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DISCUSSING WAYS AND MEANS.

from The Lost City





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.





Next: A DARING UNDERTAKING.

Previous: THE PROFESSOR AND THE AZTEC.



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