoke out:

"That's all right, sir; we can listen as long as you can
chin-chin.  Tell us all about--well, what's the matter with that
big Injun?"

"Quiet, Waldo.  Say what best pleases you, my friend.  You can be
sure of one thing,--sympathetic listeners, if nothing better."

With a curious shiver, as though afflicted with a sudden chill,
Edgecombe turned partly away, figure drawn rigidly erect, hands
tightly clasped behind his back.  A brief silence, then he spoke
in tones of forced composure.

"A balloon was the best, in my day, and I was proud of my
profession, although even then I was dreaming of better
things--of something akin to this marvellous creation of yours,
sir," casting a fleeting glance at the air-ship, then at the face
of its builder, afterward resuming his former attitude.

"Let that pass, though.  I wanted to tell you how I met with my
awful loss; how I came to be out here in this modern hell!

"I had a wife, a daughter, each of whom felt almost as powerful
an interest in aerostatics as I did myself.  And one day--but,
wait!

"I had an enemy, too; one who had, years before, sought to win my
love for his own; in vain, the cur!  And that day--we were out
here in Washington Territory, living in comparative solitude that
I might the better study out the theory I was slowly shaping in
my brain.

"The day was beautiful, but almost oppressively warm, and, as
they so frequently wished, I let my dear ones up in the balloon,
securely fastening it below.  And then--God forgive me!--I went
back to town for something; I forget just what, now.

"A sudden storm came up.  I hurried homeward; home to me was
wherever my dear ones chanced to be; but I was just too late! 
That devil of all devils was ahead of me, and I saw him--merciful
God! I saw him--cut the ropes and let the balloon dart away upon
that awful gale!"

His voice choked, and for a few minutes silence reigned.  Knowing
how vain must be any attempt to offer consolation, the trio of
air-voyagers said nothing, and presently Cooper Edgecombe spoke.

"I killed the demon.  I nearly tore him limb from limb; I would
have done just that, only for those who came hurrying after me
from town, knowing that I might need help in bringing my balloon
to earth in safety.  They dragged me away, but 'twas too late to
cheat my miserable vengeance.  That hound was dead, but--my
darlings were gone, for ever!"

Another pause, then quieter, more coherent speech.

"God alone knows whither my wife and child were taken.  The
general drift was in this direction, but how far they were
carried, or how long they may have lived, I can only guess;
enough that, despite all my inquiries, made far and wide in every
direction, I never heard aught of either balloon or passengers!

"After that, I had but one object in life:  to follow along the
track of that storm, and either find my loved ones, or--or some
clew which should for ever solve my awful doubts!  And for two
long years or more I fought to pierce these horrid
fastnesses,--all in vain.  No mortal man could succeed, even when
urged on by such a motive as mine.

"Then I determined upon another course.  I worked and slaved
until I could procure another balloon, as nearly like the one I
lost as might be constructed.  Then I watched and waited for just
such another storm as the one upon whose wings my darlings were
borne away, meaning to take the same course, and so find--"

"Why, man, dear, you must have been insane!" impulsively cried
the professor, unable longer to control his tongue.

"Perhaps I was; little wonder if so," admitted Edgecombe, turning
that way, with a wan smile lighting up his visage.  "I could no
longer reason.  I could only act.  I had but that one grim hope,
to eventually discover what time and exposure to the weather
might have left of my lost loves.

"Then, after so long waiting, the storm came, blowing in the same
direction as that other.  I cut my balloon loose, and let it
drift. I looked and waited, hoping, longing, yet--failing!  I was
wrecked, here in this wilderness.  My balloon was carried away. 
I failed to find--aught!"

Cooper Edgecombe turned towards the air-ship, with a sigh of
regret.

"If one had something like this then, I might have found
them,--even alive!  But now--too late--eternally too late!"



CHAPTER XIII. THE LOST CITY OF THE AZTECS.

Uncle Phaeton was more than willing to do the honours of his pet
invention, and this afforded a most happy diversion, although the
deepening twilight hindered any very extensive examination.

Cooper Edgecombe showed himself in a vastly different light while
thus engaged, his shrewd questions, his apt comments, quite
effectually removing the far from agreeable doubts born of his
earlier words and demeanour.

"Well, if he's looney, it's only on some points, not as the whole
porker, anyway," confidentially asserted Waldo, when an
opportunity offered.  "Coax him to tell how he knocked the
redskin out, uncle Phaeton."

Little need of recalling that perplexing incident to the worthy
savant, for, try as he might, Featherwit could not keep from
brooding over that wondrous collection of relics pertaining to a
long-since extinct people.  Of course, the last one had perished
ages ago; and yet--and yet--

Through his half-bewildered brain flashed the accounts given by
the coast tribes, members of which he had so frequently
interviewed concerning this unknown land, one and all of whom had
more or less to say in regard to a strange people, terrible
fighters, mighty hunters, one burning glance from whose eyes
carried death and decay unto all who were foolhardy enough even
to attempt to pass those mighty barriers, built up by a
beneficent nature.  Only for that nearly impassable wall, the
entire earth would be overrun and dominated by these monsters in
human guise.

Then, after the air-ship was cared for to the best of his
ability, and the night-guard set in place so that an alarm might
give warning of any illegal intrusion, the little party returned
to the cavern home of the exile where, after another refusal on
his part, the professor filled and lighted his beloved pipe.

Almost in spite of himself Featherwit was drawn towards those
marvellous articles depending from the wall, and, as he gazed in
silent marvel, Cooper Edgecombe drew nigh, with still other
articles to complete the collection.

"You may possibly find something of interest in these, too, dear
sir, although I have given them rather rough usage.  This formed
a rather comfortable cap, and--"

"A helmet!  And sandals!  A sash which is--yes!  worn about the
waist, mainly to support weapons, and termed a maxtlatl,
which--and all sufficiently well preserved to be readily
recognised as genuine--unless--Surely I am dreaming!"

If not precisely that, the worthy professor assuredly was almost
beside himself while examining these articles of warrior's wear,
one by one, knowing that neither eyes nor memory were at fault,
yet still unable to believe those very senses.

Up to this, Cooper Edgecombe had felt but a passing interest in
the matter, forming as it did but a single incident in a more
than ordinarily eventful life; but now he began to divine at
least a portion of the truth, and his face was lighted up with
unusual animation, when Phaeton Featherwit turned that way, to
almost sharply demand:

"Where did you gain possession of these weapons and garments,
sir? And how,--from whom?"

"I took them from an Indian, nearly two years ago.  He caught me
off my guard, and, when I saw that I could neither hide nor flee,
I fought for my life," explained the exile; then giving a short,
bitter laugh, to add:  "Strange, is it not?  Although I had long
since grown weary of existence such as this, I fought for it; I
turned wild beast, as it were!  Then, after all was over, I took
these things, more because I feared his comrades might suspect--"

"His comrades?" echoed the professor.  "More than the one, then?
You killed him, but--there were others, still?"

"Many of them; far too many for any one man to withstand,"
earnestly declared the exile.  "I made all haste in bearing the
redskin here, obliterating all signs as quickly as possible; yet
for days and nights I cowered here in utter darkness, each minute
expecting an attack from too powerful a force for standing
against."

Uncle Phaeton rubbed his hands briskly, shifting his weight
hurriedly from one foot to its mate, then back again, the very
personification of eager interest and growing conviction.

"More of them?  A strong force?  Armed,--and garbed as of old? 
The clothing, the footwear, and, above all else, the weapons,
purely Aztecan?  And here, only two short years ago?"

"Sadly long and hideously dreary years I have found them, sir,"
the exile said, in dejected tones.

The professor burst into a shrill, excited laugh, which sounded
almost hysterical, and, not a little to the amazement of his
nephews, broke into a regular dance, jigging it right merrily,
hands on hips, head perked, and chin in air, at the same time
striving to carry the tune in his far from melodious voice.

After all, perhaps no better method could have been taken to work
off his almost hysterical excitement, and presently he paused,
panting and heated, chuckling after an abashed fashion as he
encountered the eyes of his nephews.

"Not a word, my dear boys," he hastened to plead.  "I had to do
something or--or explode!  I feel better, now.  I can behave
myself, I hope.  I am calm, cool, and composed as--the genuine
Aztecs!  And we are the ones to discover that--oh, I forgot!"

For Waldo was fairly exploding with mirth, while Bruno smiled,
and even the exile appeared to be amused to a certain extent at
his expense.

Little by little, the worthy savant calmed down, and then, almost
forcing the exile to indulge in another delicious smoke, he led
up to the subject in which his interest was fairly intense.

Cooper Edgecombe was willing enough to tell all that lay in his
power, although he was only beginning to realise how much that
might mean to the world at large, judging by the actions of the
professor.

According to his account, the great lake, or drainage reservoir
of the Olympics, was a sort of semi-yearly rendezvous for a
warlike tribe of red men, where they congregated for the purpose
of catching and drying vast quantities of fish, doubtless to be
used during the winter.

"As a general thing they pitch their camp on the other side, over
towards the northeast; but small parties are pretty sure to rove
far and wide, coming around this way quite as often as not."

"And their garb,--the weapons they bore?" asked the professor.

Edgecombe motioned towards those articles in which such a lively
interest had been awakened, then said that, while few of the red
men who had come beneath his near observation had been so
elaborately equipped, he had taken notice of similar weapons and
garments, with additions which he strove hard to describe with
accuracy.

Nearly every sentence which crossed his lips served to confirm
the marvellous truth which had so dazzlingly burst upon the
professor's eager brain, and with a glib tongue he named each
weapon, each garment, as accurately as ever set down in ancient
history, not a little to the wide-eyed amazement of Waldo
Gillespie.

"Worse than those blessed 'sour-us' and cousins," he confided to
his brother, in a whisper.  "Reckon it's all right, Bruno?  Uncle
isn't--eh?"

But uncle Phaeton paid them no attention, so deeply was he
stirred by this wondrous revelation.  He felt that he was upon
the verge of a discovery which would startle the wide world as no
recent announcement had been able to do, unless--but it surely
must be correct!

And then, when Cooper Edgecombe finished all he could tell
concerning those queerly armed and gaudily garbed red men, the
professor let loose his tongue, telling what glorious hopes and
dazzling anticipations were now within him.

"For hundreds upon hundreds of years there have been wild, weird
legends about the Lost City, but that merely meant a mass of
wondrous ruins, long since overwhelmed by shifting sands,
somewhere in the heart of the great American desert, so-called.

"By some it was claimed that this ancient city owed its primal
existence to a fragment of the Aztecs, driven from their native
quarters in Old Mexico.  By others 'twas attributed unto one of
the fabulous 'Lost Tribes of Israel,' but even the most
enthusiastic never for one moment dreamed of--this!"

"Except yourself, uncle Phaeton," cut in Waldo, with a subdued
grin.  "This must be one of the marvels you calculated on
discovering, thanks to the flying-machine, eh?"

"Nay, my boy; I never let my imagination soar half so high as all
that," quickly answered the professor.  "But now--now I feel
confident that just such a discovery lies before us, and with the
dawn of a new day we will ascend and look for the glorious 'Lost
City of the Aztecs!' "

Again the savant sprang to his feet, wildly gesticulating as he
strode to and fro, striving to thus work off some of the intense
excitement which had taken full possession.  And words fell
rapidly from his lips the while, only a portion of which need be
placed upon record in this connection, however.

"A fico for the paltry lost cities of musty tradition, now!  They
may sleep beneath the sand-storms of countless years, but this--I
would gladly give one of my eyes for the certainty that its mate
might gaze upon such a wondrous spectacle as--Oh, if it might
only prove true!  If I might only discover such a stupendous
treasure! Aztecs!  And in the present day!  Alive--armed and
garbed as of yore!  Amazing!  Incredible!  Astounding beyond the
wildest dreams of a confirmed--"

With startling swiftness uncle Phaeton wheeled to confront the
exile, gripping his arm with fierce vigour, as he shrilly
demanded:

"Opium--are you an eater of drugs, Cooper Edgecombe?"

Even as the words crossed his lips, the professor realised how
preposterous they must sound, but the exile shook his head,
earnestly.

"I never ate drugs in that shape, sir.  Even if I had been
addicted to morphine and the like, how could I indulge the
appetite here, in these gloomy, lonely wilds?"

"I beg your pardon, sir; most humbly I implore your forgiveness.
I have but one excuse--this wondrous--Good night!  I'm going to
bed before I add to my new reputation as--a blessed idiot, no
less!"



CHAPTER XIV.
A MARVELLOUS VISION.

But the night was considerably older ere any one of that
quartette lost himself in slumber, for all had been too
thoroughly wrought up by the exciting events of the past day for
sleep to claim an easy subject.

By common consent, however, that one particular subject was
barred for the present, and then, sitting in a cosy group about
the glowing fire there in the cavern, the recently formed friends
talked and chatted, asking and answering questions almost past
counting.

Little wonder that such should be the case, so far as Cooper
Edgecombe was concerned, since he had been lost to the busy world
and its many changes for a long decade.

Then, too, his own dreary existence held a strange charm for the
air-voyagers, and the exile grew wonderfully cheerful and
bright-eyed as he in part depicted his struggles to sustain life
against such heavy odds, and still strove to keep alive that one
hope,--that even yet he might be able to discover a clew to his
loved and lost ones.

"Not alive; I have long since abandoned that faint hope.  But if
I might only find something to make sure, something that I could
pray over, then bury where my heart could hover above--"

"You are still alive, good friend, yet you have spent long years
out here in the wilderness," gently suggested the professor.

Edgecombe flinched, as one might when a rude hand touches a still
raw wound.

"But they, my wife, my baby girl,--they could never have lived as
I have existed.  They surely must have perished; if not at once,
then when the first cruel storms of hideous winter came howling
down from the far north!"

"Unless they were found and rescued by--who knows, my good sir?"
forcing a cheerful smile, which, unfortunately, was only
surface-born, as the exile lifted his head with a start and a
gasping ejaculation.  "Since it seems fairly well proven that
this supposedly unknown land is actually inhabited, why may your
loved ones not have been rescued?"

"The Indians?  You mean by the Aztecs, sir?"

"If Aztecans they should really prove; why not?"

"But, surely I have heard--sacrifices?" huskily breathed the
greatly agitated man, while the professor, realising how he was
making a bad matter worse, brazenly falsified the records,
declaring that no human sacrifices had ever stained the record of
that noble, honourable, gallant race; and then changed the
subject as quickly as might be.

Nevertheless, there was one good effect following that talk.
Cooper Edgecombe had dreaded nothing so much as the fear of being
left behind by these, the first white people he had seen for what
seemed more than an ordinary lifetime; but now, when the
professor hinted at a longing to take a spin through ether, for
the purpose of winning a wider view, he eagerly seconded that
idea, even while realising that it would be difficult to take him
along with the rest.

Still, nothing was definitely settled that evening, and at a
fairly respectable hour before the turn of night, the
air-voyagers were wrapped in their blankets and soundly
slumbering.

Not so the exile.  Sleep was far from his brain, and while he
really knew that danger could hardly menace that wondrous bit of
ingenious mechanism, he watched it throughout that long night,
ready to risk his own life in its defence should the occasion
arise.

Why not, since his whole future depended upon the aeromotor?  By
its aid he hoped to reach civilization once more; and in spite of
the great loss which had wrecked his life, he was thrilled to the
centre by that glorious prospect.  Here he was dead while
breathing; there he would at least be in touch with his fellow
men once more!

An early meal was prepared by the exile, and in readiness when
his trio of guests awakened to the new day; and then, while
busily discussing the really appetising viands placed before
them, the next move was fully determined upon.

Not a little to his secret delight, the professor heard Edgecombe
broach the subject of further explorations, and seeing that his
excitement had passed away in goodly measure during the silent
watches of the night, he talked with greater freedom.

"Of course we'll keep in touch with you, here, friend, and take
no decisive move without your knowledge and consent.  Our fate
shall be yours, and your fate shall be ours.  Only--I would
dearly love to catch a glimpse of--If there should actually be a
Lost City in existence!"

"If there is, as there surely must be one of some description,
judging from the number of red men I have seen collecting here at
the lake," observed the exile, "you certainly ought to make the
discovery with the aid of your air-ship.  You can ascend at will,
of course, sir?"

Nothing loath, the professor spoke of his pet and its wondrous
capabilities, and then all hands left the cavern for the outer
air, to prepare for action.

As a further assurance, uncle Phaeton begged Edgecombe to enter
the aerostat, then skilfully caused the vessel to float upward
into clear space, sailing out over the lake even to the whirlpool
itself before turning, his passenger eagerly watching every move
and touch of hand, asking questions which proved him both shrewd
and ingenious, from a mechanical point of view.

Returning to their starting-point, Edgecombe sprang lightly to
earth to make way for the brothers, face ruddy and eyes aglow as
he again begged them all to keep watch for aught which might
solve the mystery yet surrounding the fate of his loved ones.

The promise was given, together with an earnest assurance that
they would soon return; then the parting was cut as short as
might be, all feeling that such a course was wisest and kindest,
after all.

For an hour or more the air-ship sped on, high in air, its
inmates viewing the various and varying landmarks beneath and
beyond them, all marvelling at the fact that such an immense
scope of country should for so long be left in its native
virginity, especially where all are so land-hungry.

Then, as nothing of especial interest was brought to their
notice, uncle Phaeton quite naturally reverted to that suit of
Aztecan armour, and the glorious possibilities which the words of
the exile had opened up to them as explorers.

Bruno listened with unfeigned interest, but not so his more
mercurial brother, who took advantage of an opening left by the
professor, to bluntly interject:

"What mighty good, even if you should find it all, uncle Phaeton?
You couldn't pick it up and tote it away, to start a dime museum
with.  And, as for my part,--I'll tell you what!  If we could
only find something like Aladdin's cave, now!"

"Growing miserly in your old age, are you, lad?" mocked his
uncle.

"No; I don't mean just that.  His trees were hung with riches,
but mine should be--crammed and crowded full of plum pudding,
fruit cake, angel food, mince pies, and the like!  Yes, and there
should be fountains of lemonade!  And mountains of ice-cream! 
And sandbars of caramels, and chocolate drops, and trilbies,
and--well, now, what's the matter with you fellows, anyway?"

He spoke with boyish indignation at that laughing outbreak, but
the kindly professor quickly managed to smooth the matter over,
although not before Waldo had promised Bruno a sound thumping the
first time they set foot upon land.

Until past the noon hour that pleasant voyage lasted, without any
remarkable discovery being made, the trio munching a cold lunch
at their ease, rather than take the trouble to effect a landing.

But then, not very long after the sun had begun his downward
course, there came a change which caused Featherwit's blood to
leap through his veins far more rapidly than usual, for yonder,
still a number of miles away, there was gradually opening to view
a hill-surrounded valley of considerable dimension, certain
portions of which betrayed signs of cultivation, or at least of
vegetation different from aught the explorers had as yet come
across since entering that land of wonders.

Almost unwittingly Professor Featherwit sent the air-ship higher,
even as it sped onward at quickened pace, his face as pale as his
eyes were glittering, intense anticipation holding him spellbound
for the time being.  And then--the wondrous truth!

"Behold!" he cried, shrilly, pointing as he spoke.

"Houses yonder!  Cultivated fields, and--see!  human beings in
motion, who are--"

"Kicking up a great old bobbery, just as though they'd sighted
us, and wanted to know--I say, uncle Phaeton, how would it feel
to get punched full of holes by a parcel of bow-arrows?"

With a quick motion the air-ship was turned, darting lower and
off at a sharp angle to its former course, for the professor
likewise saw what had attracted the notice of his younger nephew.

Scattered here and there throughout that secluded valley were
human beings, nearly all of whom had sprung into sudden motion,
doubtless amazed or frightened by the appearance of that oddly
shaped air-demon.

Brief though that view had been, it was sufficiently long to show
the professor houses of solid and substantial shape, cultivated
plots, human beings, and a little river whose clear waters
sparkled and flashed in the sunlight.

It was very hard to cut that view so short, but the professor had
not lost all prudence, and he knew that danger to both vessel and
passengers might follow a nearer intrusion upon the privacy of
yonder armed people.  Yet his face was fairly glowing with glad
exultation as he brought the aerostat to a lower strata of air,
shutting off all view from yonder valley, as it lay amid its
encircling hills.

"Hurrah!" he cried, snatching off his cap and waving it
enthusiastically, as the air-ship floated onward at ease.  "At
last!  Found--we've discovered it at last!  And all is true,--all
is true!"

"Found what, uncle Phaeton?" asked Waldo, a bit doubtfully.

"The Lost City of the Aztecs, of course!  Oh, glad day, glad
day!"

"Unless--what if it should prove to be only a--a mirage, uncle
Phaeton?" almost timidly ventured Bruno, a moment later.



CHAPTER XV.
ASTOUNDING, YET TRUE.

The professor gave a great start at this almost reluctant
suggestion, shrinking back with a look which fell not far short
of being horrified.  But then he rallied, forcing a laugh before
speaking.

"No, no, Bruno.  All conditions are lacking to form the mirage of
the desert.  And, too; everything was so distinct and clearly
outlined that one could--"

"Fairly feel those blessed bow-arrows tickling a fellow in the
short ribs," vigorously declared the younger Gillespie.  "Not but
that--I say, uncle Phaeton?"

"What is it now, Waldo?"

"Reckon they're like any other people?  Got boys and--and girls
among 'em, I wonder?"

"I daresay, yes, why not?" answered Featherwit, scarcely
realising what words were being shaped by his lips, while Bruno
broke into a brief-lived laugh, more at that half-sheepish
expression than at the query itself.

"Both boys and girls galore, I expect, Kid; but you needn't
borrow trouble on either score.  You can outrun the lads, while
as for the fairer sex,--well, they'll take precious good care to
keep well beyond your reach,--especially if you wear such another
fascinating grin as--"

"Oh, you go to thunder, Bruno Gillespie!"

Through all this interchange the air-ship was maintaining a wide
sweep, drawing nearer the forest beneath, if only to keep hidden
from the eyes of the strange people in yonder deep valley.  Yet
the gaze of Phaeton Featherwit as a rule kept turned towards that
particular point, his eyes on fire, his lips twitching, his whole
demeanour that of one who feels a discovery of tremendous
importance lies just before him.

"Are we going to land, uncle Phaeton?" queried Bruno, taking note
of that preoccupation, which might easily prove dangerous under
existing circumstances.

That question served to recall the professor to more material
points, and, after a keen, sweeping look around, he nodded
assent.

"Yes, as soon as I can discover or secure a fair chance.  I wish
to see more--I must secure a fairer view of the--of yonder
place."

"Will it not be too dangerous, though?  Not for us, especially,
uncle, but for the aerostat?  Even if these be not the people you
imagine--"

"They are past all doubt a remnant of the ancient Aztecs.  Yonder
lies the true Lost City, and we are--oh, try to comprehend all
that statement means, my lads!  Picture to yourselves what
boundless fame and unlimited credit awaits our report to the
outer world! The benighted world!  The besotted world! 
The--the--"

"While we'll form the upsotted world, or a portion of it, without
something is done,--and that in a howling hurry, too!" fairly
spluttered Waldo, as the again neglected air-ship sped swiftly
towards a more elevated portion of that earth, part of the tall
hill-crest which acted as nature's barricade to yonder by nature
depressed valley.

"Time enough, lad, time enough, since we are going to land,"
coolly assured the professor, deftly manipulating the
steering-gear and still curying around those tree-crowned hills. 
"If we are really hunted after, 'twill naturally be in the
quarter of our vanishment, while by alighting around yonder,
nearly at right angles with our initial approach, we will have
naught to fear from the--the Aztecan clans!"

Clearly the professor had settled in his own mind just what lay
before them, and nothing short of the Lost City of the Aztecs
would come anywhere near satisfying that exalted ideal.  And,
taking all points into full consideration, was there anything so
very absurd in his method of reasoning, or of drawing a
deduction?

Still, that exaltation did not prevent uncle Phaeton from taking
all essential precautions, and it was only when an especially
secure landing-place was sighted that he really attempted to
touch the earth.

Fully one-half of that wide circuit had been made, and as nothing
could be detected to give birth to fears for either self or
air-ship, the aeronauts skilfully landed their vessel with only
the slightest of jars.  It was a well-screened location, where
naught could be seen of the flying-machine until close at hand,
yet so arranged as to make a hasty flight a very easy matter
should the occasion ever arise.

Not until the landing was effected and all made secure, did
Professor Featherwit speak again.  Then it was with gravely
earnest speech which suitably affected his nephews.

"Above all things, my dear lads, bear ever in mind this one
fact,--we are not here to fight.  We do not come as conquerors,
weapons in hand, hearts filled with lust of blood.  To the
contrary, we are on a peaceful mission, hoping to learn, trusting
to enlighten, with malice towards none, but honest love for all
those who may wear the human shape, be they of our own colour
or--or--otherwise."

"That's what's the matter with Hannah's cat!" cheerfully chipped
in the irrepressible Waldo.  "I say, uncle Phaeton, is it just a
lie-low here until yonder fellows grow tired of looking for what
they can't find, then a flight on our part; or will we--"

"Have we voyaged so far and seen so much, to rest content with so
very little?" exclaimed the professor, hardly as precise of
speech as under ordinary conditions.  "No, no, my lads!  Yonder
lies the greatest discovery of the nineteenth century, and we
are--Get a hustle on, boys!  The day is waning, and with so much
to see, to study, to--Come, I say!"

In spite of his initial attempt to impress his nephews with a due
sense of the heavy responsibilities which rested upon them,
Phaeton Featherwit was far more excited than either one of the
brothers.  Doubtless he more nearly appreciated the importance of
this wondrous discovery, provided his now firm belief was
correct,--that yonder stood a solid, substantial city, erected by
the hands of a people whom common consent had agreed were long
since wiped out of existence.

The story told by Cooper Edgecombe, backed up by the articles
taken from the person of the warrior whom he had slain in
self-defence, certainly had its weight; while the brief and
imperfect glimpse which he had won of yonder valley helped to
bear out that astounding belief.  And yet, how could it be true?

Really believing, yet forced by more sober reason to doubt, the
poor professor was literally "in a sweat" long ere another view
could be won of the depressed valley, although the landing of the
air-ship was so well chosen as to make that trip of the briefest
duration consistent with prudence.

The natural obstacles were considerable, however, and as they
picked their way along, the brothers for the first time began to
gain a fairly accurate idea of what was meant by the term, a
virgin forest.

To all seeming, the human foot had never ventured here, nor were
any marks or spoor of wild beasts perceptible on either side.

Although the aerostat had landed not far below the crest of those
hills, the adventurers had to climb higher, before winning the
coveted view, partly because the most practicable route led down
into and along a winding gulch, where the footing was far less
treacherous than upon the higher ground, cumbered, as that was,
with the leaf-mould of centuries.

Still, half an hour's steady labour brought the little squad to
the coveted point, and once again Professor Featherwit was almost
literally stricken speechless,--for there, far below their
present location, spread out in level expanse, lay the secret
valley with all its marvels.

Far more extensive than it had appeared by that initial glimpse,
the valley itself seemed composed of fertile soil, yet, by aid of
the river which cut through, near its centre, irrigating ditches
conveyed water to every acre, thus ensuring bounteous crops of
grain and of fruit as well.

Numerous buildings stood in irregular array, for the most part of
no great height, nor with many pretensions towards architectural
beauty or grace of outline; but in the centre of the valley
upreared its head a massive structure, pyramidal in shape,
consisting of five comparatively narrow terraces, connected one
with another only at each of the four corners, where stood a
wide-stepped flight of stones.

"Behold!" huskily gasped the professor, intensely excited, yet
still able to control the field-glass through which he was
eagerly scanning yonder marvels.  "The temple of the gods!  And,
yonder, the temple of sacrifice, unless my memory is--and look! 
The people are--they wear just such garb as--Oh, marvellous! 
Amazing! Astounding!  Incredible--yet true!"

Although their uncle could thus take in the various details to
better advantage, still the intervening distance was not so great
as to entirely debar the brothers from finding no little to
interest them, as was readily proven by their various
exclamations.

"Just look at the people, will ye, now?  Flopping around like
they hadn't any bigger business than to--Reckon they're looking
for us to come back, Bruno?"

"Or watching for the monster bird of prey, rather," suggested the
elder Gillespie.  "Of course they couldn't distinguish our faces,
and our bodies were fairly well hidden.  And, even more, of
course, they must be totally ignorant of all such things as
flying-machines and the like."

"Poor, ignorant devils!" sympathetically sighed the youngster.
"Well, we'll have to do a little missionary work in this quarter,
before taking our departure, eh, uncle Phaeton?"

With a start, Featherwit descended out of the clouds in which he
had been lost ever since winning a fair view of the secret city;
and now, rallying his wits and fairly aglow with eager interest
in this marvellous discovery, he began pointing out the various
objects of special importance, naming them with glib assurance,
then reminding the boys how wonderfully similar all was to what
had existed in Old Mexico before the conquest.

Bruno listened with greater interest than his brother could
summon at will.  For one thing, he had long been a lover of the
genial Prescott, and, now that his memory was freshened in part,
was able to closely follow the course of that little lecture,
noting each strong point made by the professor in bolstering up
his delightful theory.

That monologue, however, was abruptly broken in upon by Waldo,
who gave an eager exclamation, as he reached forth a pointing
finger:

"Look!  There's a white woman yonder,--two of 'em, in fact!"



CHAPTER XVI.
CAN IT BE TRUE?

That announcement came with all the force of a bolt from the
blue, and even the professor dropped his glasses with a gasp of
amazement, while Bruno would have leaped to his feet, only for
the hasty grab which his brother made at the tail of his coat.

"White--where?  Surely it cannot be that--Edgecombe--"

"Augh, take a tumble, boy!" ejaculated Waldo, giving a jerk that
rendered compliance nearly literal, though scarcely full of
grace. "Want to have the whole gang make a howling break this
way?  Want to--They're white all right, though!"

"Where?  Which direction?  Point them out, and--I fail to see
anything which would bear out your--"

The professor was sweeping yonder field with his glass, searching
for the primal cause of that latest excitement, but without
success.  No sign of a white face, male or female, rewarded his
efforts, and he turned an inquiring gaze upon the youngster.

Waldo was peering from beneath the shade of his hand, but now
drew back with a long breath, to slowly shake his head.

"They've gone now, but I did see them, and they were white, just
as white as--as anything!"

Bruno frowned a bit at that unsatisfactory conclusion, but the
professor was of more equable temper, for a wonder.  He smilingly
shook his head, while gazing kindly, then spoke:

"I myself might have made the same error, Waldo, but you surely
were in error, for once."

"What!  You mean I never saw those white women, uncle Phaeton?"

"No, no, I am not so seriously faulting your eyesight, my dear
boy," came the swift assurance.  "But even the best of us are
open to errors, and there were in olden times not a few Aztecs
with fair skins; not exactly white, yet comparatively fair when
their race was considered.  And, no doubt, Waldo, you saw just
such another a bit ago."

But the youngster was not so easily shaken in his own opinion.

"There were a couple of 'em, not just such another, uncle.  And
they were white,--pure white as ever the Lord made a woman!
And--why, didn't I see their hair, long and floating loose?  And
wasn't that yellow as--as gold, or the sunshine itself?"

"Yellow hair?"

"Yes, indeedy!  Yellow hair, white skins,--faces, anyway. 
Blondes, the couple of 'em; and to that I'll make my davy!"

And so the youngster maintained with even more than usual
sturdiness, when questioned more closely, pointing out the very
spot upon which the strange beings were standing, the top of a
large, tall building, clearly one of the series of temples.

In vain the field-glass was fixed upon that particular point. 
The partly roofed azotea was wholly devoid of human life, and
though watch was maintained in that direction for many minutes
thereafter, by one or other of the air-voyagers, naught was seen
to confirm the assertion made by the younger Gillespie.

For the moment that fact or fancy dominated all other interests,
for, granting that Waldo had not been misled by a naturally fair
Indian face, there was room for a truly startling inference.

"Could it actually be they?" muttered Bruno, face pale and eyes
glittering with intense interest.  "Could they have escaped with
life from the balloon, and been here ever since?"

"You mean--"

"The wife and child of Cooper Edgecombe,--yes!  Who else could
they be, unless--I'd give a pretty penny for one fair squint at
them, right now!  If there was only some method of--It would
hardly do to venture down yonder, uncle Phaeton?"

The professor gave a stern gesture of denial, frowning as though
he anticipated an actual break for yonder town, in spite of the
odds against them.

"That would be madness, Bruno!  Worse than madness, by far!  Look
at yonder warriors, all thoroughly armed, and eager to drink
blood as ever they were in centuries gone by!  They are hundreds,
if not thousands, while we are but three!  Madness, my boy!"

"Four, with Mr.  Edgecombe, uncle."

"And that means a complete host so long as we are backed up by
the air-ship," declared Waldo, in his turn.  "Those fellows!"
with a sniff of true boyish scorn for aught that was not fully up
to date. "What could they do, if we were to open fire on them
just once?"

"Prove our equals, man for man, armed as they assuredly are,"
just as vigorously affirmed the professor, inclined rather to
magnify than diminish the importance of these, his so recently
discovered people.  "You forget how the Aztecans fought Cortez
and his mailed hosts.  Yet these are one and identical, so far as
valour and training and blood can go."

"Huh!  Scared of a runty horse so badly that they prayed to 'em
as they did to their own gods!" sniffed Waldo, betraying a lore
for which he did not ordinarily receive fair credit.  "Why, uncle
Phaeton, let you just slam one o' those dynamite shells inside a
chief--"

"Nay, Waldo, must I repeat, we are not here for the purpose of
conquest, unless by purely amicable methods.  There must be no
fighting, for or against.  Savages though most people would be
inclined to pronounce yonder race, they are human, with souls
and--"

"But I always thought they were heathens, uncle Phaeton?"

The professor subsided at that, giving over as worse than useless
the attempt to enlighten the irrepressible youngster, at least
for the time being.

Silence ruled for some little time, during which each one of the
trio kept keen watch over the valley, the field-glass changing
hands at intervals in order to put all upon an equal footing.

One thing was clear enough unto all:  the Indians had been
greatly wrought up by the brief appearance of some queerly shaped
monster of the air, and while a goodly number of their best
warriors had hastened out of the valley and up the difficult
passes, in hopes of learning more, still others were astir,
weapons in hand, evidently determined to defend their lives or
their property from any assault, should such be made, whether by
known or foreign adversaries.

This busy stir and bustle, combined with the novel architecture
and so many varying points of interest, would have been a mental
and visual feast for the trio of air-voyagers, only for that one
doubt: were white captives actually in yonder temple?  And, if
white, were they the long-lost relatives of the aeronaut, Cooper
Edgecombe?

Quite naturally the interest displayed by the Indians centred in
the quarter of the heavens where that air-demon had been sighted,
hence our friends saw very little cause for apprehension on their
own parts.

Thus they were given a better opportunity for thinking of and
then discussing the new marvel.

Again did Waldo vow that his eyes had not befooled him.  Again he
positively asserted that he had seen two white women, wearing
blonde hair in loose waves far adown their backs.  And once again
Bruno, in half-awed tones, wondered whether or no they were the
mother and child borne away upon the wings of a mighty storm,
fifteen long years gone by.

"It is possible, though scarcely credible," admitted uncle
Phaeton, in grave tones, as he wrinkled his brows after his
peculiar fashion when ill at ease in his mind.  "Edgecombe lived
through just such another experience; though, to be sure, he was
a man of iron constitution, while they were far more delicate, as
a matter of course."

"Still, it may have happened so?" persisted Bruno, taking a
strong interest in the matter.  "You would not call it too
far-fetched, uncle?"

"No.  It may have happened.  I would rather call it marvellous,
yet still possible.  And if so--"

"There is but a single answer to that supposition, uncle; they
must be rescued from captivity!" forcibly declared Bruno.

"That's right," confirmed Waldo.  "Of course all women and
girls--I mean other people's kin--are a tremendous sight of
bother and worry, and all that; but we're white, and so are
they."

"We must rescue them; there's nothing else to do," again
emphasised the elder Gillespie.

"That is no doubt the proper caper, speaking from your boyish
point of view, my generous-hearted nephews; but--just how?" dryly
queried the professor.  "Have you arranged all that, as well,
Bruno?"

"You surely would not abandon them, uncle Phaeton?" asked the
young man, something abashed by that veiled reproof.  "To such a
horrible fate, too?"

"A fate which they must have endured for fifteen years, provided
your theory is correct, Bruno," with a fleeting smile.  "Don't
mistake me, lads.  I am ready and willing to do all that a man of
my powers may, provided I see just and sufficient cause for
taking decisive action.  That is yet lacking.  We are not certain
that there are white women yonder.  Or, if white women, that they
are captives.  Or, if captives, that they would thank us for
aiding them to escape."

"Why, uncle Phaeton!  Think of Mr. Edgecombe, and how--"

"I am thinking of him, and I wish to think yet a little longer,"
quietly spoke the professor.  "keep a lookout, lads, and if you
see aught of Waldo's fair women, pray notify me."

For the better part of an hour comparative silence reigned, the
boys feasting eyes upon yonder spectacle, their uncle deeply in
reverie; but then he roused up, his final decision arrived at.

"I will do it!" were his first words.  "Yes, I will do it!"

"Do what, uncle Phaeton?" asked Waldo, with poorly suppressed
eagerness, as he turned towards his relative.

"Go after Cooper Edgecombe,--bringing him here in order that he
may, sooner or later, solve this perplexing enigma.  Come, boys,
we may as well start back towards the aerostat."

But both youngsters objected in a decided manner, Waldo saying:

"No, no, uncle Phaeton!  Why should we go along?  You'll be
coming right back, and will be less crowded in the ship if we
don't go."

"And we can better wait right here; don't you see, uncle?"

"To keep the Lost City safely found, don't you know?  What if it
should take a sudden notion to lose itself again?" added Waldo,
innocently.



CHAPTER XVII.
AN ENIGMA FOR THE BROTHERS.

In place of the indulgent smile for which he was playing, Waldo
received a frown, and directly thereafter the professor spoke in
tones which could by no possibility be mistaken.

"Come with me, both of you.  I am going back to the aerostat, and
I dare not leave you boys behind.  Come!"

Kind of heart and generally complaisant though uncle Phaeton was,
neither Bruno nor Waldo cared to cross his will when made known
in such tones, and without further remonstrance they followed his
lead, slipping away from the snug little observatory without
drawing attention to themselves from any of yonder busy horde.

Not until the trio was fairly within the gulch did the professor
speak again, and then but a brief sentence or two.

"Give me time to weigh the matter, lads.  Possibly I may agree,
but don't try to hurry my cooler judgment, please."

Waldo gave his brother an eager nudge at this, gestures and
grimaces being made to supply the lack of words.  But when, the
better to express his confidence that all was coming their way,
the youngster attempted a caper of delight, his foot slipped from
a leaf-hidden stone, and he took an awkward tumble at full
length.

"Never touched me!" he cried, scrambling to his feet ere a hand
could come to his aid.  "Who says I don't know how to stand on
both ends at the same time?"

Barring this little caper, naught took place on their way to the
air-ship; and once there, the professor heaved a mighty sigh,
wiping his heated face as one might who has just won a worthy
race. But he betrayed no especial haste in setting the
flying-machine afloat and Waldo finally ventured:

"Can we help you off, uncle Phaeton?"

But he was assured there existed no necessity for such great
haste.

"In fact, it might be dangerous to start while so many of the
Aztecs are upon the lookout," came the unexpected addition.  "I
believe it would be vastly better not to leave here until shortly
before dawn, to-morrow."

It took but a few words further to convince the brothers that
this idea was wisest, and while the young fellows felt sorry to
have their view cut so short, neither ventured to actually rebel.

After all, the day was well-nigh spent, and, besides preparing
their evening meal, it was essential that their plans for the
immediate future should be shaped as thoroughly as possible.

Professor Featherwit had resolved to fetch Cooper Edgecombe to
the scene of interest, in order to give him at least a fair
chance to solve the enigma which was perplexing them all.  Even
so, he felt that no small degree of physical danger would attend
that presence, particularly if it should really prove, as they
could but suspect, that both wife and daughter of the involuntary
exile were yonder, among the Aztecans.

Much of this the professor made known to his nephews during that
evening, the trio thoroughly discussing the matter in all its
bearings, but before the air-ship was prepared for the night's
rest, uncle Phaeton made the youngsters happy by consenting to
their remaining behind as guardians to the Lost City, while he
went in quest of the balloonist.

"But bear ever in mind the conditions, lads," was his earnest
conclusion.  "I place you upon your honour to take all possible
precautions against being discovered, or even running the least
unnecessary risk during my absence."

"Don't let that bother you, uncle Phaeton," Waldo hastened to
give assurance.  "We'll be wise as pigeons, and cautious as any
old snake you ever caught up a tree; eh, Bruno, old man?"

"We promise all you ask, uncle, but does that mean we must stay
right here, without even stealing a weenty peep at the Lost
City?"

Professor Featherwit felt sorely tempted to say yes, but then,
knowing boyish nature (although Bruno had just passed his
majority, while Waldo was "turned seventeen") so well, he feared
to draw the reins too tightly lest they give way entirely.

"No; I do not expect quite that much, my lads; but I do count on
your taking no unnecessary risks, and in case of discovery that
you rather trust to flight, and my finding you later on, than to
actually fighting."

So it was decided, and at a fairly early hour the trio lay down
to sleep.  Although so unusually excited by the marvellous
discoveries of the day just spent, their open-air life tended to
calm their brains, and, far sooner than might have been expected,
sleep crept over them, one and all, lasting until nearly dawn.

Perhaps it was just as well that the wakening was not more early,
for the professor was beginning to regret his weakness of the
past evening, and had there been more time for drawing lugubrious
pictures of probable mishaps, he might even yet have insisted on
taking the youngsters with him.

Knowing that it was rather more than probable some of the Indians
would be stationed upon the hills to watch for the queerly shaped
air-demon, the professor felt obliged to lose no further time,
and so the separation was effected, just as the eastern sky was
beginning to show streaks and veins of a new day.

"Touch and go!" cried Waldo, with a vast inhalation as he watched
the aeromotor sail away with the swiftness of a bird on wing. 
"And for a weenty bit I reckoned 'twas you and me as part of the
go, too!"

In company the lads enjoyed a more leisurely meal than their
relative had dared wait for, knowing that, at the very least,
they would have the whole of that day to themselves, so far as
uncle Phaeton was concerned.  As a matter of course, he would not
attempt to return except under cover of night, or in the early
dawn of another day.

All that had been thoroughly discussed and provided for the
evening before, and was barely touched upon by the brothers now. 
Their first and most natural thought was of yonder Lost City,
with its inhabitants, red, white, and yellow, as Waldo put it;
but being still under the foreboding fears of the professor, they
finally agreed to remain where he left them until after the sun
crossed its meridian.

It was a rather early meal which the brothers prepared, if the
whole truth must be told; and the last fragments were bolted
rather than chewed, feet keeping time with jaws, as they hastened
towards the observatory.

There was pretty much the same sort of view as on the day before,
the main difference being that many of the Indians were labouring
in the fields, instead of watching for the air-demon.

Using the glass by turns, the lads kept eager watch for the white
women whom Waldo stubbornly persisted were within the town; but
hour after hour passed without the desired reward, and Bruno
began to doubt whether there was any such vision to be won.

"The sun was in your eyes, and you let mad fancy run away with
your better judgment, boy," he decided, at length.  "If not,
why--what now?"

For Waldo gave a low, eager exclamation, gripping the field-glass
as though he would crush in the reinforced leather case.  A few
moments thus, then he laughed in almost fierce glee, thrusting
the glass towards his brother, speaking excitedly:

"A crazy fool lunatic, am I?  Well, now, you just take a squint
at the old house for yourself and see if--biting you, now, is
it?"

For Bruno showed even more intense interest as he caught the
right line, there taking note of--yes, they surely were white
women! Faces, hair, all went to proclaim that fact.  And more
than that, even.

"Fair--lovely as a painter's dream!" almost painfully breathed
the elder Gillespie.  "I never saw such a lovely--"

"Injun squaw, of course.  Couple of 'em.  Nobody but a fool would
ever think different.  The idea of finding white women--"

"They are ladies, Waldo!  I never saw such--and I feel that they
must be the ones lost by poor Edgecombe when that storm--"

"That's all right enough, old fellow," interrupted Waldo,
claiming the glass once more.  "No need of your playing the
porker on legs, though, as I see.  Give another fellow a chance
to squint.  But aren't they regular jo-dandies, though, for a
fact?"

The two women in question, clad in flowing robes of white, lit up
here and there by a dash of colour, were slowly pacing to and fro
upon the temple where first discovered by the keen-eyed
youngster. Thanks to the excellent glass, it was possible to view
them clearly in spite of the distance, and there could be no
dispute upon that one point:  both mother and daughter (granting
that such was their relationship) were more than ordinarily fair
and comely of both face and person.

For the better part of an hour that slow promenade lasted, and
until the women finally passed beyond their range of vision, the
brothers took eager and copious notes.  Then, in spite of the
fact that scores of other figures still came within their field
of vision, curiosity lagged.

"It's like watching a street medicine show, after hearing Patti
or seeing Irving," muttered Bruno, drawing back and stretching
his wearied limbs beyond possible discovery.

"Or the A B C class playing two-old-cat, after a league game of
extra innings; right you are, my hearty!" coincided Waldo,
feeling pretty much the same way, "only with a difference."

Shortly after this, Bruno suggested a retreat to the rendezvous,
and for a wonder his brother agreed without amendment.

The brothers passed down to the gulch, which formed the easiest
route to their refuge, saying very little, and that in lowered
tones.  The confirmation so recently won served to stir their
hearts deeply, and neither boy could as yet see a way out of the
labyrinth that discovery most assuredly opened up before them.

"Of course we can't leave them there to drag on such a wretched
existence," declared Bruno.  "We couldn't do that, even though we
learned they held no relationship to Mr. Edgecombe.  But--how?"

"I reckon it's--what?" abruptly spoke Waldo, gripping an arm and
stopping short for a few seconds, but then impulsively springing
onward again as wild sounds arose from no great distance.

A score of seconds later they caught sight of a huge grizzly bear
in the act of falling upon a slender stripling, whose bronze hue
as surely proclaimed one of the Aztec children from yonder Lost
City.

What was to be done?  Disobey their uncle, or leave this lad to
perish?



CHAPTER XVIII.
SOMETHING LIKE A WHITE ELEPHANT.

Only a lad, slight-limbed and slenderly framed to the eye, yet
for all that gifted with a gallant heart, else he surely must
have been cowed to terror by the huge bulk of such a dire
adversary at close quarters.

Instead of trying to find safety in headlong flight, the Indian
stood at bay, with both hands firmly gripping the shaft of his
copper-bladed spear, at far too close quarters for employing bow
and arrows, while the copper knife in his sash was held in
reserve for still closer work.

Snarling, growling, displaying its great teeth while clumsily
waving enormous paws which bore talons of more than a
finger-length, the bear was balanced upon its hindquarters,
evidently just ready to lurch forward with striking paws and
gnashing teeth.

Its enormous weight would prove more than sufficient to end the
contest ere it fairly began, while a slight stroke from those
taloned paws would both slay and mutilate.

No one was better aware of all this than the Indian lad himself,
yet he took the initiative, swiftly darting his spear forward,
lending to its keen point all the power of both arms and body.  A
suicidal act it certainly appeared, yet one which could scarcely
make his position more perilous.

An awful roar burst from bruin as he felt that thrust, the blade
sinking deep and biting shrewdly; but then he plunged forward,
striking savagely as he dropped.

The Indian strove to leap backward an instant after delivering
his stroke, but still clung to the spear-shaft.  This hampered
his action to a certain degree, yet in all probability that stout
ashen shaft preserved his life, which that wound would otherwise
have forfeited.

The stroke but brushed a shoulder, nor did a claw take fair
effect, yet the stripling was felled to earth as though smitten
by a thunderbolt.

All this before the brothers could solve the enigma thus offered
them so unexpectedly; but that fall, and the awful rage displayed
by the wounded grizzly as he briefly reared erect to grind
asunder the spearshaft, decided the white lads, and, temporarily
forgetting how dangerously nigh were yonder Aztecan hosts, both
Bruno and Waldo opened fire with their Winchester rifles, sending
shot after shot in swift succession into the bulky brute, fairly
beating him backward under their storm of lead.

Victory came right speedily, but its finale was thrilling, if not
fatal, the huge beast toppling forward to drop heavily upon the
young savage, just as he was recovering sufficiently from shock
and surprise to begin a struggle for his footing.

Firing another couple of shots while rifle-muzzle almost touched
an ear, the brothers quickly turned attention towards the fallen
Indian, more than half believing him a corpse, crushed out of
shape upon the underlying rocks by that enormous carcass.

Fortunately for all concerned, the young Aztec was lying in a
natural depression between two firm rocks, and while his
extrication proved to be a matter of both time and difficulty,
saying nothing of main strength, success finally rewarded the
efforts of our young Samaritans.

The grizzly was stone-dead.  The Indian seemed but a trifle
better, though that came through compression rather than any
actual wounds from tooth or talon.  And the brothers themselves
were fairly dismayed.

Not until that rescue was finally accomplished did either lad
give thought to what might follow; but now they drew back a bit,
interchanging looks of puzzled doubt and worry.

"Right in it, up to our necks, old man!  And we can't very well
kill the critter, can we?"

"Of course not; but it may cause us sore trouble if--"

Just then the young Aztec rallied sufficiently to move, drawing a
step nearer the brothers, right hand coming out in greeting,
while left palm was pressed close above his heart.  And--still
greater marvel!

"Much obliged--me, you, brother!"

If yonder bleeding grizzly had risen erect and made just such a
salutation as this, it could scarcely have caused greater
surprise to either Bruno or Waldo, looking upon this being, as
they quite naturally did, in the light of a genuine "heathen,"
hence incapable of speaking any known tongue, much less the
glorious Americanese.

True, there was a certain odd accent, a curious dwelling upon
each syllable, but the words themselves were distinctly
pronounced and beyond misapprehension.

"Why, I took you for a howling Injun!" fairly exploded Waldo,
then stepping forward to clasp the proffered member, giving it a
regular "pump-handle shake" by way of emphasis.  "And here you
are, slinging the pure United States around just as though it
didn't cost a cent, and you held a mortgage on the whole
dictionary!  Why, I can't--well, well, now!"

For once in a way the glib-tongued lad was at a loss just what to
say and how to say it.  For, after all, this surely was a
redskin, and the professor had explicitly warned them
against--oh, dear!

Was it all a dizzy dream?  For the Aztec drew back, speaking
rapidly in an unknown tongue, then sinking to earth like one
overpowered by sudden physical weakness.

Bruno Gillespie, too, was recalling his uncle's earnest cautions,
and now took prompt action.  He quickly secured the weapons which
had been scattered as the Indian fell before the grizzly's paw,
then the brothers drew a little apart to consult together.

"What'll we do about it?" whisperingly demanded Waldo, keeping a
wary eye upon yonder redskin.  "You tell, for blamed if I know
how!"

"We daren't let him go free, else he might fetch the whole tribe
upon our track," said Bruno, in the same low tones, no whit less
sorely perplexed as to their wisest course.

"No, and yet we can't very well kill him, either!  If we hadn't
come along just as we did, or if--but he's a man, after all!  Who
could stand by and see that ugly brute make a meal off even an
Injun?"

Bruno cast an uneasy look around, at the same time deftly
refilling the partly exhausted magazine of his Winchester.

"Load up, Waldo.  Burning powder reaches mighty far, even here in
the hills; and who knows,--the whole tribe may come
helter-skelter this way, to see what has broken loose!  And we
can't fight 'em all!"

"Not unless we just have to," agreed the younger Gillespie,
placing a few shells where they would be handiest in case of
another emergency.  "But what's the use of running, if we're to
leave this fellow behind to blaze our trail?  If he is our
enemy--"

"No en'my; Ixtli friend,--heart-brother," eagerly vowed the young
Aztec, once again startling the lads by his strange command of a
foreign tongue.

He rose to his feet, though plainly suffering in some slight
degree from that brief collision with the huge beast, and smiling
frankly into first one face, then the other, took Bruno's hand,
touched it with his lips, then bowed his head and placed the
whiter palm upon his now uncovered crown.

In like manner he saluted Waldo, after which he drew back a bit,
still smiling genially, to add, in slowly spoken words:

"You save Ixtli.  Bear kill--no; you kill--yes!  Ixtli glad.  Sun
Children great--big heart full of love.  So--Ixtli never do hurt,
never do wrong; die for white brother--so!"

More through gesticulation than by speech, the young Indian brave
made his sentiments clearly understood, and if they could have
placed full dependence in that pledge, the brothers would have
felt vastly relieved in mind.

But they only too clearly recalled numerous instances of cunning
ill-faith, and, in despite of all, they could not well avoid
thinking that this was really something like a white elephant
thrown upon their hands.

"All right.  Play we swallow it all, but keep your best eye
peeled, old man," guardedly whispered Waldo.  "Fetch him along,
yes or no, for it may be growing worse than dangerous right here,
after so much shooting."

"You mean for us to--"

"Take the fellow along, and keep him with us, until uncle Phaeton
comes back to finally decide upon his case," promptly explained
Waldo.  "Of course we ought to've let him die; ought, but didn't!
We couldn't then, wouldn't now, if it was all to do over.  So
watch him so closely that he can't play tricks even if he
wishes."

There was nothing better to propose, and though the job promised
to be an awkward one to manage, Ixtli himself rendered it more
easy.

Past all doubt he could understand, as well as speak, the English
language, for he took a step in evident submission, speaking
gently:

"Ixtli ready; heart-brother say where go, now."

Again the brothers felt startled by that quaintly correct accent,
and almost involuntarily Bruno spoke in turn:

"You can talk English?  When did you learn?  And from whom?"

A still brighter smile irradiated the Aztec's face, and turning
his eyes towards the secluded valley, he bowed his head as though
in deep reverence, then softly, lovingly, almost adoringly,
responded:

"SHE tell me how.  Victo,--Glady, too.  Ixtli know little, not
much; his heart feel big for Sun Children, all time.  So YOU,
too, for kill bear,--like dat!"

Bruno turned a bit paler than usual, catching his breath sharply,
as he repeated those names:

"Victo,--Glady,--Wasn't it by those names, Victoria, Gladys, that
Mr. Edgecombe called his lost ones, Waldo?"

"I can't remember; but get a move on, old man.  The sooner we're
back where uncle Phaeton left us, where we can see a bit more of
what may be coming, the safer my precious scalp will feel.  This
Injun--"

"No scalp," quickly interposed the Aztec, with a deprecatory
gesture to match his words.  "You save Ixtli.  Ixtli say no hurt
white brothers.  Dat so,--dat sure for truth!"

Only partially satisfied by this earnest disclaimer of evil
intentions, Waldo gripped an arm and hurried the Aztec along,
leaving the bear where it had fallen, intent solely upon reaching
a comparatively safe outlook ere worse could follow upon the
heels of their latest adventure.

And Bruno brought up the rear as guard, eyes and rifle ready.



CHAPTER XIX.
THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN GOD.

No difficulty whatever was experienced in reaching that retreat,
and milder prisoner never knew a guard than Ixtli proved himself
to be, silently yielding to each impulse lent his arm by Waldo,
smiling when, as sometimes happened, he was brought more nearly
face to face with that armed rear-guard.

Nor were the Gillespie brothers worried by sound, sign, or token
of more serious trouble from others of that strangely surviving
race. And it was not long after reaching the rendezvous from
which the professor had sailed in the early dawn, that the
youngsters agreed the echoes of their Winchesters could not have
reached the ears of the Lost City inhabitants.

"That's plenty good luck for one soup-bunch," quoth Waldo, yet
adding a dubious shake of the head as he gazed upon their bronzed
companion.  "And if it wasn't for this gentleman in masquerade
costume--"

"Ixtli friend.  Ixtli feel like heart-brother," came in low,
mellow accents from those smiling lips.

There certainly was naught of guile or of evil craft to be read
in either eyes or visage, just then; but the brothers could not
feel entirely at ease, even yet.  How many times had warriors of
his colour played a cunning part, only to end all by blow of
tomahawk, thrust of knife, or bolt from the bended bow?

At a barely perceptible sign from Bruno, his brother drew apart,
leaving their "white elephant" by himself, yet none the less
under a vigilant guard.

"He seems all right, in his way," muttered the elder Gillespie,
"but how far ought we to trust him, after what we promised uncle
Phaeton?"

"Not quite as far as we can see him, anyway.  Still, a fellow
can't find the stomach to bowl him over like a hare,--without a
weenty bit of excuse, at least."

"That's it!  If he'd try to bolt, or would even jump on one of
us, it would come far more easy.  Look at him smile, now!  And I
hate to think of clapping such a bright-seeming lad in bonds!"

"Time enough for all that when he shows us cause," quickly
decided Waldo, with a vigorous nod of his curly pow.  "Pity if a
couple of us can't keep him out of mischief without going that
far.  And we want to pump the kid dry before uncle Phaeton gets
back; understand?"

Bruno gave a slight start at these words, but his eye-glow and
face-flush bore witness that the idea thus suggested had not been
unthought of in his own case.

"Then you really think--"

"That there's more ways than one of skinning a cat," oracularly
observed Waldo.  "Without showing it too mighty plainly, one or
the other of us can always be ready and prepared to dump the
laddy-buck, in case he tries to come any of his didoes.  And, at
the same time, we can be hugging up to him just as sweetly as
though we knew he was on the dead level.  Understand?"

Possibly the programme might have been a little more elegantly
expressed, but Waldo, as a rule, cared more for substance than
form, and his speech possessed one merit, that of perspicuity.

Having reached this fair understanding, the brothers dropped
their aside, and moved nearer the young Aztec.

Ixtli gazed keenly into first one face, then the other, plainly
enough endeavouring to read the truth as might be expressed
therein, as related to himself.  What he saw must have proved
fairly satisfactory, since he gave another bright smile, then
spoke in really musical tones:

"Good,--brother, now!  That more good, too!"

In spite of the suspicions, which seem inborn where people of the
red race are concerned, both Bruno and Waldo felt more and more
drawn towards this remarkable specimen of a still more remarkable
tribe; and not many more minutes had sped by ere the younger
couple were chatting together in amicable fashion, although
finding some little difficulty in Ixtli's rather limited
vocabulary.

Not a little to his elder brother's impatience, Waldo apparently
took a deeper interest in the recent adventure than in the
subject which claimed his own busiest thoughts, but he hardly
cared to crowd the youngster, lest he make matters even worse.

Aided by the sort of freemasonry which naturally exists between
lads of an adventurous nature, Waldo readily succeeded in picking
up considerable information from the Aztec, even before broaching
that all-important matter.

Ixtli was the only son of a famed warrior and chieftain of the
Aztecan clans, by name Aztotl, or the Red Heron.  He, in common
with so many of his people, had witnessed the approach and abrupt
departure of the strange bird in the air, and had hastened forth
in quest of the monster.

He failed to see aught more of the strange creature, but,
disliking to return home without something to show for the trip,
remained out over night, then chanced to fairly stumble into the
way of a mighty grizzly.

There were a few moments during which he might possibly have
escaped through headlong flight, but he was too proud for that,
and but for the timely arrival and prompt action on the part of
his white brothers would almost certainly have paid the penalty
with his life.

Then followed more thanks and broken expressions of gratitude,
all of which Waldo magnanimously waved aside as wholly
unnecessary.

"Don't work up a sweat for a little thing like that, old man.  Of
course we saw you were an Injun and--ahem!  I mean, how in time
did you happen to catch hold of our lingo so mighty pat,
laddy-buck?"

"My brother means to ask who taught you to speak as we do,
Ixtli?" amended Bruno, catching at the wished-for opportunity now
it offered.

"And who was that nice little gal with the yellow hair?  Is
she--what did you call her?  Gladys--And the rest of it
Edgecombe?"

Waldo was eager enough now that the ice was fairly broken, but
his very volubility served to complicate matters rather than to
hasten the desired information.

Ixtli apparently thought in English pretty much as he spoke
it,--slowly, and with care.  When hurried, his brain and tongue
naturally fell back upon his native language.

Sounds issued through his lips, but, despite all their animation,
these proved to be but empty sounds to the eager brothers.  And,
divining the truth, Bruno checked his brother, himself acting as
questioner, pretty soon striking the right chord, after which
Ixtli fared very well.

Still, thanks to his difficulty in finding the right words with
which to express his full meaning, it took both time and patience
for even Bruno to learn all he desired; and even if such a course
would be desirable, lack of space forbids giving a literal record
of questions and answers, since the general result of that
cross-examination may be put so much more compactly before the
generous reader.

The first point made clear was that the young Aztec owed his
imperfect knowledge of the English language to certain Children
of the Sun, whom he named as if christened Victo and Glady.  With
this as starting-point, the rest formed a mere question of time
and perseverance.

Growing in animation as he proceeded, Ixtli told of the coming to
their city of those glorious children; riding upon the wings of
an awful storm, yet issuing unharmed, unawed, bright of face, as
the mighty orb the sons of Anahuac worshipped.

He told how an envious few held to the contrary:  that these
fair-skins had come as evil emissaries from the still more evil
Mictlanteuctli, mighty Lord of Death-land, who had laden them
with pestilence and brain-sorrow and eye-darkness, with orders to
devastate this, the last fair city of the ancient race.

With low, sternly suppressed tones, the young warrior went on to
tell of what followed:  of the wicked attempt made by those
malcontents to punish the bearers of death and misery; then, his
voice rising and growing more clear, he told how, from a
clearing-sky, there came a single shaft flung by the mighty hand
of the great god, Quetzalcoatl, before which the impious dog went
down in everlasting death.

"Struck by lightning, eh?" interpreted Waldo, who seemed born
without the influence of poetry.  "Served him mighty right, too!"

Bowing submissively, although it could be seen he scarcely
comprehended just what those blunt words were meant to convey,
Ixtli spoke on, seemingly with perfect willingness, so long as
the adored "Sun Children" formed the subject-matter.

From his laboured statement, Bruno gathered that the sudden death
of one who had dared to lift an armed hand against the woman so
mysteriously placed there in their very midst awed all opposition
to the general belief in the divine origin of mother and child;
and ere long Victo was installed as a sort of high priestess of
the temple more especially devoted to the Sun God.

That was long ago, and when Ixtli was but a child.  As he grew
older, and his father, Red Heron, was appointed as chief of
guards to the Sun Children, Victo took more notice of the lad,
and ended in teaching him both the English tongue and its
Christian creed, so far as lay in his power to comprehend.

Then came less pleasing information concerning the Children of
the Sun, which went far to prove that the death of one
evil-minded dog had not entirely purged the Lost City, and it was
with harsher tones and frowning brows that Ixtli spoke of the
head priest, or paba, Tlacopa the evil-minded, who had built up a
powerful and dangerous sentiment against both Victo and Glady,
even going so far as to declare before the holy stone of
sacrifice that the Mother of Gods demanded these falsely titled
Children of the Sun.

"The fair-faced God must come soon, or too late!" sighed the
Aztec, bowing his head in joined palms the better to conceal his
evident grief.  "He has promised to come, but hurry!  They
die--they die!"

This was hardly an acceptable stopping-point, but questioning was
of little avail just then.  Satisfied of so much, the brothers
drew apart a short distance, yet keeping where they could guard
their more or less dangerous charge, conversing in low tones over
the information so far gleaned from the Aztec's talk.

"Well, we'll hold a tight grip on him, anyway, until uncle
Phaeton gets back," finally decided Waldo, speaking for his
brother as well.



CHAPTER XX.
THE PROFESSOR AND THE AZTEC.

Fortunately for all concerned, there proved to be no serious
difficulty attached to that same holding.  So far as outward
semblance went, Ixtli was very well content with both present
quarters and present companionship.

He likewise enjoyed the supper that, aided by a small fire
kindled in a depression so low that the light could by no means
attract any unfriendly eye, Bruno prepared for them all.  And
just prior to taking his first taste, the young warrior bowed his
head to murmur a few sentences which, past all doubt, had first
come to his mind through the wonderful Victo:  a simple little
blessing, which certainly did not add to the dislike or
uneasiness with which the brothers regarded their guest.

"He's white, even if he is red!" confidentially declared Waldo,
at his first opportunity.  "More danger of our spoiling him than
his doing us dirt; and that's an honest fact for a quarter, old
man!"

Bruno felt pretty much the same, yet his added years gave him
greater discretion, and, in spite of that growing liking, he kept
a fairly keen watch and ward over the Aztec.

After supper there came further questioning and answers, Waldo as
a rule playing inquisitor, eager to learn more anent the strange
existence which these people must live, so completely hemmed in
from all the rest of the world as they surely were in yonder
valley.

Without at all betraying the exile, Gillespie spoke of the lake
and its mighty whirlpool, then learned that the Indians really
made semi-annual trips thither for the purpose of laying in a
supply of dried fish for the winter's consumption.

As the night waned, preparations were made for sleeping, although
it was agreed between the brothers that one or the other should
stand guard in regular order.

"Not that I really believe the fellow would play us dirt, even
with every chance laid open," Waldo admitted.  "Still, it's what
uncle Phaeton would advise, and we can't well do less than follow
his will, Bruno."

"Since we broke it so completely by tackling the grizzly," with a
brief laugh.

"That's all right, too.  Of course we'd ought to've skulked away
like a couple of egg-sucking curs, but we didn't, and I'm
mightily glad of it, too.  For Ixtli--what a name that is to go
to bed with every night, though!--for Ixtli is just about as
white as they make 'em, nowadays; you hear me blow my bazoo?"

And so the long night wore its length along, the brothers taking
turns at keeping watch and ward, but the Aztec slumbering
peacefully through all, looking the least dangerous of all
possible captives.  And after this light even the cautious Bruno
began to regard him ere the first stroke of coming dawn could be
seen above the eastern hills.

Not being positive just where the air-ship would put in an
appearance, since Professor Featherwit had, perforce, left that
question open, to be decided by circumstances over which he might
have no control, each guard in turn devoted considerable
attention to the upper regions, hoping to glimpse the aerostat,
and holding matches in readiness to raise a flare by way of
alighting signal. But it was not until the early dawn that Bruno
caught sight of the air-ship, just skimming the tree-tops, the
better to escape observation by any Indian lookout.

After that the rest came easily enough.  A couple of blazing
matches held aloft proved sufficient cue to the professor, and
soon thereafter the flying-machine was safely brought to land, so
gently that the slumbers of the young Aztec were undisturbed.

Bruno gave a hasty word of warning and explanation combined, even
before he extended a welcoming hand towards Mr. Edgecombe, who
certainly appeared all the better for his encounter with people
of his own race.

Professor Featherwit took a keen, eager look at the slumbering
redskin, then drew silently back, to whisper in Bruno's ear:

"Guard well your tongue, lad.  I have told him nothing, as yet,
and we must consult together before breaking the news.  For now
we have had no rest, so I believe we would better lie down for an
hour or two."

Mr. Edgecombe appeared to be perfectly willing to do this, and
soon the wearied men were wrapped in blankets and sleeping
peacefully.

Long before their lids unclosed, Bruno had an appetising meal in
readiness, although the others had broken fast long before, and
Ixtli, his hands tightly clasped behind his back, as a child is
wont to resist temptation, was inspecting the air-ship in awed
silence.

Taking advantage of this preoccupation, Bruno quickly yet clearly
explained to his uncle all that had happened, showing that by
playing a more prudent part the young warrior must inevitably
have perished.

Then, making sure Cooper Edgecombe was not near enough to catch
his words, Bruno told in brief the information gleaned from Ixtli
concerning the Children of the Sun, whom he and Waldo more than
suspected must be the long-lost wife and daughter of the exiled
aeronaut.

As might have been expected, Professor Featherwit was deeply
stirred by all this, fidgeting nervously while keeping alert
ears, with difficulty smothering the ejaculations which fought
for exit through his lips.

After satisfying his craving for food, the professor led the
young Aztec apart from the rest of the party, speaking kindly and
sympathetically until he had won a fair share of liking for his
own, then broaching the subject of the Sun Children.

After this it was by no means a difficult matter to get at the
seat of trouble, and little by little Featherwit satisfied
himself that Ixtli would do all, dare all, for the sake of
benefiting the woman and maiden who had treated him so kindly.

At a covert sign from the professor, Bruno came to join in the
talk, and his sympathy made the young Aztec even more
communicative.  And Ixtli spoke more at length concerning
Tlacopa, the paba, and another enemy whom the Children of the Sun
had nearly equal cause to fear, one Huatzin, or Prince Hua,
chiefest among the mighty warriors of the Aztecan clans.

This evil prince had for years past sought Victo for his bride,
while his son, Iocetl, tried in vain to win the heart-smiles of
the fair Glady, Victo's daughter.  And, through revenge for
having their suit frowned upon, these wicked knaves had joined
hands with the priest in trying to drag the Sun Children down
from their lofty pedestal.

It did not take long questioning, or shrewd, to convince the
professor that in Ixtli they could count upon a true and daring
supporter in case they should conclude to interfere in behalf of
his patroness and teacher, adored Victo.

The professor led the way over to the air-ship, there producing
the clothing and arms once worn by another Aztec warrior, which
he had carefully stowed away in the locker, loath to lose sight
of such valuable relics; truly unique, as he assured himself at
the moment.

Bruno gave a little exclamation at sight of the articles, then in
eager tones he made known the daring idea which then flashed
across his busy brain.

"We ought to make sure before taking action, uncle Phaeton.  Then
why not let me don these clothes and steal down into the valley,
under cover of darkness, to see the ladies and--"

"No, no, my lad," quickly interrupted the professor, gripping an
arm as though fearful of an instant runaway.  "That would be too
risky; that would be almost suicidal!  And--no use talking," with
an obstinate shake of his head, as Bruno attempted to edge in an
expostulation.  "I will never give my consent; never!"

"Or hardly ever," supplied Waldo, coming that way like one who
feels the proprieties have been more than sufficiently outraged.
"Give some other person a chance to wag his chin a bit, can't ye,
gentlemen?  Not that _I_ care to chatter merely for sake of
hearing my own voice; but--eh?"

"We were considering whether or no 'twould be advisable to take a
walk over to the observatory," coolly explained the professor. 
"Of course, if you would rather remain here to watch the
aerostat--"

"Let Bruno do that, uncle.  He grew thoroughly disgusted with
what he saw over yonder, yesterday," placidly observed the
youngster.

"Waldo, you villain!"

"Well, didn't you vow and declare that you could recognise grace
and beauty and all other varieties of attractiveness only
in--dark brunettes, old man?"

Professor Featherwit hastily interposed, lest words be let fall
through which Mr. Edgecombe might catch a premature idea of the
possible surprise held in store; and shortly afterwards the start
was made for the snug covert from whence the Lost City had been
viewed on prior occasions.

Naturally their route led them directly past the scene of the
bear fight, where the huge carcass lay as yet undisturbed, and
calling forth sundry words of wonder and even admiration, through
its very ponderosity and now harmless ferocity.

Professor Featherwit deemed it his duty to gravely reprove his
wards for their rash conduct, yet something in his twinkling eyes
and in the kindly touch of his bony hand told a far different
tale.  His anger took the shape of pride and of heart-love.

In due course of time the lookout was won, and without delay the
savant turned his field-glass upon the temple which appeared to
appertain to the so-called Sun Children; but, not a little to his
chagrin, the azotea was utterly devoid of human life.

But that disappointment was of brief existence, for, almost as
though his action was the signal for which they had been waiting,
mother and daughter came slowly into view, arm in arm, clad in
robes of snowy white, with their luxuriant locks flowing loose as
upon former occasions.

Both lads--three of them, to be more exact--gave low exclamations
of eager interest as those shapes came in sight, while even
Cooper Edgecombe gazed with growing interest upon the scene,
wholly unsuspecting though he was as yet.

A slight nod from the professor warned the brothers to stand
ready in case of need, then he offered the exile the glass,
begging him to inspect yonder fair women upon the teocalli.

The glass was levelled and held firmly for a half minute, then
the exile gave a choking cry, gasping, ere he fell as one smitten
by death:

"Merciful heavens!  My wife--my child!"



CHAPTER XXI.
DISCUSSING WAYS AND MEANS.

In good measure prepared for some such result, in case their
expectations should prove true, friendly hands at once closed
upon the exile, hurrying him back, and still more completely
under cover, as quickly as might be.

Cooper Edgecombe seemed as wax in their hands, not utterly
deprived of consciousness, but rather like one dazed by some
totally unexpected blow.  He made not the slightest resistance,
yielding to each impulse given, shivering and weak as one just
rallying from an almost mortal illness.

Yet there came an occasional flash to his eyes which warned the
wary professor of impending trouble, and as quickly as might be
the stunned aeronaut was removed from the point of observation,
taken by short stages back to the spot where rested the
flying-machine.

Ixtli seemed something awed by this (to him) inexplicable conduct
on the part of the gaunt-limbed stranger, but gave his new-found
friends neither trouble nor cause for worry, bearing them company
and even lending a hand whenever he thought it might be needed.

The Gillespie brothers were far more deeply stirred, as was
natural, but even Waldo contrived to keep a fair guard over his
at times unruly member, speaking but little during that retreat.

With each minute that elapsed Cooper Edgecombe gained in bodily
powers, and while his mental strength was slower to respond, that
proved to be a blessing rather than otherwise.

The rendezvous was barely gained ere he gave a hoarse cry of
reviving memory, then strove to break away from that friendly
care, calling wildly for his wife, his daughter, fancying them in
some dire peril from which alone his arms could preserve them.

It was a painful scene as well as a trying one, that which
followed closely, and respite only came after bonds had been
applied to the limbs of the madman,--for such Cooper Edgecombe
assuredly was, just then.

There were tears in the professor's eyes, as he strove hardest to
soothe the sufferer, assuring him that his loved ones should be
restored to his arms, yet repeatedly reminding him that any rash
action taken then must almost certainly work against their better
interests.

The exile grew less violent, but that was more through physical
exhaustion than aught else, and what had, from the very first,
appeared a difficult enigma, now looked far worse.

Only when fairly well assured that the sufferer would not attract
unwelcome attention their way through too boisterous shouting,
did the professor draw far enough away for quiet consultation
with his nephews.

Mr. Edgecombe was deposited within the air-ship, secured in such
a manner that it would be well-nigh impossible for him to do
either himself or the machine material injury, no matter how
violent he might become; and hence, in case of threatened trouble
from the inmates of the Lost City, flight would not be seriously
hindered through caring for him.

Professor Featherwit now gleaned from his nephews pretty much all
they could tell him concerning sights and events since his
departure in quest of the exile.  That proved to be very little
more than he had already learned, and contained still less which
seemed of especial benefit to that particular enigma awaiting
solution.

True, Waldo suggested that Ixtli be employed as a medium of
communication between the Sun Children and themselves; but,
possibly because, as a rule, this irrepressible youngster's ideas
were generally the wildest and most far-fetched imaginable, uncle
Phaeton frowned upon the plan.

No; the young Aztec might prove true at heart, even as
indications went, but the risk of so trusting him would prove far
too great.

"That's just because you haven't known and slept with him, like
we have," declared Waldo.  "He's red on the outside, but he's got
just as white a soul as the best of us,--bar none."

Bruno likewise appeared to think well of the young brave, and
suggested an amendment to Waldo's motion,--that he accompany
Ixtli into the sunken valley, covered by the friendly shades of
night, there to open communication with the Sun Children.

"By so doing, we could make certain of their identity," the young
man argued, earnestly.  "That, it appears to me, is the first
step to be taken.  For, in spite of the apparent recognition by
Mr. Edgecombe, it is possible that no actual relationship
exists."

"What of that?" bluntly cut in the younger Gillespie.  "Don't you
reckon strangers'd like to take a little walk, just as well as
any other people?"

"Patience, my lad," interposed the professor.  "While we seem in
duty bound to lend aid and assistance to women in actual
distress, we can only serve them with their own free will and
accord. Granting that the women we saw upon the teocalli were
other than those believed by our afflicted friend--"

"But, uncle, look at their names!  And don't Ixtli say--tell 'em
all over again, pardner, won't ye?" urged Waldo, taking a burning
interest in the matter, as was his custom when fairly involved.

The young Aztec complied as well as lay within his power, giving
it as his fixed opinion that sore trouble, if not actual peril,
awaited the Children of the Sun, unless assisted by powerful
friends.  He spoke of the mighty chieftain, Prince Hua, and of
the high priest, Tlacopa, who was, to all seeming, playing
directly into the hands of the 'Tzin.

"He say Mother of Gods call--loud!  He say sacrifice, and
dat--no, no!  Quetzal' send--Quetzal' save--MUST save Victo,
Glady!"

Further questioning resulted in but little more information,
though, as Ixtli grew calmer, he emphasised such statements as he
had already made, elaborating them a trifle.  And, by this, his
questioners learned that, humanly speaking, the fate of the Sun
God's Children depended almost entirely upon the whim or fancy of
the chief paba of the teocalli.

Through Tlacopa issued the awesome oracles, and when his voice
thundered forth the dread fiat, who dared to openly rebel?

Further questioning brought forth one more important fact,--that
there was absolutely no hope of either Victo or Glady coming
forth from the valley, either by night or by day.  While
ostensibly free of will as they were of limb, neither woman was
permitted to leave yonder temple, save under armed escort; and
guards were on duty each hour of the day and night.

"But we could get to see and speak with them, Ixtli?" asked
Bruno, eager to reach some fair understanding as to the future
course of action.

"Yes, white brother, go with Ixtli," came the hesitating reply;
but then the Aztec caught one of Gillespie's hands, holding it in
close contrast to his own brown paw, shaking his head doubtingly.

"No like.  Keen eye, dem people.  Watch close.  Find 'nother
white skin--bad!"

"You hear that, Bruno?" asked the professor, really relieved at
such positive evidence in conflict with the rash proposition made
by the young man.

"Of course I thought of going under cover of the night, uncle,
and surely it would not be such a difficult matter to darken my
face and hands?  With dirt, if nothing better can be found.  And
if I wore the clothes you brought from the cavern, uncle
Phaeton?"

"That's the ticket!" broke in Waldo, eagerly.  "Why, in a rig
like that, I could turn the trick my own self!"

The consultation was broken off at this juncture by a faint
summons from Cooper Edgecombe, and Professor Featherwit was only
too glad of the excuse, hurrying over to the flying-machine,
finding to his great joy that the exile was now far more like his
old-time self.

Still, great caution was used in revealing all, and it was not
until considerably later in the day that Mr. Edgecombe felt
capable of taking part in the discussion of ways and means.

He declared that his recognition had been complete, in spite of
the long years which had elapsed since losing sight of his dear
ones; and he earnestly vowed to never give over until their
rescue was effected, or he had lost his life while making the
attempt.

While the two air-voyagers were thus engaged in talk, Bruno
silently stole away with Ixtli, taking a bundle along, and
leaving Waldo to throw their uncle off the track in case his
suspicions should be prematurely awakened.  Then, side by side,
two Indian braves silently approached the aerostat, causing
Professor Featherwit to make a hasty dive for his dynamite gun to
repel a fancied onslaught.

"Sold again, and who comes next?" merrily exploded Waldo, dancing
about in high glee as the supposed redskin slowly turned around
for inspection before speaking, in familiar tones:

"Would there be such an enormous risk of discovery, uncle
Phaeton, provided I put lock and seal upon my lips, save for the
ladies?"

That experiment proved to be a complete success, and after Cooper
Edgecombe added his pathetic pleadings to the young man's own
arguments, Professor Featherwit gradually gave way, though still
with reluctance.

"I could never find forgiveness should harm come to your mother's
son, boy," he huskily murmured, his arm stealing about Bruno's
middle.  "I'd far rather venture myself, and--why not, pray?" as
Waldo burst into an involuntary laugh.

Then he turned upon Ixtli, a hand resting upon each shoulder
while he gazed keenly into those lustrous dark orbs for a full
minute in perfect silence.  Then he spoke, slowly, gravely:

"Can we trust you, friend?  Would you sell the boy to whose arm
you owe your own life, unto his enemies?  Would you lead him
blindly to his death, Ixtli, son of Aztotl?"

A wondering gaze, then the Indian appeared to flush hotly.  He
shook off those far from steady hands, drawing his knife and with
free fingers tearing open his dress above the heart.  Thrusting
the weapon into Bruno's hand, he spoke in clear, distinct
accents:

"Strike hard, white brother!  Open heart; see if all black!"

Eye to eye the two youths stood for a brief space in silence,
then the weapon was let fall, and Bruno gripped the Indian's hand
and shook it most cordially.

"Strike you, Ixtli?  I'd just as soon smite my brother by birth!"

"And that's mighty right, too!" cried Waldo, impetuously.

"I really begin to believe that you are all in the right, while I
alone am left in the wrong," frankly admitted the professor.



CHAPTER XXII.
A DARING UNDERTAKING.

Still, that point was of too vital importance to justify hasty
decision, and the professor did not make his surrender complete
until the shades of another night were beginning to gather over
the land.

Meantime, partly for the purpose of keeping the youngsters
employed and thus out of the way of less harmless things, the
professor suggested that the huge grizzly be flayed.  If the
proposed scheme should really be undertaken, that mighty pelt, if
uncomfortable to convey, would serve as a fair excuse for the
young brave's as yet unexplained absence from the Lost City.

As a matter of course, Cooper Edgecombe felt intense anxiety
through all, but he contrived to keep fair mastery over his
emotions, readily admitting that he himself could do naught
towards visiting the Lost City.

"I know that my loved ones are yonder.  I would joyfully suffer
ten thousand deaths by torture for the chance to speak one word
to--to them.  And yet I know any such attempt would prove fatal
to us all. The mere sight of--I would go crazy with joy!"

There is no necessity for repeating the various arguments used,
pro and con, before the final agreement was reached.  Enough has
already been put upon record, and the result must suffice:
Professor Featherwit yielded the vital point, and, having once
fairly expressed his fears and doubts, flung his whole heart into
perfecting the disguise which was now counted upon to carry Bruno
safely into and out of yonder city.

He was carefully trigged out in the warlike uniform secured by
Cooper Edgecombe at the cost of a human life, and, with fresh
stain applied to his face and hands, the slight moustache he wore
was not dangerously perceptible.

" 'Twould take a strong light and mighty keen eyes to see it at
all, and even if a body should happen to notice it, he'd reckon
'twas a bit of smut, or the like," generously declared Waldo.

Under less trying circumstances, Bruno might have answered in
kind, but now he merely smiled at the jester, then turned again
to receive the earnest cautions let fall for his benefit by the
professor.

Above all else, he was to steer clear of fighting, and, without
he saw a fair chance of winning speech with the white women, he
was to keep in such hiding as Ixtli might furnish, trusting the
young Aztec to post the Children of the Sun as to what was in the
wind.

Tremulous, almost incapable of coherent speech, so intense was
his agitation, Cooper Edgecombe sent many messages to his loved
ones, begging for one word in return.  And if nothing less would
serve--

His voice choked, and only his feverishly burning eyes could say
the rest.

It was well past sunset ere the youngsters set forth from the
rendezvous, accompanied a short distance by both Waldo and the
professor; but the parting came in good time.  It would be worse
than folly to add to the existent perils that of possible
discovery by some prowling Aztec who might work serious injury to
them one and all.

That great bear-hide proved a tax upon their strength, even
though the bullet-riddled head-piece had been carefully cut off
and buried, lest those queer holes tell a risky tale on close
examination; but Ixtli, as well as Bruno, was upborne by an
exaltation such as neither had known before this hour.

There was nothing worse than the natural obstacles in the way to
be overcome, and, knowing every square yard of ground so
thoroughly, Ixtli chose the most practicable route to that
hill-encircled town.

The stony pass was followed to the lower level, and the young
adventurers had drawn fairly near the first buildings ere
encountering a living being; and then ample time was given them
for meeting the danger.

A low-voiced call sounded upon the night air, and Ixtli responded
in much the same tone.  Bruno, of course, was utterly in the dark
as to what was being said, but he still held perfect faith in his
copper-hued guide, and left all to the son of Aztotl.

The Aztec brave appeared to be explaining his unusually
protracted absence, for he proudly displayed the great grizzly
pelt, then exhibited the spear-head from which protruded the
tooth-marked wood.

Like one who was already familiar with the details, Bruno slowly
lounged forward a pace or two, then in silence awaited the
pleasure of his companion on that night jaunt.

Ixtli was not many minutes in shaking off the Indian, and, almost
staggering beneath his shaggy burden, moved away as though in
haste to rejoin his family circle.

Fortunately for the venture, the Aztecans appeared to believe in
the maxim of going to bed early, for there were very few
individuals astir at that hour, young though the evening still
was.  And by the clear moonlight which fell athwart the valley,
it was no difficult task to catch sight before being seen, where
eyes so busy as those of the two young men were concerned.

Only once were they forced to make a brief detour in order to
escape meeting another redskin, and then a guarded whisper from
the lips of the Aztec warned Bruno that they were almost at the
teocalli wherein the Children of the Sun made their home and
abiding-place.

Leaving the grizzly pelt at a corner, for the time being, Ixtli
led his white friend up and into the Temple of the Sun, pressing
a hand by way of added caution.

Although he had declared that an armed guard was kept night and
day over the Sun Children, and that he hoped to pass Bruno as
well as himself without any serious difficulty, since he had long
been a favoured visitor, and ever welcomed by Victo and Glady,
the temple was seemingly without such protection upon the present
occasion.

Ixtli expressed great surprise when this fact became evident, and
he showed uneasiness as to the welfare of his beloved patroness
and kindly teacher.

Surely something evil was impending!  His father, Aztotl, was
chieftain of the guards, and wholly devoted to the Sun Children,
ready at all times to risk life in their behalf.  Now, if the
usual guards were lacking, surely it portended evil,--treachery,
no doubt, at the bottom of which the paba and the 'Tzin almost
certainly lurked.

All this Ixtli contrived to convey to Bruno, who fairly well
shared that anxiety, but who was more for going ahead with a bold
rush, to learn the worst as quickly as might be.

Still, unfamiliar with the construction of the temple as he was,
Bruno felt helpless without his guide, and so timed his progress
by that of Ixtli, right hand tightly gripping the handle of his
"hand-wood," or maquahuitl, resolved to give a good account of
either of those rascally varlets in case trouble lay ahead.

The unwonted desolation which appeared to reign on all sides was
plainly troubling the Aztec brave, and he seemed to suspect a
cunning ambuscade, judging from his slow advance, pausing at
nearly every step to bend ear in keen listening.

Still, nothing was actually seen or heard until after the young
men reached the upper elevation, upon a portion of which the Sun
Children had been first sighted by the air-voyagers.

Here the first sound of human voices was heard, and Bruno stopped
short in obedience to the almost fierce grip which Ixtli closed
upon his nearest arm, listening for a brief space, then
breathing, lowly:

"We see, first.  Dat good!  Him see first, dat bad!  Eye, ear,
two both.  You know, brother?"

"You mean that we are to listen and play spy, first, Ixtli?"
asked Bruno, scarcely catching the real meaning of those hurried
words.

"Yes.  Dat best.  Come; step like snow falls, brother."

"Who is it, first?"

"Victo, she one.  Odder man, not know sure, but think Huatzin. 
He bad; all bad!  Kill him, some day.  Dat good; plenty good all
over!"

This grim vow appeared to do the Aztec good from a mental point
of view, and then he led his white friend silently towards the
covered part of the teocalli, from whence those sounds emanated.

Curtains of thick stuff served to shut in the light and to partly
smother the sound of voices, but Ixtli cautiously formed a couple
of peepholes of which they quickly made good use.

A portion of the sacred fire was burning upon its special altar,
while a large lamp, formed of baked clay, was suspended from the
roof, shedding a fair light around, as well as perfuming the
enclosure quite agreeably.

Almost directly beneath this hanging-lamp stood the two Children
of the Sun, one tall, stately, almost queenly of stature, and now
looking unusually impressive, as she seemed to act as shield for
her daughter, slighter, more yielding, but ah, how lovely of face
and comely of person!

Even then Bruno could not help realising those facts, although
his ears were tingling sharply with the harsh accents falling
from a far different pair of lips, those of a tall, muscular
warrior whose form was gorgeously arrayed in featherwork and
cunning weaving, rich-hued dyes having been called to aid the
other arts as well.

If this was actually the Prince Hua, then he was a most brutal
sample of Aztecan aristocracy, and at first sight Gillespie felt
a fierce hatred for the harsh-toned chieftain.

As a matter of course, Bruno was unable to comprehend just what
was being said, thanks to his complete ignorance of the language
employed; but he felt morally certain that ugly threats were
passing through those thin lips, and even so soon his hands began
to itch and his blood to glow, both urging him to the rescue.

Swiftly fell the reply made by Victo, and her words must have
stung the prince to the quick, since he uttered a savage cry,
drawing back an arm as though to smite that proudly beautiful
face with his hard-clenched fist.

That proved to be the cap-sheaf, for Bruno could stand no more. 
He dashed aside the heavy curtain as he leaped forward, giving a
stern cry as he came, swinging the war club over his shoulder to
strike with all vengeance at the startled and recoiling Aztecan.

Only the young man's unfamiliarity with the weapon preserved
Prince Hua from certain death.  As it was, he reeled, to fall in
a nerveless heap upon the floor, while, with a startled cry,
another Aztec broke away in flight.



CHAPTER XXIII.
A FLIGHT UNDERGROUND.

That sudden appearance and flight of another man took Ixtli even
more by surprise than it did Bruno, for he never even suspected
such a possibility, knowing Prince Hua so well.  Still, the young
brave was swift to rally, swift to pursue, sending a menace of
certain death in case the fleeing cur should not yield himself.

Just then Bruno had eyes and thoughts for the Sun Children alone,
who quite naturally shrunk back in mingled surprise and alarm at
his unceremonious entrance.  He forgot his disguise, forgot
everything save that before him stood the fair beings whom he had
vowed to save at all hazards from what appeared to him worse by
far than actual death.

Gillespie never knew just what words crossed his lips during
those first few seconds, but he saw that the women, in place of
eagerly accepting his aid, were visibly shrinking, apparently
more alarmed than delighted with the opportunity thus offered.

Doubtless this was caused mainly by that odd blending of Aztec
and paleface, the colour and garb of the one joined to the tongue
of the other; but the result might have been even worse, had not
Ixtli hastened back to clear up more matters than one.

In spite of his utmost efforts, the second Indian had escaped
with life, although he received a glancing wound from an arrow,
as he plunged down towards the lower level; and nothing seemed
more certain than that an alarm would right speedily spread
throughout the town, if only for the purpose of hurrying succour
to the Lord Hua.

All this rolled in swift words over Ixtli's lips, his warning
finding completion before either of the women could fairly
interrupt the young brave.  But then the one whom Ixtli termed
Victo spoke rapidly in his musical tongue, one strong white hand
waving towards the now somewhat embarrassed Gillespie.

"He friend; come save you, like save Ixtli," the Aztec hurriedly
made reply, with generous tact speaking so that Bruno could
comprehend as well as the women.  "He good; all good!  Paba bad;
'Tzin more bad; be worse bad if stay here, Victo--Glady."

Thus given the proper cue, Bruno took fresh courage and, in as
few words as might be, explained his mission.  He spoke the name
of Cooper Edgecombe, and for the first time that queenly woman
showed signs of weakness, staggering back with a faint, choking
gasp, one hand clasped spasmodically above her madly throbbing
heart, the other rising to her temples as though in fear of
coming insanity.

"He is well; he is safe and longing for his loved ones," Bruno
swiftly added, producing the brief note which the exiled aeronaut
had pressed into his hand at almost the last moment.  "He wrote
you that--here it is, and--"

"Make hurry, quick!" sharply interposed Ixtli, as ominous sounds
began to arise without the Temple of the Sun God.  "Dog git 'way,
howl for more.  Come here--kill like gods be glad."

With an evident effort Victo rallied, tones far from steady as
she begged both young men to save themselves without thought of
them.

"I thank you; heaven alone knows how overjoyed I am to hear from
my dear husband,--my poor child's own father!  And he is near,
to--But go, go!  Guide and protect him, Ixtli, for--Go, I implore
you, sir!"

"But how--we haven't arranged how you are to be rescued, and I
must understand--"

"Later, then; another time, through Ixtli," interrupted Mrs.
Edgecombe, since there could no longer be a doubt as to her
identity.  "If found here 'twill be our ruin as well as your own.
Go, and at once I fear that Lord Hua may--"

"He 'live yet," pronounced Ixtli, rising from a hasty examination
o f the fallen chieftain.  "Dat bad; much more worse bad!  He
dog; all over dog!"

"And I greatly fear he must have recognised you as one of a
foreign race, in spite of your disguise," added the elder woman,
trouble in her face even as it showed in her voice.  "He will be
wild for revenge, and I fear--Go, and directly, Ixtli!"

Bruno Gillespie was only too well assured that this latest fear
had foundation on truth.  Swiftly though he had wielded the
awkward (to him) hand-wood, Huatzin had sufficient time to sight
his assailant, and almost certainly had divined at least a
portion of the truth.

Doubtless it would have been the more prudent course to repeat
that blow with greater precision; but Bruno could not bring
himself to do just that, even though the ugly cries were growing
in volume on the ground level; and he felt that capture would be
but the initial step to death, in all likelihood upon the great
stone of sacrifice.

Imminent though their peril surely was, Bruno could not betake
himself to flight without at least partially performing the duty
for which he had volunteered; and so he took time to hurriedly
utter:

"Watch from the top of the tower for the air-ship, and be ready
to leave at any moment, I implore you--both!"

For even now his admiring gaze could with difficulty be torn away
from yonder younger, even more lovely, visage; although as yet
the maiden had spoken no word, even shrinking away from this
strangely speaking Aztec as though in affright.

"Come, brother, or too late," urged Ixtli, almost sternly.  "Save
you, or Glass-eyes call Ixtli dog-liar.  Come; must run, no
fight; too big many for that."

And so it seemed, when the young men rushed away from the lighted
interior and gained the uncovered space beyond.  Loud cries came
soaring through the night from different directions, and dim,
phantom-like shapes could be glimpsed in hurrying confusion.

Apparently the majority only knew that trouble of some
description was brewing, and that the centre of interest was
either in or near the Temple of the Sun God; yet that was more
than sufficient to place the white intruder in great peril,
despite the elaborate disguise he wore.

Then with awful abruptness there came a sound which could only be
likened to rolling thunder by one uninitiated, but which caused
Ixtli to shrink and almost cower, ere gasping:

"The great war-drum!  Now MUST go!  Sacrifice if caught; come,
white brother!  See, dat more bad now!"

Those mighty throbs rolled and reverberated from the hills,
filling the night air with waves of thunder, none the less
awe-inspiring now that their true import was realised.

The entire population was aroused, and each building seemed to
cast forth an armed host, while, as through some magic touch, a
circle of fires sprung up on all sides, beginning to illumine
both valley and barrier.

Bruno stood like one appalled, really fascinated by this
transformation scene for which he had been so poorly prepared;
but Ixtli better comprehended their situation, and gripping an
arm he muttered, hastily:

"Come, brother; stop more, make too late.  Must hide, now.  Dat
stop go back way came.  Come!"

Bruno roused himself with an effort, then yielded to the Aztec's
guidance, crouching low as the brief bit of clear moonlight had
to be traversed.

Instead of making for the steps which, as customary, reached from
terrace to terrace at each corner, Ixtli crept to the centre,
where the temple-side was cast into deepest shadow, then lowered
himself by his arms, to drop silently to the broad path below.

A whispered word urged Bruno to imitate this action, and those
friendly hands caught and steadied Gillespie as he took the drop.
And so, one after another, the mighty steps were passed, both
young men reaching the ground at the same instant, having
succeeded in leaving the Temple of the Sun God without being
glimpsed by an Indian of all those whom the sonorous drum-throbs
had brought forth In arms.

"Whither now?" asked Bruno, in guarded tones, as he looked forth
from shadow into moonlight, seeing scores upon scores of armed
shapes flitting to and fro, all looking for the enemy, yet none
able to precisely locate the trouble.

Just then a savage yell broke from the top of the temple,
followed by a few fierce-sounding sentences, which Ixtli declared
came from the Lord Hua, then adding:

"He say kill if catch, but dat--no!  Come, white brother.  Ixtli
show how play fool dat dog; yes!"

"All right, my hearty.  Is it a break for the hills?  I reckon I
can break through.  If not--well, I'll leave some marks behind
me, anyway!"

"No, no, dat bad!  Can't go to hills; must hide," positively
declared the young Aztec.  "Come, now.  Me show good place; all
dead but we."

Evidently trusting to pass undetected where so many others were
rushing back and forth in seeming confusion, Ixtli broke away
from the shadow of the temple, closely followed by Gillespie,
heading as directly as might be for the strange refuge which he
now had in mind.

That proved to be a low, unpretending structure which was of no
great extent, so far as Bruno's hasty look could ascertain. 
Still, that was not the time for doubting the wisdom of his
guide, nor a moment in which to discuss either methods or means;
and as Ixtli passed through a massive entrance, the paleface
followed, giving a little shiver as the barrier swung to behind
them.

"What sort of a place is it, anyway, Ixtli?" he demanded, but the
Aztec was too hurried for words, just then, save enough to warn
his companion in peril that they must descend deeper into the
earth.

It was more of a scramble than a deliberate descent, for the
gloom was complete, and Bruno had no time in which to feel for
steps or stairs.  Only for the aiding touch of his guide, he must
have taken more than one awkward tumble ere that lower level was
attained.

Then a breathing-spell was granted him, and, while Ixtli bent ear
in listening to discover if pursuit was being made, Bruno drew a
match from the liberal supply he had taken the precaution to
fetch along, and, striking it, held aloft the tiny torch to view
their present surroundings.

Only to give an involuntary start and cry as he caught indistinct
glimpses of fleshless bones and grinning skulls, those grim
relics of mortality showing upon every side as his wild eyes
roved around.

Then a hand struck down the match, and a swift voice breathed:

"Dey come dis way.  See us hide--come hunt, now, to kill!"



CHAPTER XXIV.
THE SUN CHILDREN'S PERIL.

Not until the two young men passed beneath those heavy curtains
did either one of the Sun Children really give thought to their
own possible peril, but stood close together, arm of mother about
daughter as they listened to the ominous sounds without, so
rapidly growing in force and number.

Then, just as the deep tones of the war-drum boomed forth upon
the night air, the fallen Aztec betrayed signs of rallying wits,
giving a low sound which might have been groan of pain or curse
of baffled rage.  Be that as it may, the sound served one
purpose:  Victoria Edgecombe (to append her correct name for the
first time) drew her child farther away, her right hand reaching
forth to pluck a light yet effective spear from where it lay
against the wall.

"Mother, mother!" faintly panted the maiden, plainly at a loss to
comprehend all that had so recently transpired.  "What is it? 
What does it all mean?  Surely that was Ixtli; and--the other?"

"A messenger from your father, child, and--"

"My father?  I thought--he is not--not dead?"

"Thanks be to heaven, not dead!" with hysterical joy in face as
in voice.  "Alive, and seeking us, Gladys!  Coming to rescue us
from this death in life, and now--to your knees, my daughter; to
thy knees, and lift thanks unto the good Father who has at last
listened to my moans!"

Again the war-drum boomed forth in an awesome roll, but all
unheeding that ominous sound, paying no attention to the stirring
of yonder savage, whose lacerated scalp was painting his face a
deeper red than even nature intended, mother and daughter sank to
their knees, lifting hands and hearts towards the All-Powerful,
even as their gratitude floated towards the Throne of Grace.

Then arose the hoarse tones of Huatzin, bidding his allies find
and slay without mercy; cursing the treacherous Aztec who had
thus guided one of a strange tribe into the very heart of their
beloved city.

With a short, fierce ejaculation, Victo sprang to her feet, right
hand once again grasping shaft of javelin, its copper point
gleaming ruddily in the rays of lamp as though already moistened
by the heart-blood of yonder villain.

Far differently acted the maiden, her figure trembling with fear
and wonder commingled, her lips slightly blanched as she clung
closer to her mother.  Yet through all ran a touch of girlish
curiosity which helped shape the words now crossing her lips.

"Who was it, mother?  Who could the stranger be?  And whither has
he gone?"

"With Ixtli, my child, and may the good God of our own people
grant them both life and liberty!  If I thought--your father,
Gladys! Alive and looking for his beloved ones!  See!  from his
own dear hand, and he says--Hold!  who comes there?"

But the alarm appeared to be without actual foundation, for the
sounds came no closer, remaining beyond the drapery past which
Lord Hua had staggered only a few brief seconds before.

Gladys rallied more speedily than one might have expected, and
she spoke with even greater interest than at first.

"My dear father, and alive?  Oh, mother, why is he not here
to--why should he send another?  And that one--he spoke our dear
language, mother; surely he is not--not as Ixtli?"

"No; he was of our own people, child, and I can hardly conceive
how he came hither, save that Ixtli must have acted as guide."

"And those awful warriors!" shivering as the war-cries followed
the muffled roar of the great drum.  "If found, he will be slain!

Do you think there is any hope for him, mother?  And he seemed
so--so--"

"He is gone with Ixtli, and Ixtli is true to the very core,"
Victo hastened to give assurance.  "I would rather trust him than
many another of thrice his years and warlike experience.  Ixtli
is true; ay, as true and tried as his father, Aztotl!"

"Who loves you, mother, and would win--"

"Hush, child!" just a bit sharply interposed the elder woman, yet
at the same time tightening that loving clasp.  "Merely as the
daughter of his Sun God, Quetzalcoatl, and--ha!"

Once again there came the echoes of rapid foot-falls beyond the
heavy draperies, and again this Amazonian mother drew her superb
form in front of her shrinking child, poising the javelin in
readiness for stroke or casting, as might serve best.

A strong arm brushed the curtains aside sufficiently to admit its
owner's passage, but the armed warrior stopped short at sighting
the Sun Children, his proud head lowering, hands crossing over
his broad bosom in token of adoration,--for it surely was more
than mere submission to one held his superior.

With a low cry, Victo drew back a bit, weapon lowering as she
recognised friend in place of enemy.

"It is you, Aztotl?" she spoke, in mellow tones.  "I thought--did
you remove the usual guards, this evening?"

"The blame falls to my share, Sun Child," the Red Heron made
answer, with a meekness strange in one of his build and general
appearance, that of a king among ordinary warriors.

"Not justly, nor through fault of your own, my good and true
friend," the elder woman made haste to give assurance.  "Not even
thy lips shall speak slander of Aztotl the True-heart, my
brother."

With a swift advance the Red Heron caught the unarmed hand, to
bend over it until his lips barely brushed the soft, perfumed
skin. Then he sank to one knee, bowing his head until his brow
touched the floor beneath her sandalled feet.

Swiftly, gracefully, these movements were made, and where they
would have appeared fulsome or degraded in some, with this
warrior the effect was far from disagreeable to see or to
experience.

Victo flushed warmly and drew back a little farther, for the
memory of those words let fall by Gladys came back with
unpleasant distinctness.  And was she so certain that Aztotl
looked upon her as merely a god-descended priestess?

The Red Heron arose easily, head rising proudly above his shapely
shoulders as he met those great blue eyes,--eyes as pure and as
fathomless as the cloudless sky in midsummer.

And then, more like one giving a bare statement of facts than one
offering a defence for himself, Aztotl spoke of a faithless
subordinate, who was guilty of either careless neglect, or worse.

"It may be that Tezcatl lost his wits through strong waters, Sun
Child, or even that he took evil pay from still more vile hands.
You have seen the last of him, though, Child of Quetzal'l."

"You surely do not mean that--"

Aztotl lightly tapped the knife-hilt showing above his maxtlatl,
coldly adding words to that significant gesture:

"There is no place for fool or traitor upon the body-guard of the
Sun Children.  Tezcatl sinned; he has paid full forfeit.  And
just so shall all others perish who dare cast an evil glance
towards--ha!"

Another outcry arose from the other side of the curtained recess,
and the Red Heron instantly sprang away in that direction, hands
gripping weapons in readiness for instant use in case of need.

Almost as swiftly, Victo and the maiden followed, one through
fear, the other through utter lack of fear, for herself.

Those savage cries came from the lips of none other than the
chieftain whose now bare head bore significant traces of Bruno
Gillespie's handiwork, and he seemed bent on rushing directly
into the presence of the Sun Children, until Red Heron
interposed, stern and icy-toned:

"Stand back, my Lord Hua!" he ordered, left hand advanced with
open palm, but its dexter mate armed and ready for hot work if
that must come.  "Venture no closer, on thy peril, chief!"

Huatzin recoiled a bit, though that might have been more through
surprise than because he feared this proud warrior.  He gripped
his knife-hilt, and partly drew the blade from its supporting
sash.  A hissing oath escaped his lips, and he crouched a trifle,
as a wild beast gathers its deadliest force prior to making a
death leap.

"Darest thou bar my path, Aztotl?" he cried, hoarsely.  "Make
way, I bid thee; make way, for I will see the Sun Children and--"

"Not so, my Lord Hua," coldly interrupted the master of guards,
that warning palm still turned to the front.  "You are here
without law or leave, and know what the edict says:  from the
going to the return of the sun, these stones are sacred from all
feet save those of the Sun Children and their regular
body-guard."

"What care I for laws?  Or for such as thou, Red Heron?  I will
that such a thing shall be, and it comes to pass.  And--thou dare
to bar my way, Aztotl?"

"Ay.  By words if they prove sufficient.  By force if called for.
By death if worst must come; even the death of a mighty chieftain
like Lord Hua would not be too great a feat."

For a brief space it seemed as though Huatzin would make a leap
to which there could be but one termination, death to one or to
both. But Aztotl coldly spoke on:

"I have given you fair and friendly warning, Lord Hua.  Go, now,
while the path of peace lies open.  Go, else I sound the call,
and my guard will take you in charge, just as they would any
other rascally intruder."

"Your precious son, for instance?" retorted the 'Tzin, viciously.
"He came with one whom--one of a different race from our own,
Aztotl!  A traitor in thy own family, yet thou darest hint at--"

Aztotl lifted a bent finger to his lips, sounding a shrill,
far-penetrating whistle.  The response was prompt indeed, an
armed force advancing with weapons held ready, awaiting only word
from commander to punish that rash intruder by hurling him to
death over the terraces.

Although nearly beside himself with fury, Huatzin glared defiance
at both guard and its commander, then turned more directly upon
the Sun Children, speaking in savage tones:

"Unto you, proud Victo, I'll either win you as my--"

"Go on, Lord Hua," coldly spoke the woman, as his voice choked.

"I'll win and wear you as my squaw, or else give you to the stone
of sacrifice!" he snarled, then turned away as Aztotl motioned
his guards to clear the temple of all intruders, then see that
none other dared enter.



CHAPTER XXV.
WALDO GOES FISHING.

It was with stronger forebodings than he dared acknowledge even
to himself, that Professor Featherwit watched the two young men
out of sight in the early gloom, and scarcely had his nephew
passed beyond hearing than uncle Phaeton would gladly have
recalled Bruno.

Waldo made light of all fears, prophesying complete success, and
even going so far as to predict Bruno's return accompanied by the
Children of the Sun; enthusiastic words which set the exile to
trembling with excess of joy and anticipation.

What, then, was the blank dismay of all when, floating through
the night, came the hollow throbbing of yonder mighty war-drum,
fetching each person to his feet and holding him spellbound for
the first few seconds.

Cooper Edgecombe turned sick at heart, even while ignorant as to
the method of sending forth that alarm, his hollow groan being
the first sound to follow the simultaneous exclamation which
burst from three pairs of lips as the surprise came.  And but a
breath later Waldo broke forth with the excited query:

"What is it?  What's broken loose now?  Surely--thunder?"

Only Professor Phaeton at once recognised the sound, through
description, and each one of those swiftly succeeding strokes
seemed falling upon his heart, bidding him mourn for his beloved
nephew, upon whom his aged eyes had surely looked their last in
this life!

Yet it was the professor who took prompt action, speaking sharply
as he darted across to where the air-ship rested:

"Come; get aboard, and let us do what lies in our power.  It was
criminal to send the poor lad into the jaws of death, but
now--hasten, there may be a chance, even yet!"

The call was still hot upon his lips when his two companions
entered the aerostat, gripping tight the hand-rail as Professor
Featherwit sent the vessel afloat with reckless haste.  As by a
miracle they escaped disaster through rushing into a bushy
treetop, and that fact served to steady the aeronaut's nerves.

"On guard, uncle Phaeton!" cried Waldo, making a lucky snatch at
his cap, which one of the stiff boughs brushed off his head.

"Ay, ay, lad," responded the man at the guiding-gear, as the
air-ship shot onward and upward, now heading, as directly as was
practicable, for the Lost City of the Aztecs.  "That was the very
lesson I needed.  I am steady of nerve, now, and will show no
lack,--heaven grant that we may not be for ever too late,
though!"

"What do you reckon could have kicked up such a bobbery, uncle?
And what--ugh!" as the wardrum's throbbings again swelled forth
in grim alarm.  "What in time is that, anyway?"

As briefly as might be, the professor explained, and almost for
the first time Waldo felt a thrill of dread.

"If they've got Bruno, what will they do with him?"

That very dread was worrying uncle Phaeton, and already through
his busy brain were flashing horrid pictures of punishment and
sacrifice, of hideous scenes of torture, wherein the eldest son
of his dead sister played a prominent role, perforce.

He dared not trust his tongue to make answer, just then, and sent
the aeromotor onward at top speed, leaning far forward to win the
earliest glimpse of--what?

He caught sight of blazing beacons fairly encircling the Lost
City, forming a cordon through which no stranger could hope to
pass unseen.  He beheld hundreds of armed shapes rushing to and
fro, plainly looking for some intruder or other enemy, yet almost
as certainly failing as yet to make the longed-for discovery.

Not until that moment had uncle Phaeton dared indulge in even the
shadow of a hope.  The awful alarm seemed proof conclusive that
poor Bruno had been taken, through the treachery of Ixtli.

Naturally enough, that was his first belief, but now, as the
air-ship slackened pace to circle more deliberately above the
valley, all eyes on the eager watch for either Bruno or something
to hint at his fate, Professor Featherwit lost a portion of that
conviction.

If Bruno had indeed fallen victim to misplaced confidence, and
had been craftily lured into this den of ravening wild beasts,
why all this confusion and mad skurry?  Why had not the traitor
first made sure of his victim?  Why such a general alarm?

Although such haste in getting afloat had been made, some little
time had been thus consumed, and, before the aerostat was fairly
above the Lost City, Bruno and Ixtli had dropped by stages down
the shadowed side of the Temple of the Sun God, to burrow
underneath the ground as their surest method of eluding pursuit.

Only for that, the end might have been different, for, once
sighted, Gillespie would have been rescued by his friends, or
those friends would surely have shared death with him.

And so it came to pass that, circle though they might, calling
ears to supplement their eyes, swooping perilously low down in
their fierce eagerness to sight their imperilled one, never a
glimpse of the young man could they obtain, nor even a definite
hint as to where next to look for him.

"Surely they cannot have captured Bruno, as yet?" huskily
muttered uncle Phaeton, hungrily straining his eyes without
reward.  "If the poor boy had actually fallen into such evil
hands, why such crazy confusion?  Why--oh, why did I permit his
coaxings to overpower my better judgment?  Why did I send him
into--"

The words stuck in his throat and refused to issue.  Phaeton
Featherwit just then felt himself little less than a cold-blooded
assassin.

Mr. Edgecombe was but little less deeply stirred, although his
feelings were more of a mixture.  He grieved for Bruno, and would
willingly risk his life in hopes of doing the young man a
service, yet his gaze was drawn far more frequently towards
yonder temple, on the top of which he had--surely he HAD caught
sight of his wife, his daughter!

"Let me down and try to find him," he eagerly begged, as one
might plead for a great boon.  "I promise to save him if yet
alive, and--let me try, professor; I beg of you, give me this
chance to show my heartfelt gratitude."

But Professor Featherwit shook his head in negation.

"That would only add to our trouble, friend.  Knowing nothing of
the dialect, you would be wholly at a loss.  And, looking so
entirely different in every respect, how could you hope to pass
inspection?"

"All seems so confused, that I might--surely it is worth trying."

"It would be suicidal, so say no more on that score," almost
harshly spoke the usually mild-mannered aeronaut, sending his
vessel upon another circuit, only with stern vigilance choking
back the appealing shout to his lost nephew.

This time the aerostat was brought directly above the Temple of
the Sun, where there appeared to be some unusual disturbance, a
number of armed guards fairly driving a gaily arrayed Indian down
to the lower levels, and that greatly against his inclinations,
judging from the harsh cries and ringing threats which burst from
his lips.

Recognising the building, and unable to hold his intense emotions
longer under stern control, Cooper Edgecombe called aloud the
names of his wife and daughter, begging that they might come to
him; but then the air-ship was sent onward and upward, with a
dizzying swoop, and Professor Featherwit gripped an arm, sternly
speaking:

"Quiet, sir!  Another outbreak like that and I'll lock your lips,
if I have to send a bullet through your mad brain!"

"I forgot.  I could not wait longer, knowing that my loved
ones--"

"You forgot that the lives of all depend upon our remaining at
liberty," coldly interrupted Featherwit.  "Without this means of
conveyance, how can your loved ones escape?  Now, your solemn
pledge to maintain utter silence, or I will take you back to
yonder wilderness, leaving you to shift for yourself as best you
can. Promise, sir!"

"I will,--I do.  Forgive me, for I was carried away by--'twas
there I saw--after so many horrible years!" huskily muttered the
exile, fairly cowering there, before his saviour from the
whirlpool.

"Enough; bear in mind that the rescue of your loved ones depend
on our efforts.  If discovered by yonder snarling beasts, and the
machine is injured,--farewell, all hopes!  Now, quiet, and look
for Bruno!"

Again the air-ship circled over the valley, in spite of the
moonlight passing wholly unseen and unsuspected by the Aztecs,
whose energies were bent on ferreting out mortal foes, not demons
of the upper world.

Waldo leaned farther over the hand-rail as they floated closer to
an excited group of warriors, the central figure being Lord Hua
himself, fiercely denouncing Aztotl and his son, Ixtli, as
traitors to the common welfare, and calling upon all honest
braves to mete forth befitting punishment.

Professor Featherwit caught one name indistinctly; that of the
young Aztec in whose company Bruno had set forth on his
ill-starred venture; and hoping to learn more of importance, he
caused the aerostat to hover directly above that particular group
of redskins.

Waldo, never stopping to count the risk he might thus fetch upon
them all, silently lowered the grapnel, by means of the
drag-rope, giving a boyish chuckle as the three-pronged hook
descended amidst that gathering, the sight causing more than one
superstitious brave to leap aside, with cries of amazed affright.

The air-ship gave a sudden swoop, and the grapnel caught Huatzin
by his girdle, jerking him fairly off his feet, and swinging him
into air, pretty much as a youngster might land a writhing fish. 
But no fish ever sent forth so wild a screech of mingled rage and
terror as split the air just then.

Although hardly realising what was happening, Professor
Featherwit sent the aeromotor upward with a mighty jerk.  The
shock proving too much for that sash, Lord Hua fell back to
earth, literally biting the dust, although he met with no bodily
harm beyond sundry bruises.

"Caught a sucker, and--I'll never do it again, uncle!" exploded
Waldo, as he swiftly hauled in his novel fish-line; but he had to
take a severe lecture from the professor before the subject was
finally dropped.

And, worse than all else, the air-demon was now the target for
both eyes and arrows, and, perforce, sailed swiftly away into the
night.



CHAPTER XXVI.
DOWN AMONG THE DEAD.

Ixtli spoke with a degree of earnestness which left no room for
doubt, even if the young man's own keen sense of hearing had not
given warning but an instant later.

Ominous sounds came from the entrance, which had served them but
so brief a time gone by, and Bruno knew that, even if they had
escaped being seen while thus attempting to win such a gruesome
refuge, the possibility of their having elected just such a line
of flight had occurred to some of the redskins.

Gillespie heard the heavy doors open, then clang to again.  He
was fairly confident that some of the Aztecs had entered,
although as yet the utter darkness hindered further recognition.

"What next, Ixtli?" he whispered, lips almost touching the face
of his young guide, as they stood close together in the mirk. 
"They can't take me alive!  Is it fight, or--"

"No fight yet," gently breathed the Aztec in turn.  "Dey look,
dat not make sure find.  Dey try see; we try not see all time. 
Dey come, we go,--like dis!"

Catching a hand within his own clasp, Ixtli led Bruno away in
that utter darkness, seemingly well acquainted with the lay of
the ground, although it quickly became evident that there must be
more than one direct passage.  Bruno felt convinced that there
were other chambers turning at right angles to their present
course, though it might have bothered the young man to give
entirely satisfactory reasons for such belief.

Ixtli did not flee fast nor far, in that first spurt, pausing
shortly to turn face towards the rear, a low, musical chuckle
coming through his lips.

"Dey come look, got no eyes for see in dark," he explained,
barely loud enough for Bruno to catch his meaning.  "We play fool
dem all; dat be fun; heap fun all time over!"

Ixtli was scarcely as precise of speech while under the influence
of excitement as when he had ample time in which to pick and
choose his words; but there was little room for mistaking his
meaning, which, after all, is fairly sufficient.

But this time the young brave was in error, for only a few
moments later both fugitives caught sight of a dim light in
hurried motion far towards the entrance to these underground
crypts.  That warned them of added peril, and Ixtli's chuckle
died abruptly away.

"They'll fetch us now," grimly muttered Bruno, shaking his fairly
athletic shoulders and fingering the knife at his belt as though
making preparations for an inevitable struggle.  "All right. 
They may kill, but I'll furnish some red paint for my tombstone,
anyway!"

It may be doubted whether Ixtli fully appreciated this
conclusion, yet he divined something of what was spoken, and made
swift response:

"No kill yet.  Dey look, we hide.  Mebbe not find.  Mebbe play
fool all over--yes!"

"Where can we hide that lights won't ferret us out, though?  If a
fellow might only have the same advantage; here in this darkness
I'm not worth a sick kitten!"

Just a bit disgustedly came the words, but Bruno was not giving
over in weak despair.  No matter how vast the odds might show
against him, he would put up a gallant fight as long as he could
lift his hand or strike a blow.

Still, he was by no means anxious for the crisis to arrive.  He
would far rather run than fight, under existing circumstances;
but whither, and how?

Ixtli took it upon himself to solve the perplexing enigma, in a
whisper bidding his white brother follow with as little sound as
might be, once more hurrying away through the gloomy blackness,
which was by no means rendered more agreeable to Bruno by that
fleeting glimpse of the dead men's bones.

There was little room left for doubting the truth.  Their
presence in the death-cells surely was more than suspected,
judging from the actions of yonder redskins, who flashed the
light over and into each angle and corner, each niche and jog,
where a human being might possibly seek concealment.

They were not so many in number, but still a larger force than
could well be met with success by two youths, even granting that
Ixtli would turn lethal weapons against his own people, which
Bruno felt was by no means a settled fact.

For some little time the young men kept without that limited
circle of light, watching each movement made by the searchers,
and at the same time taking care that none of the little party
stole a dangerous march upon them by hastening in advance of the
lights.

Ixtli apparently enjoyed the affair, much as a child might a
successful game of I-spy, for he emitted occasional chuckles, and
let fall soft whispers which, if caught by other ears, certainly
would not have deeply benefited the fugitives when captured.

Thanks to that slow progress, rendered thus by the care and
minuteness of the search, Bruno began to marvel at the extent of
the catacombs, and almost involuntarily calculate how many
centuries it must have taken to accumulate such enormous
quantities of remains.  For, thanks to yonder prying light, he
could see how high those grim relics of perishing mortality were
piled up in tiers, with here and there upright skeletons in
position of greater prominence.

Perhaps Gillespie might have been better able to appreciate
Ixtli's amusement had he even an inkling as to how this game of
hide-and-go-seek was fated to end.  That an end must come,
eventually, was a foregone conclusion.  And then?

He ventured to ask Ixtli how they were to escape detection when
they could retreat no farther, but before an answer could be
fairly shaped, that end seemed actually upon them.

Without sound or warning of any sort, another bright light showed
at a considerable distance in the opposite direction, and, as
Bruno stared that way, he made out several armed warriors who
appeared to be engaged in that same occupation:  searching that
city of the dead for the living!

Thus caught between two fires, there seemed only one course to
pursue, and, with the courage of his fathers, Bruno spoke in low,
grim tones to his young guide:

"No use for you to join in the mix, Ixtli.  I'll do the best I
know how, but if I can't make the riffle, if I go down for good
and all, I ask you to convey the news to my friends.  You will?"

But Ixtli was not at the end of his resources, and gripping a
wrist, he urged Bruno towards yonder second light, speaking
hastily as they moved along towards the edge of that wide
passage.  No fight, yet.  Best hide; mebbe no find; dat best try
first.  Den Ixtli fight like white brother,--fast!"

There was time for scant speech, for just then the two parties
seemed, for the first time, to catch sight of each other, and
while the brave bearing the rude lantern still maintained his
slow movements, searching well as he came, the other Indians came
in advance, giving the fugitives barely time in which to crouch
down under temporary cover.

The moment these enemies had passed them by, Ixtli urged Bruno
on, then, in swift whispers, instructed him how to perfect his
hiding, even aiding the young paleface into one of the upright
crypts, back of a grim skeleton, the mouldering blankets
assisting in covering the one of flesh and blood.

After like fashion, the Aztec sought cover on the opposite side
of the passage.  None too quickly, either; for now the single
searcher drew dangerously nigh, peering into every practicable
hiding-place on either side, before moving onward.

Little by little he drew closer, while the other band of
searchers apparently turned off into a side passage, or large
chamber, since nothing could be seen or heard of them by the
fugitives.

In all probability, Ixtli's bold ruse would have proved a
complete success, for the Aztec warrior showed no suspicion as he
drew nearer; but it was not to be thus.

Fairly holding his breath, lest he disturb some of the dry bones
immediately in front of himself, Bruno waited and hoped, only to
feel his blood chill, and his heart fail him, as a sickening
horror crept over his brain; nor was that the only creeping
thing,--worse luck!

Past all room for doubting, his entrance into that crypt had
disturbed the repose of a snake of some description; for now he
could feel the loathsome reptile crawling slowly up his back,
turning the skin beneath to scorching ice in its horrid passage.

One horrible nightmare minute that lasted, then the serpent
paused upon his shoulder and biceps, touching his cheek with
nose, then drawing back its ugly head to give an ominous hiss.

Human flesh and blood could endure no more, and Bruno flung the
snake violently off, striking forcibly against that mass of dry
bones as he did so.  With a rattling clatter, the skeleton lost
its frail coherence and tumbled outward, leaving Bruno fairly
exposed within the niche.

With a cry the Aztec warrior turned in that direction, but ere he
could fetch his light to bear upon the right spot, Ixtli sprung
forth to the rescue, hooting like a frightened owl, as he dashed
the light to earth, and, at the same time, deftly tripping the
Indian headlong.

Swift as thought itself he followed up the advantage thus won,
smiting the fallen brave heavily upon the crown with a clubbed
thighbone, depriving him of sensibility for the time being at
least.  And then snatching up the still burning light, he called,
in guarded tones, to his white friend:

"Come, brother, play hunt, now!  Fast--not stop here; dat bad for
you see by dem so soon.  Dat good you go--like dis way!"

Scarcely realising just what fresh ruse the Aztec had in mind,
but far from recovered from that horrible fear of death from
poisonous fangs, Gillespie submitted, Ixtli hurrying him away,
turning off into what appeared to be a side passage, less
spacious than that to which they had until then confined their
retreat.

The young Aztec hastily explained his present scheme, which was
to play the role of searchers as well; and scarcely had he made
that project known, than another difficult test was offered their
courage.



CHAPTER XXVII.
PENETRATING GRIM SECRETS.

Bruno caught an imperfect view of moving figures at no great
distance ahead, but ere he could fairly decide just what they
might be, his red-skinned guide swiftly whispered:

"More come look.  You don't say.  Ixtli fool 'em--easy!"

Making not the slightest attempt to avoid the issue, the young
Aztec stepped a little in advance of Gillespie, thus casting him
into partial eclipse, speaking briskly, as he met the two
Indians, only one of whom bore a light:

"It is trouble for nothing, brothers.  There is no sign here.  If
he saw aught, 'twas in a dream, I think.  And now--hark!"

Even there in the subterranean recesses something of the wildly
excited uproar which followed Waldo's rash attempt to go
a-fishing after his fellow men, and the sighting of that awful
air-demon by the Indians, could be heard, and, without divining
its actual import, Ixtli adroitly turned it to his own advantage.

"They have found the strange dog without!" he cried, sharply.
"Come, my brothers, else we will be too late for--hasten, all!"

But only one-half of the present group obeyed, the two Indians
dashing at full speed towards the main entrance to the city of
the dead, leaving Bruno behind, wholly unsuspected, and Ixtli
chuckling gleefully over the favourable change in the situation.

"Dey go--we come.  Dis way, brother," the Aztec spoke, moving in
the opposite direction, followed willingly enough by the now
pretty well bewildered paleface.

"Whither are we going?" Bruno felt impelled to ask, after a few
moments more of blind obedience.  "How are we going to get out?
And my friends,--they must have been alarmed by that great drum!"

Ixtli made response by touch rather than in words, and, giving
his companion barely time sufficient to read aright that look of
warning, he extinguished the light, leaving themselves in
complete darkness.

Naturally anticipating fresh danger, Bruno strained his ears to
catch at least an inkling of its precise nature ere the trouble
could fairly close in; but only silence surrounded
them,--silence, and an almost palpable gloom.

"Not cat," assured Ixtli, in a soft-toned whisper, as he divined
the expectations entertained by his comrade in peril.  "Nobody
come, now.  All gone see what noise 'bout, yonder.  You, me, all
right.  Best mek no big talk, dough.  Come--see!"

Apparently the young Aztec found it no easy matter to elect words
which should fairly convey his desired meaning, and, abruptly
giving over the effort, he moved on, one hand lightly closed upon
Bruno's wrist to guard against possible separation in that utter
darkness.

Nothing further was said until Ixtli again came to a halt,
Gillespie giving a low exclamation as he felt what appeared to be
a blank wall before them.  Was this no thoroughfare?  Were they
blocked in, to perish of starvation, unless earlier discovered by
the red-skinned searchers?

Far from agreeable thoughts, yet such swiftly flashed across the
young man's brain, lending an echo of harshness to his voice as
he spoke.

"Where are we now, Ixtli?  How are we going to get out of this? 
If you have led me into a trap--"

Finger-tips lightly brushed his lips, then the Aztec explained as
well he was able, thanks to his limited vocabulary.

Escape from the catacomb by the same route they had taken in
seeking refuge there was entirely out of the question.  Even
though the redskins might have abandoned the search in that
precise quarter for the time being, thanks to the sudden alarm
which had broken forth in the valley, almost certainly there
would be an armed guard so stationed as to intercept any or all
persons who might so attempt to emerge.

This much Bruno gathered, then took his turn at the verbal oars.

"But we can't stay here, man, dear.  Nothing to eat or to drink,
and my friends worrying over us, outside.  We've got to get out;
I have, at any rate.  The only question is, just how, and where?"

"Dere one way go," Ixtli made reply, even his lowered tones
betraying more than ordinary impressiveness, Bruno fancied. 
"Mebbe easy, mebbe hard.  Find dat, when try.  We go dis way. 
Best be still, dough!"

Bruno was ready enough to promise all that, just so action was
being taken, his uneasiness being by far too deep for rest or
repose.  More on account of his uncle and his brother, though,
than for his own safety.  He had not yet lost hope of extrication
from the perils which surely surrounded them, not quite abandoned
hope of rescuing the Children of the Sun as well.

Turning abruptly to the left, Ixtli led the way into what
appeared (through the senses of touch and hearing) to be a
narrow, winding tunnel, which presently took an upward incline,
then broadened into a chamber of greater or lesser dimensions;
the faint echoes told Gillespie there was an enlargement of some
description, but the utter darkness veiled all else.

Barely had the two adventurous youths come to a pause, than dull,
uncertain sounds came from almost directly above their heads;
and, after listening for a brief space, Ixtli disappointedly
breathed a fear that they would have to wait for the time being.

"Why?  What's going on up yonder?  And where are we, anyway?"

Beneath the great teocalli, Ixtli made answer in his disjointed
way of speaking.  There the evil-minded paba, Tlacopa, reigned
supreme.  And there, almost directly above their heads, stood the
sacrificial stone, upon whose flat surface the Sun Children would
be doomed to suffer the last penalty, provided Tlacopa won his
wicked will.

Bruno thrilled to his centre with fierce indignation as he,
little by little, gathered this information.  Perish by such
hideous methods?  Give up her fair young life--

For, rather queerly, considering that Ixtli spoke of both Victo
and Glady, he now had thought of--could see but that one lovely
face and shrinking figure,--face and form of the daughter alone.

Discovery might have come all too soon, but for Ixtli's slipping
a palm over those indignant lips and thus smothering the outbreak
which the young man could not avoid; then, recalled to ordinary
prudence, Bruno talked and listened by turns.

Ixtli contrived to make his white brother understand just how
they were situated at the time:  in a secret channel of
communication with the great war temple, through which sanctuary
he had hoped to lead his friend, thence to escape from the valley
itself, if a favourable chance should offer.  Now their way was
barred, and they could only wait.  Unless--would Bruno keep close
guard over his tongue?

Yes.  Anything, rather than remain wholly idle, like this.

Adding a few minor cautions, Ixtli took Gillespie by a wrist, and
stole noiselessly forward, climbing upward, over and into a
contrivance which Bruno vainly sought to recognise by the sense
of touch, but giving a thrill of amazement when his guide paused
long enough to whisper in his nearest ear:

"Dis war-god body.  Stand up in teocalli, look on kill-stone.
Wait; you see, hear, all dat, now!"

Thanks to the close association of that night, with all its
attendant perils, Bruno was growing fairly skilful in
interpreting the broken sentences of his copper-hued chum, and he
now knew they were moving about within the hollow image of the
Aztecan war-god, Huitzilopochtli, while--

He caught sight of several small apertures, through which yellow
light came dimly, and, almost without thinking, applied his eyes
to the one most convenient, peering forth upon the broad
sacrificial stone, with its foul, blood-stained surface, the
little channels intended to drain off the superfluous hemorrhage,
together with the gloomy, repulsive surroundings.  And, too, a
most abominable stench appeared to rise from the altar of death,
and Bruno shrunk back with a shiver of disgust.

"No talk loud!" softly breathed Ixtli, gripping an arm with
force. "Dey kill, if find now.  Look, dat one Tlacopa; big
priest, you call.  DEM help paba fool all people; so!"

Although his meaning was not fully apparent, Bruno caught renewed
interest, and once more peered forth upon the scene, weird and
impressive enough, even from a Christian point of view.

Headed by Tlacopa, a ceremony of some description was taking
place, lesser priests and other acolytes performing their various
parts, the incantations rising now loudly, now sinking to a
hollow monotone, the whole affair being none the less absorbing
when Bruno remembered that, perhaps, it might have some
connection with the vile plots against the Sun Children, if not
endangering life itself.

Gillespie likewise took note of various other graven images;
among them one of the not less hideous war-goddess, Teoyaomiqui,
or "divine war death," fitting consort for the mighty
"humming-bird" himself.

Meanwhile, Ixtli, who appeared to look upon the whole affair as a
more or less jolly good jest at the expense of his superstitious
people, took occasion to give his white brother a few pointers,
letting him see how easy it was for false oracles to be
manufactured to order; how certain the lightest wishes of the
head priest were to find speedy fulfilment at all times.

While thus divulging part of the mysteries of the temple, that
ceremony reached a finale, and the little crowd slowly melted
away, leaving but Tlacopa and a select few of his trusted
henchman.  And Ixtli certainly caught enough of their talk to
alter his manner most materially.

"Come, quick!" he fiercely whispered in Bruno's ear, gripping an
arm, and fairly forcing the young man to accompany his retreat.

Not another word was spoken before the lower level was reached,
and then Gillespie broke the ice, asking what was the matter.

Dark though it was all around them, Bruno could tell by sense of
touch that his guide was powerfully agitated, and, though Ixtli
clearly hesitated before imparting the asked-for information,
persistence won the point; and then--

Imperfectly though that discovery was set forth, Gillespie
contrived to gather this much:  Tlacopa decreed that the Sun
Children should be brought to trial, if not to actual execution,
when the morning sun arose!

"Never!" fiercely vowed Bruno, all on fire, as he recalled that
more than fair face.  "Never,--while I live and draw breath!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.
BROUGHT BEFORE THE GODS.

Once again Aztotl, the Red Heron, was bowing humbly before the
Children of the Sun God, but now there was stern grief impressed
upon his visage, rather than pure devotion, such as one might
feel at the feet of a divinity.

And the face of Victo was unusually pale, her lips tightly
compressed to keep them from trembling too visibly, while her arm
clasped Gladys with almost fierce love in its warm strength.

Aztotl glanced upwards for a moment, then slowly spoke:

"Such are the commands laid upon thy captain of guards, Daughter
of Quetzal', the Fair God.  He hath been commanded to fetch Victo
and Glady to the teocalli, there to be--no!" with an outbreak of
fierce rebellion, drawing his superb figure erect, and gripping
javelin until the springy ash quivered, as though suddenly
winning life for itself.  "The gods lie!  They are speaking
falsely, or--or the paba lies, when trying to thus interpret the
oracle!"

Gladys shrunk away, but her mother stood firm, seeming to gain in
coolness and nerve what this ardent servant was losing.

"It must be thus, my good friend," she spoke, in low, even tones.
"The word hath come to a soldier, and obedience is his first
duty."

"Not when obedience means leading to sacrifice--"

"That may never come, good Aztotl.  We have committed no sin, in
deed or in thought.  The Mother of Gods will not lay claim to an
innocent victim.  Or, even then, the right shall triumph! 
Tlacopa is powerful, but hath Victo no influence?  Lord Hua may
throw HIS influence to the wrong side, but hath truth no answer?"

"If not truth, then death!" sternly vowed the captain of the
body-guard.  "If Tonatiuh fails to punish the enemies of his
daughter, then this right arm shall hurl the false prince down to
Mictlanteuctli, grim lord of the under-world!"

"What is it all about, mother?" murmured Gladys, clinging in sore
affright to the side of her Amazonian relative.  "Surely the
people will not--surely we need not go forth to--"

A mother's kiss closed those quivering lips, and then, with far
more assurance than she really could find in her heart, Victoria
bade her child fear nothing; that all would come aright in a
brief while.

Little by little, the maiden's terrors were calmed, and then she
took position by her parent's side with a greater display of
nerve than might have been anticipated.

Through all, Aztotl waited, fiercely silent, held from open
rebellion only by the influence of the woman whose very life was
now menaced.  And as the Sun Children stood before him, in
readiness to comply with the commands issued by those in high
authority, the Red Heron broke bonds.

"Say but one word, Daughter of Quetzal', and all this shall never
come to pass!  Give me but permission to--"

"What wouldst thou do, good Aztotl?"

"Surround the Sun Children with their loyal body-guard and defend
them, while one brave might strike blow, or hold shield in front
of their sacred charge," slowly yet fiercely declared the
captain, eyes telling how dearly he longed to receive that
permission.

But Victo shook her head in slow negation.  She was still cool of
brain enough to realise how fatal such course would be in the
end.  If one deadly blow should be dealt, the end could be but
one,--annihilation to both defended and defenders.

Then, too, she recalled the wondrous tidings brought the evening
before by Ixtli and his comrade.  Friends were seeking to rescue
them, and if only time might be won--it must be played for, then!

And so, his petition finally denied, with no other course left
open to take, the Red Heron summoned his picked band and, with
the Sun Children in their midst, left the temple, crossed the
plain, and slowly marched into the War God's teocalli.

In awed silence a vast number of Aztecs followed that little
procession, silent as they, yet clearly anticipating events of
far more than ordinary importance.  And thus the foredoomed women
were taken before the great stone of sacrifice, whereupon lay a
snow-white lamb, bound past the possibility of struggling.

Close beside the prepared sacrifice stood the head priest,
Tlacopa, robed for the awesome ceremony, sacrificial knife in
hand, temples crowned as customs dictated, eyes blazing as
vividly as they might if backed by living fire.

Not far distant stood Huatzin, head bandaged and face none the
better looking for his floundering fall when his sash gave way
the evening before.  And as he caught the passing gaze of the
woman whom he had so basely persecuted, a repulsive smile showed
itself, the grin of a veritable fiend in human guise.

Sternly cold, and outwardly unmoved, the captain of guards
performed his sworn duty, then in grim silence awaited the end.
And in like manner each man of that carefully selected band
rested upon his arms.

A brief pause, during which the utter silence grew actually
oppressive, then the head priest lifted a hand as though
commanding full attention before he should speak.

Then, in tones which were by no means loud, yet which were
modulated so as to fill that expanse most perfectly, Tlacopa
recited the grave accusations brought against the false children
of the mighty Sun God.

To their evil influence he attributed the comparative failure of
crops which had now cursed their fair people throughout the past
years.  Unto them, he claimed, belonged the evil credit of many
untimely deaths which had covered so many proud heads with the
ashes of mourning and of despair.  To their door might be traced
all of misfortune with which the favourite children of the mighty
gods had been so sorely afflicted.

In proud silence Victo listened to this deliberate arraignment,
not deigning to interpose denial, or offer plea in self-defence,
until the paba was clearly at an end.  And even then she gazed
upon Tlacopa with eyes of scorn, and lips which curled with
contempt.

A low murmur from the eager crowd told how anxious they were to
hear more, and, taking her cue from that, Victo made a graceful
motion with her white hand, following it by words that sounded
rarely sweet in their deep mellowness, after the harsh, dry notes
of the paba.

"Who dares to bring such base charges against the Daughters of
Quetzal'?  Who are our accusers, head priest?"

Did Tlacopa shrink from that queenly presence?  If so, 'twas but
another cunning device intended to pave the way to complete
success; to catch the fickle fancy of his audience by rendering
his retort all the more effective.

"Who dares accuse us of wrong-doing?" again demanded the
Amazonian mother, speaking for her child as well, around whose
waist her left arm was clinging as a needed support.

"The Mother of all the gods!" forcibly replied the priest, now
casting aside all presence of timidity, and gazing into that
proud face with eyes which were filled with fire of hatred and
jealousy. "The all-powerful Centeotl hath made known the awful
truth through the lips of the infallible oracle, my children! 
She hath declared that no smiles shall be turned towards the
children of Anahuac so long as false prophets disgrace this great
city!  She hath demanded the sacrifice--"

"Who can bear witness to any such demand?" sternly interposed the
captain of the body-guard, unable to listen longer in silence.

Tlacopa flashed an evil look his way, but from the audience
issued another murmur, rising louder until it took upon itself
the shape of words, demanding indubitable proof that the oracle
had indeed spoken thus.  And, no longer daring to rely upon his
own authority, Tlacopa turned to the sacrificial stone whereupon
lay the helpless lamb, bowing knee and lifting face as he volubly
repeated the customary invocation; just then it appeared far more
nearly an incantation.

Having thus complied with all the requirements of his office, the
paba first kissed his blade of sacrifice, then seized the lamb
and turned it upon its back, one hand holding it helpless while
with the other he ripped the poor beast wide from throat to tail,
then, making a swift cross-slash, laid bare the cavity and
exposed the quivering heart.

Dropping his knife, Tlacopa grasped this vital organ, fiercely
tearing it away, drawing back where all might see as be lifted
the heart on high for inspection.

One brief look appeared to satisfy his needs, for he gave a
fierce shout as he hurled the bleeding heart towards the accused,
then cried:

"An omen!  An omen!  The Mother of the Gods claims her victims!"



CHAPTER XXIX.
BENEATH THE SACRIFICIAL STONE.

Contrary to the expectations of Ixtli escape by way of the War
God's temple was barred throughout the remainder of that eventful
night.  Tlacopa, the head priest, together with a number of his
acolytes, varying as to force, yet ever too powerful for any two
men to force a passage contrary to the will of their leader,
remained on duty each and every hour.  And hence it came to pass
that those early hours found our fugitives still beneath the
temple, worn through loss of sleep and stress of anxiety, yet
firmly resolved not to permit that intended outrage without at
least striking one fair blow for the Children of the Sun.

Slowly enough the time passed, yet it could hardly be called
monotonous.  Whenever wearied of their darksome waiting, the
young men would steal again into the hollow image of Huitzil',
there to utilise the cunningly arranged peepholes, now looking
out upon the priests, or listening to catch such words as fell
from the lips of those nearest the stone of sacrifice.

In this manner Ixtli contrived to pick up quite a little fund of
information, mainly through the confidences reposed in a certain
favoured few of the brotherhood by the chief paba.  And this, in
turn, filtered through his lips after the chums once again
retreated to the lower regions for both safety and comfort.

And then Bruno learned how the adventurous young Aztec, far less
superstitious than the vast majority of his people, thanks to the
kindly teaching of Victo, Child of Quetzal', had in his
explorations discovered so many secrets of the temple and
priesthood, secrets which he now had no scruple in communicating
to another of a different race.

Ixtli told how, on various occasions, he had lurked behind the
scenes while the miraculous "oracle" was delivering fiat or
prophecy, and then he told his white brother how Tlacopa meant to
completely confound the Children of the Sun when once brought
before the gods.

"He tell slave what say.  Slave come dis way.  Hide in War God.
Wait for time, den tell Tlacopa's words!"

A most infernal scheme, yet the danger of which Bruno could
readily recognise, together with the serious difficulty of
refuting any such supernatural evidence.

"Surely your people will not suffer a few dirty curs to do such
horrible wrong to ladies like--Why, Ixtli, even the gods you
fellows bow the knee to in worship, ought to rise up in their
defence!"

But Ixtli merely sighed, then spoke in sad tones, explaining how
he alone had been taken wholly into the confidence of the Sun
Children.  Even the captain of their guards knew Victo and Glady
as but descendants of the great Fair God whom the audacious
trickery of a rival sent far away from the land of his favoured
people, to find an abiding-place in the sun itself.

"He good brave.  He die for dem,--easy!  But he not know all.  He
think drop from sun, to lead people back to light.  If think not
so, dat make face turn black; dat make mad come--great big!"

As was ever the case when his feeling seemed deeply stirred,
Ixtli found it difficult to fully or fairly explain his
sentiments; but Bruno caught sufficient of his meaning to give a
fair guess at the rest.

He found a ray of hope in the belief that Aztotl at least would
defend the Children of the Sun, and Ixtli predicted with apparent
confidence that the members of the body-guard would stand firm
under the Red Heron's leadership.

Keeping thus upon the alert throughout the remainder of that
night, the young men were able to take prompt action when the
crisis drew nigh.

Ixtli caught the first inkling of what was coming, and hastily
sent Bruno away from the peepholes, dropping a word in his ear as
they both prepared for clean work.

Through a secret entrance, shaped amidst the drapery which
surrounded the pedestal of the mighty Huitzil', a slave of the
temple crept to play the part of echo to Tlacopa's evil will; and
scarcely had he secured what was to be a place of waiting and
watching than the attack was made from out the darkness.

Ixtli flung his tunic over the slave's head, twisting both ends
tightly about his throat, effectually smothering all attempt at
crying aloud for aid, while Bruno clasped arms about his middle,
holding hands powerless to strike or to draw weapon.

A brief struggle, which produced scarcely any noise, certainly
not sufficient to reach the ears of priest or helper, then the
trembling, unnerved slave was bundled down that narrow passage,
to be dumped in a remote corner, and there effectually bound and
gagged by the young men.

All this was performed without hitch or mishap, and then, nerved
to fighting pitch, Ixtli and Bruno went back beneath the stone of
sacrifice, resolved to play their part to the end in manful
fashion.

There was no further fear of intrusion, for, of course, Tlacopa
would never think of endangering his own evil scheme by risking
an exposure such as would follow discovery of his slave-oracle. 
As Ixtli truly said, such discovery would end in the paba's being
slain by his befooled people.

Their patience was sorely tried, even then, though a goodly
portion of the blame belonged to their fears for the Sun
Children, rather than to the actual length of waiting.  But then,
amidst the solemn invocations led by the high priest, the
body-guard marched into the Hall of Sacrifice, and Bruno caught
his breath sharply as he beheld--Gladys!  Not her mother, just
then.  For the first minute, only,--Gladys!

Then came the bitter denunciation by Tlacopa, followed by the
coldly dignified words of Victo, after which the innocent lamb
yielded up its life in order that the future might be predicted
through the still quivering heart.

With a fiercely exultant cry Tlacopa hurled the vital organ
towards the accused, it striking the mother upon an arm, then
glancing further to leave an ugly smear upon the daughter's
shoulder ere falling among the eager multitude, who fought and
struggled to secure at least a morsel of the hideous thing.

"Behold!  the gods hath marked their own!" cried the high priest,
his harsh tones fairly filling the Hall of Sacrifice.  "They are
guilty of all crimes laid at their door.  They merit death, a
thousandfold.  The Mother of Gods hath spoken!"

"To whom but thou, Tlacopa?" sternly cried the captain of the
guards, as he stood firm in spite of the ominous sounds which
were rising from the rear, as well as from either side.

"She hath spoken unto me, as her worthy representative on earth."

"And there are those who say much religion hath turned thy brain,
good Tlacopa," retorted Aztotl, holding his temper fairly well
under control, yet with blazing eyes and stiffening sinews.  "Are
thy ears alone to receive such important communications as--"

"Silence, thou scoffer!" fiercely cried the high priest, lifting
quivering hands on high as though about to call down the thunders
of an outraged deity upon that impious head.  "She who hath
spoken once may deign to speak again.  Harken,--hear the oracle!"

Doubtless this was cue for the slave of the temple to repeat the
words placed within its mouth, but that slave was literally
unable to speak a word for himself, let alone others.  Yet,--the
oracle was not wholly silenced!

"Talk out, or I will!" fiercely muttered Bruno, giving Ixtli a
violent punch in the side.  "talk out for the Sun Children!"

The young Aztec needed no further prompting, loving Victo and
Glady as he did, hating and despising the high priest.  And in
shrill, clear tones came the wondrous oracle:

"Tlacopa lies!  Tlacopa is an evil dog!  The Mother of the Gods
loves and will defend her friends, the Children of the great and
good Quetzal'."

How much more Ixtli might have said, had he been granted further
grace, will never be known.  Tlacopa shrank away from the
speaking statue as from a living death, but then he rallied,
savagely thundering:

" 'Tis a lying oracle!  'Tis an evil impostor who has--An omen! 
A true omen, my children!  The evil ones hath been branded for
the knife!  Seize them!  To the sacrifice!"

That vicious cry was swiftly taken up, but the body-guard closed
in around the menaced women, presenting arms to all that maddened
horde, while their captain sternly warned all good people to fall
aside and make way for the Children of the Sun.

Then that secret entrance was flung wide, permitting two excited
young men to issue, Tlacopa reeling aside from a blow dealt him
by Bruno's clenched fist, as that worthy hastened to join forces
with the body-guard.



CHAPTER XXX.
AGAINST OVERWHELMING ODDS.

This double appearance--for Ixtli kept fair pace with his
hot-headed white brother--caused no little stir, and added
considerable to the partial bewilderment which had fallen over
that audience.

Prince Hua shouted forth savage threats, but he, as well as the
paba, was fairly demoralised for the moment by the totally
unexpected failure of their carefully laid schemes.

Seeing his chance, Aztotl bade his men escort the Sun Children
from the Hall of Sacrifice back to their own abiding-place,
barely noticing his son, and paying no heed at all to the
disguised paleface.

With spears ready for stroke or parry as occasion might demand,
the guard faced about and slowly moved away from the great stone
of sacrifice, rigid of face, cool of nerve, ready to die if must
be, yet never once thinking of disobedience to orders, or of
playing cur to save life.

Almost involuntarily the crowd parted before that measured
advance, giving way until a fair pathway lay open, along which
the body-guard moved with neither haste nor hesitation, outwardly
ignorant of the fact that ugly cries and dangerous gestures were
coming thicker and faster their way.

Scores of other voices caught up the fierce cry given by the head
priest, and now the temple was ringing throughout with demands
that the false Sun Children should pay full penalty, should be
haled to the sacrificial stone, there to purge themselves without
further delay!

Others showed an inclination to favour the descendants of
Quetzal', and thus the widely conflicting shouts and cries formed
a medley which was fairly deafening.

For one of his fierce temper the Red Heron showed a marvellous
coolness throughout that perilous retreat, and never more than
during the first few seconds.  Then a single injudicious word or
too hasty movement might easily have precipitated a fight, where
the vast audience would surely have brought disaster, whether the
majority so willed or not.

Holding his men well in hand, moving only as rapidly as prudence
justified, yet losing neither time nor ground, where both were of
such vital importance; Aztotl forced a passage from the great
Hall of Sacrifice down to the level, then out into the open air,
where one could see and fight if needs be.

Through all this, Bruno Gillespie held the position he had taken,
one hand gripping tightly his maquahuitl, but placing his main
dependence upon the revolver which nestled conveniently within
the folds of his sash, one nervous forefinger touching the curved
trigger.

He could not help seeing that the danger was great.  He felt
certain that they could not retreat much farther without coming
to blows, when the odds would be overwhelmingly against them. 
Yet never for an instant did he regret having taken such a
decided step; not for one moment did he give thought to himself.

Almost within reach of his hand, if extended at the length of his
arm, moved the fair maiden whose face and form had made so deep
an impression upon his mind and his heart.  She was in peril. 
She needed aid.  That was enough!

Then the briefly stunned Tlacopa rushed forth from his desecrated
temple, wildly flourishing his arms, furiously denouncing both
the Sun Children and their body-guard, thundering forth the
curses of all the gods upon the heads of those who refrained from
arresting the evil ones.

"The mighty Mother of Gods calls for her own!  Seize them! 
Strike down the impious dogs who dare attempt to defraud our
Mother! Seize them!  To the sacrifice--to the sacrifice!"

Equally loud of voice, the Prince Hua came leaping down to the
sandy level, urging his people to the assault, offering almost
fabulous sums as reward for the brave Aztec whose arm should lay
yonder traitorous Red Heron prone in the dust.

The crisis came, and the dogs of war were let loose.

An arrow whizzed narrowly past the feathered helmet worn by the
captain of the guards.  A stone came humming out of sling, to be
deftly dashed aside by Aztotl's shield ere it could fairly smite
that gold-crowned head as, outwardly calm and composed, Victo
aided her trembling daughter on towards the Temple of the Sun
God, where alone they might look for safety.

But would it be found even there?

No!  For, at savage howl from lips of the high priest, a strong
force of armed redskins took up position at the teocalli,
blocking each one of the four flights of stone steps in order to
intercept the body-guard, while still closer pressed the yelling,
screeching, frantic heathen of both sexes and all ages.

Aztotl saw how he had been flanked, but made no sign, even while
slightly turning course for another temple at less distance, a
single word being sufficient to post his true-hearts.

So far not a single blow had been struck by the retreating party,
although great provocation had been given them.  More than one of
their number was bleeding, yet all were afoot, and still capable
of holding ranks.  Then--

Bravest of the brave, a man among men in spite of his tender
years, Ixtli laid down his life in defence of his idolised Victo.

From one of that maddened rabble came a heavy stone, flung with
all the power of a sinewy arm and great sling.  Smitten fairly
between the eyes, the poor lad's skull was crushed, as a giant
hand might mash an eggshell.

One gasping sigh, then the lad sunk to earth, dead ere he could
fairly measure his length thereupon.

For a single instant Aztotl seemed as one stupefied, but then an
awful uproar burst from his labouring lungs, and he hurled his
heavy javelin full at yonder murderer, winging it with a father's
curses.

Swift flew the dart, but fully as quickly sank that varlet, the
head of the spear scraping his skull, to pass on and smite with
death one even more evil, if that might be.

Full in the throat Tlacopa was stricken, the broad blade of
copper tearing a passage through, and the shaft following after
for the greater portion of its length.  Unable to scream, though
his visage was hideously distorted by mingled fear and agony, the
high priest caught the wood in both hands, even as he reeled to
partly turn, then fall upon his face, dead,--thrice dead!

With a wild thrill of grief and horror, Bruno Gillespie saw his
red brother reel in cruel death, and, for the moment heedless of
his own peril, which surely was doubled thereby, he sprang that
way, to stoop and catch that quivering shape in his eager hands.

Too late, save to show his comradeship.  That heavy stone had
only too surely performed its grim mission.  Dead!  Poor lad: 
dead, while seeking to save another!

With a fierce cry of angry mourning, Bruno lifted the mutilated
corpse in his arms, trying to toss it over a shoulder, to bear
away from risk of trampling under the heedless feet of the
yelling heathen; but it was not to be.  Another stone smote his
arm near the elbow, breaking no bone, yet so benumbing the member
as to temporarily disable it, causing that precious burden to
drop to earth once more.

Then came an awful outcry from the people, whom the sight of
their high-priest reeling in death had, for a few fleeting
seconds, fairly stupefied.  Cries which meant much to the living,
and before which even that band of true-hearts receded with
slightly quickened pace.

With the others fell back Bruno, leaving his hand-wood lying
beside the lifeless corpse of his redskinned brother-at-heart,
but drawing forth the weapon which he knew so much better how to
use.

The fierce lust of vengeance now seized upon him, heart and
brain.  He shouted forth grim defiance to that howling crew, and
as the deadly missiles came in thickening clouds, carrying death
and wounds to the bodyguard of the Sun Children, he opened fire,
shooting to kill.

Entirely without firearms themselves, and in all probability
ignorant of such an instrument of destruction, this might have
produced a far more beneficial result under other circumstances.
As it was now, few, if any, took heed of what they could not hear
above that awful tumult, and those who felt the boring lead never
rose up to give their testimony.

Closer crowded the superstition-ridden heathen, showering
missiles of all descriptions upon the body-guard, confounding all
with the one to whose javelin their head priest owed his
death,--only to recoil once more, in fierce awe, as another
victim of high rank paid forfeit his life for the death of Ixtli,
sole offspring of Aztotl, the Red Heron.



CHAPTER XXXI.
DEFENDING THE SUN CHILDREN.

Louder than ever rose the voice of Lord Hua, after witnessing the
fall of his ally, the high priest.  In spite of the great odds
against the body-guards, he began to fear lest his intended prey
should even yet slip through his evil clutches.

Fiercer than ever rang forth his curses and imprecations upon the
head of the Aztec who thus dared the vengeance of all the gods by
lifting hand in arms against the anointed.

And then, his own nerve strung by those very efforts to inspire
others, Lord Hua forged nearer the front, eager to behold all his
hated enemies crushed to earth as by a single stroke.  And then--

With vicious force he hurled his javelin straight for the white
throat of the Sun Child who had scorned his fawning advances, and
only the ever ready eye, the true hand, the strong arm of Aztotl
again warded off grim death from the Fair God's Child.

Caught upon that trusty shield one instant, the next turned
towards its original owner, to quiver for the barest fraction of
time in that vengeful grip, then, gloriously true to the hero's
will and intent, sped that javelin home.

Home to the false heart of false prince; grinding through skin
and flesh and bones, cleaving that hot organ with broad blade of
tempered copper, forcing one vicious screech from those tortured
lungs, then causing that bulk to measure its length upon the
blood-sprinkled sands.

Once again the heathen involuntarily recoiled, as death claimed a
high victim.  Once more the band of true-hearts slightly
quickened their pace towards the temple, now nigh at hand.  Yet
those lessened numbers never once betrayed fear, or doubt, or
faltering. Grimly true to their trust, they fell back in the best
of order, fighting as they moved, beating back the heathen hosts,
as though each man was a god, and their strong arms a wall of
steel.

Here and there a true-heart sank to earth with the hand of death
veiling his eyes, but he died in silence; no cry of fear, no moan
of pain, no pitiful appeal for mercy at the hands of his maddened
people.  They knew their sworn duty, and like true hearts they
trod that narrow path unto the very end.

Although with gradually lessening numbers, the body-guard
remained practically the same.  Still in a hollow square, with
the Children of the Sun God in the centre, they slowly, doggedly
fell back, ever facing the ravening foe, ever moving shoulder to
shoulder as a single man.

Then, just as Bruno Gillespie was refilling his emptied revolver,
the base of the tall pyramidal temple was won, and still
protecting their fair-haired charge, the body-guard ascended to
the second terrace, beating back such of the wild rabble as
pressed them too closely.

Again that wonderful barking-death came into play, and Bruno felt
a strangely savage joy gnawing at his heart as he saw more than
one stalwart warrior reel dizzily back from his hot hail.

"For Ixtli, you curs!  That for Ixtli!  Down,--and eat dirt,
dogs!"

Scarcely could his own ears catch those sounds, although he
shouted with the full power of his strong young lungs, so
indescribably horrid was the din and tumult.

Up another flight of steps, then yet another, although the crazed
rabble was not pressing them so very hard, just now.  Still,
their number forbade a fourfold division as yet, and Aztotl
feared lest the blood-ravening mob attempt to head off their
flight by taking possession of the other stairs, thus being first
to occupy yonder flat arena high above the earth, whereupon he
hoped to still protect the Sun Children, even though he must lay
down his life to maintain their lease.

Lacking an acknowledged leader, the furious mass thought only of
crushing the faithful band by mere weight of numbers, taking no
thought in advance, else the end might well have been
precipitated.

Arrows, spears, javelins, stones from slings, poured upon the
body-guard in almost countless numbers, now and then claiming a
true-heart as victim, whereupon the rabble howled afresh in
drunken triumph; but where a single man died in the performance
of his oath-bound duty, half a score heathen bit the dust and
grovelled out his remnant of life yonder where most viciously
trampled the feet of his fellow brutes.

Pausing barely long enough to beat back the crazed rush which
came so close upon their retreat, the band of brothers would then
slowly, doggedly fall back another of those mighty steps, with
bared teeth and blazing eyes, longing to end all by one joyous
plunge into the thick of their assailants, dying with their
chosen dead!

Five separate times that upward flight, and five times the grim
pause to give death another portion of his red feast.  Five times
the blood-lapping mob dashed against the band of brothers.  Five
times they were hurled back, leaving more dead and dying there to
mark the savage struggle.

And then, sadly decimated at each halt, less in numbers as they
passed farther from earth to climb nearer the blue sky, the
survivors won the crest of the teocalli, still fighting, still
beating back such as followed their steps more closely.

Ere that brilliant retreat began, 'twould have taken close ranks
for the body-guard to find standing-room upon the temple-top; but
now--Aztotl called for a division of his force, since there were
four separate avenues of approach, of which the enemy was prompt
to avail itself.

"For the Sun Children, my brothers!" he cried, his voice rising
even above that awful tumult and turmoil.  "Guard them with your
lives!"

Little need to waste breath in so adjuring.  Of all thus
enlisted, not one of the true-hearts but proved worthy the trust.

Not one brave who took care for his own life.  Not one but was
ready to die in order to save; and thus far not a single wound
had won so far as either Child of the Fair God.

Even now while the heathen were raging more viciously than ever,
crowding each terrace and jamming each flight of steps to the
verge of suffocation, strong arms were shielding them, true
hearts were thinking how best they might be served.

Time and again Aztotl warded away winged death as it sought to
claim Victo for its prey.  And Bruno Gillespie, no whit less
brave if somewhat lacking in warlike experience, made Gladys his
especial care, sending shot or dealing knife-thrust in her
defence, barely giving thought to his own safety as a side issue.

Those broad terraces bore ugly pools and irregular patches of red
blood.  The various flights of stone steps grew slippery and
uncertain as they likewise began to steam.  Yet forward and
upward pressed the howling mob, and desperately fought the doomed
body-guard above.

Faster fly the deadly missiles, too many by far for even the
keenest eye to guard against them all.  One and another of those
gallant defenders drop away; only because death had claimed them,
not because of fear or of bodily anguish.

Aztotl staggers,--an arrow is quivering in his broad bosom,--but
still he fights on, dealing death with each blow of his
blood-dripping hand-wood.  A stone lays open his brow,--but
heavier and faster plays his terrible weapon.  A javelin flashes
briefly, then the red copper vanishes from sight, while the ashen
shaft slowly dyes crimson, as the hot life-blood issues.

A last, dying stroke, and the Red Heron sinks at the feet of his
adoration, faithful unto the last, his brave soul going forth to
join with that of Ixtli; the last of a gallant family.

Victo gives a wild cry of vengeance, then snatches up bow and
quiver where let fall by a death-smitten warrior, and wings swift
death to the slayer of her captain of the guard.

An awful melee, where the odds were momentarily increasing; where
one man was forced to do the work of a score; where death
inevitable awaited all, unless a miracle should intervene.  And
that miracle--

Shrilly rang forth the voice of Victoria Edgecombe as, amidst the
fury of battle, she caught sight of the air-ship swiftly darting
that way through the clear atmosphere, bent on saving, if saving
might be.

The peculiar sound which attended the exploding of a dynamite
cartridge heralded the death of more than one Aztec, and, as the
swift rattle of revolvers added to the uproar, there was an
involuntary recoiling, a terrified shrinking, which was employed
to the best advantage by the air-voyagers.

The aerostat barely landed upon the top of the temple, before
Cooper Edgecombe, with a wild scream of ecstatic joy, caught his
wife in his arms and hurried her into the car, while Waldo and
uncle Phaeton aided Bruno.



CHAPTER XXXII.
ADIEU TO THE LOST CITY.

And Bruno clung fast to the half-swooning maiden, so that two in
place of one had to be assisted by uncle and nephew!

Barely a score of seconds thus employed, then the gallant
air-ship responded to the touch of master-hand, and floated away
from the bloody temple-top with its increased burden, even as the
last survivor of the Sun Children's body-guard sank down in
death.

A brief stupor came over the amazed heathen at sight of this
awful air-devil from whose sides spat forth invisible death; but
then, as they divined at least a portion of the truth, as they
saw their longed-for victims thus borne bodily away, a revulsion
came, and, amid the most hideous howls and screeches, missiles
flew towards the air-ship, menacing sudden death to all therein.

But fate would not have it thus, and, under the guidance of that
master-hand, the aeromotor flew higher and farther, quickly
leaving behind all peril from javelins, darts, arrows, or stones
from slings.  And but one of their number had suffered aught: 
Bruno lay as one dead, blood flowing from a stone-gash over an
eye, but with one hand still gripping the butt of an empty
pistol; his other arm was--around the Sun Daughter's waist!

And Gladys?  First she shrunk back with a gasping cry of mingled
fear and grief; only to quickly recover and--did she kiss that
curiously spotted, streaked face?

Waldo afterwards declared she certainly did, for that a moment
later he saw some of that moistened stain upon her quivering
lips; but Waldo was ever extravagantly fond of a jest, and it may
be--never mind!

Not until the air-ship was safely past peril from yonder howling,
raving lunatics in bronze did Professor Featherwit give heed to
aught else, and by that time Victoria had left the ardent embrace
of her husband, to care for the elder Gillespie, whose
single-hearted devotion all through that bloody retreat and
bloodier struggle upon the temple had not wholly escaped her
notice.

Under such tender ministrations, Bruno quickly revived, and,
after assuring himself that the Children of the Sun were alive
and unharmed, while the Lost City was now left far behind them,
he huskily begged uncle Phaeton to descend to earth, where he
might find water enough to remove what remained of that loathsome
disguise!

But Professor Featherwit was far too shrewd a general to take any
unnecessary risks.  His last glimpse of yonder valley showed him
hundreds of armed redskins rushing at top speed for the various
passes by which that circle of hills could be over-passed, and he
knew that chase would be made as long as the faintest ray of hope
lured the Aztecs on.

Thus it came that no halt was made until the inland reservoir was
reached, where there could be no possible danger in making a
temporary landing.  And then Bruno stole away in hot haste, both
to wash his person and to reclothe it in garments not quite so
ridiculous as he now felt that savage rig must appear.

"Just as though the little woman wasn't used to see fit-outs like
that, old man," mocked Waldo, the irrepressible.  "She'll go
scare at you in this rig; see if she doesn't, now!"

Whether or no Gladys was actually frightened as Bruno made his
appearance, need not be decided here; but one fact remains:  she
acted a vast deal shyer than when she saw her gallant defender
lying as if dead, with the red blood flowing over his face.

Naturally enough, Cooper Edgecombe seemed fairly crazed by his
joy.  After so many long years of hopeless grief and wistful
longing, to find his loved ones, safe and sound, far more
beautiful than of yore!  Surely enough to turn the gravest of men
into a laughing, jesting, voluble lad!

But throughout it all ran a vein of sadness and of mourning.
Neither Aztotl the noble, nor Ixtli the gallant, could so soon be
forgotten.  And more than one pair of eyes grew dim, more than
one voice turned husky, as mention was made of both life and
death,--peace to their ashes!


Heavily burdened as the air-ship now was, it would be unwise to
add more, and so but a few minor articles were removed from the
cavern, which had for so long sheltered the exiled aeronaut, then
the lever was touched, and the vessel rose slowly into air,
making one leisurely circuit of the lake, in order to show the
Children of the Sun where their husband and father came so
perilously nigh to entering upon a subterranean voyage to the
far-away Pacific.   And, luckily as it appeared, they were just
in time to see that "big suck" drag another huge tree down into
its ever hungry maw.

Not until the shades of night again began to settle over the
earth did the professor permit another halt, but then many miles
lay between that Lost City of the Aztecs and their present
position, and, after selecting a pleasant spot for alighting,
preparations for their first al-fresco meal in company were
begun.

That proved to be a pleasant meal, and yet a more pleasant
evening there in the wilderness,--the first, but by no means the
last, partaken of,--for, now they need no longer fear the
heathen, Professor Featherwit was eager to more thoroughly
explore that strange land.

Still, the air-ship was inconveniently crowded, and that helped
to cut explorations short.  Then, too, Cooper Edgecombe was
naturally eager to return to civilisation once more, especially
as he now had his heart's dearest desire, wife and daughter, each
peerless in her peculiar way.

Thus it came to pass that the terra incognita was abandoned for
the time being, Professor Featherwit striking that wide path of
ruin which marked the course of the tornado, then sailing
leisurely towards the point of their initial departure, improving
the opportunity by giving a neat little lecture concerning
tornadoes in general, and that one in particular.

"Which totally exploded so many absurd theories held up to date,"
was his proud assertion; and then he went on to explain just how,
and why, and wherefore--


Why dwell longer?  The tale I set out to narrate is finished. 
The unknown land has been penetrated, and at least a portion of
its marvels has been inspected; imperfectly, no doubt, but that
may be attributed to circumstances which were past control.

And should the still curious reader ask, "Is it all true?  Is
there actually such a place as the Lost City?  And are the people
who live in that town really and truly the same race as once
inhabited Old Mexico?"--to all such, I can hardly do better than
this:  there was a Territory of Washington.  There is now a State
of Washington.  Within that State may be found a range, or system
of mountains, known to the world as the Olympics.  And within the
wide scope of country which lies nestling inside of that mountain
system may to this day be found--

But, after all, a little parable which Waldo Gillespie read to a
certain doubting Thomas, on the very evening of the day which
changed Gladys Edgecombe, spinster, into Mrs. Bruno Gillespie,
may better serve in this connection.

"After all, I don't believe there is any such place or people,"
declared Doubting Thomas, nodding his head vigorously.

"Is that so?" mildly queried our good friend, Waldo.  "Let me
give you a little pointer, old man.  Once upon a time, a man by
the name of John Smith was being tried for stealing a fat hog. 
The State brought three reputable witnesses to swear that they
actually saw the theft committed, while the best the defence
could offer was to declare that they could produce at least a
dozen honest citizens who would make oath to the fact that they
did not witness the crime.  So--moral:

"We six fairly honest people saw both the Lost City and its
inhabitants.  Scores of equally reliable persons never saw
either. Which sort of evidence weighs the most, my good fellow?"

Gentlemen of the jury, the verdict rests with you!





End of the Project Gutenberg Etext of The Lost City, by Joseph E. Badger, Jr.


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