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from The Lost City





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.





Next: A FLIGHT UNDERGROUND.

Previous: DISCUSSING WAYS AND MEANS.



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