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A DUEL TO THE DEATH.

from The Lost City





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!"





Next: GRAPPLING A QUEER FISH.

Previous: THE PROFESSOR'S GREAT ANTICIPATIONS.



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