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SOMETHING LIKE A WHITE ELEPHANT.

from The Lost City





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.





Next: THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN GOD.

Previous: AN ENIGMA FOR THE BROTHERS.



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