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THE LOST CITY OF THE AZTECS.

from The Lost City





Uncle Phaeton was more than willing to do the honours of his pet
invention, and this afforded a most happy diversion, although the
deepening twilight hindered any very extensive examination.

Cooper Edgecombe showed himself in a vastly different light while
thus engaged, his shrewd questions, his apt comments, quite
effectually removing the far from agreeable doubts born of his
earlier words and demeanour.

"Well, if he's looney, it's only on some points, not as the whole
porker, anyway," confidentially asserted Waldo, when an
opportunity offered. "Coax him to tell how he knocked the
redskin out, uncle Phaeton."

Little need of recalling that perplexing incident to the worthy
savant, for, try as he might, Featherwit could not keep from
brooding over that wondrous collection of relics pertaining to a
long-since extinct people. Of course, the last one had perished
ages ago; and yet--and yet--

Through his half-bewildered brain flashed the accounts given by
the coast tribes, members of which he had so frequently
interviewed concerning this unknown land, one and all of whom had
more or less to say in regard to a strange people, terrible
fighters, mighty hunters, one burning glance from whose eyes
carried death and decay unto all who were foolhardy enough even
to attempt to pass those mighty barriers, built up by a
beneficent nature. Only for that nearly impassable wall, the
entire earth would be overrun and dominated by these monsters in
human guise.

Then, after the air-ship was cared for to the best of his
ability, and the night-guard set in place so that an alarm might
give warning of any illegal intrusion, the little party returned
to the cavern home of the exile where, after another refusal on
his part, the professor filled and lighted his beloved pipe.

Almost in spite of himself Featherwit was drawn towards those
marvellous articles depending from the wall, and, as he gazed in
silent marvel, Cooper Edgecombe drew nigh, with still other
articles to complete the collection.

"You may possibly find something of interest in these, too, dear
sir, although I have given them rather rough usage. This formed
a rather comfortable cap, and--"

"A helmet! And sandals! A sash which is--yes! worn about the
waist, mainly to support weapons, and termed a maxtlatl,
which--and all sufficiently well preserved to be readily
recognised as genuine--unless--Surely I am dreaming!"

If not precisely that, the worthy professor assuredly was almost
beside himself while examining these articles of warrior's wear,
one by one, knowing that neither eyes nor memory were at fault,
yet still unable to believe those very senses.

Up to this, Cooper Edgecombe had felt but a passing interest in
the matter, forming as it did but a single incident in a more
than ordinarily eventful life; but now he began to divine at
least a portion of the truth, and his face was lighted up with
unusual animation, when Phaeton Featherwit turned that way, to
almost sharply demand:

"Where did you gain possession of these weapons and garments,
sir? And how,--from whom?"

"I took them from an Indian, nearly two years ago. He caught me
off my guard, and, when I saw that I could neither hide nor flee,
I fought for my life," explained the exile; then giving a short,
bitter laugh, to add: "Strange, is it not? Although I had long
since grown weary of existence such as this, I fought for it; I
turned wild beast, as it were! Then, after all was over, I took
these things, more because I feared his comrades might suspect--"

"His comrades?" echoed the professor. "More than the one, then?
You killed him, but--there were others, still?"

"Many of them; far too many for any one man to withstand,"
earnestly declared the exile. "I made all haste in bearing the
redskin here, obliterating all signs as quickly as possible; yet
for days and nights I cowered here in utter darkness, each minute
expecting an attack from too powerful a force for standing
against."

Uncle Phaeton rubbed his hands briskly, shifting his weight
hurriedly from one foot to its mate, then back again, the very
personification of eager interest and growing conviction.

"More of them? A strong force? Armed,--and garbed as of old?
The clothing, the footwear, and, above all else, the weapons,
purely Aztecan? And here, only two short years ago?"

"Sadly long and hideously dreary years I have found them, sir,"
the exile said, in dejected tones.

The professor burst into a shrill, excited laugh, which sounded
almost hysterical, and, not a little to the amazement of his
nephews, broke into a regular dance, jigging it right merrily,
hands on hips, head perked, and chin in air, at the same time
striving to carry the tune in his far from melodious voice.

After all, perhaps no better method could have been taken to work
off his almost hysterical excitement, and presently he paused,
panting and heated, chuckling after an abashed fashion as he
encountered the eyes of his nephews.

"Not a word, my dear boys," he hastened to plead. "I had to do
something or--or explode! I feel better, now. I can behave
myself, I hope. I am calm, cool, and composed as--the genuine
Aztecs! And we are the ones to discover that--oh, I forgot!"

For Waldo was fairly exploding with mirth, while Bruno smiled,
and even the exile appeared to be amused to a certain extent at
his expense.

Little by little, the worthy savant calmed down, and then, almost
forcing the exile to indulge in another delicious smoke, he led
up to the subject in which his interest was fairly intense.

Cooper Edgecombe was willing enough to tell all that lay in his
power, although he was only beginning to realise how much that
might mean to the world at large, judging by the actions of the
professor.

According to his account, the great lake, or drainage reservoir
of the Olympics, was a sort of semi-yearly rendezvous for a
warlike tribe of red men, where they congregated for the purpose
of catching and drying vast quantities of fish, doubtless to be
used during the winter.

"As a general thing they pitch their camp on the other side, over
towards the northeast; but small parties are pretty sure to rove
far and wide, coming around this way quite as often as not."

"And their garb,--the weapons they bore?" asked the professor.

Edgecombe motioned towards those articles in which such a lively
interest had been awakened, then said that, while few of the red
men who had come beneath his near observation had been so
elaborately equipped, he had taken notice of similar weapons and
garments, with additions which he strove hard to describe with
accuracy.

Nearly every sentence which crossed his lips served to confirm
the marvellous truth which had so dazzlingly burst upon the
professor's eager brain, and with a glib tongue he named each
weapon, each garment, as accurately as ever set down in ancient
history, not a little to the wide-eyed amazement of Waldo
Gillespie.

"Worse than those blessed 'sour-us' and cousins," he confided to
his brother, in a whisper. "Reckon it's all right, Bruno? Uncle
isn't--eh?"

But uncle Phaeton paid them no attention, so deeply was he
stirred by this wondrous revelation. He felt that he was upon
the verge of a discovery which would startle the wide world as no
recent announcement had been able to do, unless--but it surely
must be correct!

And then, when Cooper Edgecombe finished all he could tell
concerning those queerly armed and gaudily garbed red men, the
professor let loose his tongue, telling what glorious hopes and
dazzling anticipations were now within him.

"For hundreds upon hundreds of years there have been wild, weird
legends about the Lost City, but that merely meant a mass of
wondrous ruins, long since overwhelmed by shifting sands,
somewhere in the heart of the great American desert, so-called.

"By some it was claimed that this ancient city owed its primal
existence to a fragment of the Aztecs, driven from their native
quarters in Old Mexico. By others 'twas attributed unto one of
the fabulous 'Lost Tribes of Israel,' but even the most
enthusiastic never for one moment dreamed of--this!"

"Except yourself, uncle Phaeton," cut in Waldo, with a subdued
grin. "This must be one of the marvels you calculated on
discovering, thanks to the flying-machine, eh?"

"Nay, my boy; I never let my imagination soar half so high as all
that," quickly answered the professor. "But now--now I feel
confident that just such a discovery lies before us, and with the
dawn of a new day we will ascend and look for the glorious 'Lost
City of the Aztecs!' "

Again the savant sprang to his feet, wildly gesticulating as he
strode to and fro, striving to thus work off some of the intense
excitement which had taken full possession. And words fell
rapidly from his lips the while, only a portion of which need be
placed upon record in this connection, however.

"A fico for the paltry lost cities of musty tradition, now! They
may sleep beneath the sand-storms of countless years, but this--I
would gladly give one of my eyes for the certainty that its mate
might gaze upon such a wondrous spectacle as--Oh, if it might
only prove true! If I might only discover such a stupendous
treasure! Aztecs! And in the present day! Alive--armed and
garbed as of yore! Amazing! Incredible! Astounding beyond the
wildest dreams of a confirmed--"

With startling swiftness uncle Phaeton wheeled to confront the
exile, gripping his arm with fierce vigour, as he shrilly
demanded:

"Opium--are you an eater of drugs, Cooper Edgecombe?"

Even as the words crossed his lips, the professor realised how
preposterous they must sound, but the exile shook his head,
earnestly.

"I never ate drugs in that shape, sir. Even if I had been
addicted to morphine and the like, how could I indulge the
appetite here, in these gloomy, lonely wilds?"

"I beg your pardon, sir; most humbly I implore your forgiveness.
I have but one excuse--this wondrous--Good night! I'm going to
bed before I add to my new reputation as--a blessed idiot, no
less!"





Next: A MARVELLOUS VISION.

Previous: THE STORY OF A BROKEN LIFE.



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