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from The Lost City





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!"





Next: THE PROFESSOR'S GREAT ANTICIPATIONS.

Previous: THE PROFESSOR'S UNKNOWN LAND.



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