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THE PROFESSOR AND THE AZTEC.

from The Lost City





Fortunately for all concerned, there proved to be no serious
difficulty attached to that same holding. So far as outward
semblance went, Ixtli was very well content with both present
quarters and present companionship.

He likewise enjoyed the supper that, aided by a small fire
kindled in a depression so low that the light could by no means
attract any unfriendly eye, Bruno prepared for them all. And
just prior to taking his first taste, the young warrior bowed his
head to murmur a few sentences which, past all doubt, had first
come to his mind through the wonderful Victo: a simple little
blessing, which certainly did not add to the dislike or
uneasiness with which the brothers regarded their guest.

"He's white, even if he is red!" confidentially declared Waldo,
at his first opportunity. "More danger of our spoiling him than
his doing us dirt; and that's an honest fact for a quarter, old
man!"

Bruno felt pretty much the same, yet his added years gave him
greater discretion, and, in spite of that growing liking, he kept
a fairly keen watch and ward over the Aztec.

After supper there came further questioning and answers, Waldo as
a rule playing inquisitor, eager to learn more anent the strange
existence which these people must live, so completely hemmed in
from all the rest of the world as they surely were in yonder
valley.

Without at all betraying the exile, Gillespie spoke of the lake
and its mighty whirlpool, then learned that the Indians really
made semi-annual trips thither for the purpose of laying in a
supply of dried fish for the winter's consumption.

As the night waned, preparations were made for sleeping, although
it was agreed between the brothers that one or the other should
stand guard in regular order.

"Not that I really believe the fellow would play us dirt, even
with every chance laid open," Waldo admitted. "Still, it's what
uncle Phaeton would advise, and we can't well do less than follow
his will, Bruno."

"Since we broke it so completely by tackling the grizzly," with a
brief laugh.

"That's all right, too. Of course we'd ought to've skulked away
like a couple of egg-sucking curs, but we didn't, and I'm
mightily glad of it, too. For Ixtli--what a name that is to go
to bed with every night, though!--for Ixtli is just about as
white as they make 'em, nowadays; you hear me blow my bazoo?"

And so the long night wore its length along, the brothers taking
turns at keeping watch and ward, but the Aztec slumbering
peacefully through all, looking the least dangerous of all
possible captives. And after this light even the cautious Bruno
began to regard him ere the first stroke of coming dawn could be
seen above the eastern hills.

Not being positive just where the air-ship would put in an
appearance, since Professor Featherwit had, perforce, left that
question open, to be decided by circumstances over which he might
have no control, each guard in turn devoted considerable
attention to the upper regions, hoping to glimpse the aerostat,
and holding matches in readiness to raise a flare by way of
alighting signal. But it was not until the early dawn that Bruno
caught sight of the air-ship, just skimming the tree-tops, the
better to escape observation by any Indian lookout.

After that the rest came easily enough. A couple of blazing
matches held aloft proved sufficient cue to the professor, and
soon thereafter the flying-machine was safely brought to land, so
gently that the slumbers of the young Aztec were undisturbed.

Bruno gave a hasty word of warning and explanation combined, even
before he extended a welcoming hand towards Mr. Edgecombe, who
certainly appeared all the better for his encounter with people
of his own race.

Professor Featherwit took a keen, eager look at the slumbering
redskin, then drew silently back, to whisper in Bruno's ear:

"Guard well your tongue, lad. I have told him nothing, as yet,
and we must consult together before breaking the news. For now
we have had no rest, so I believe we would better lie down for an
hour or two."

Mr. Edgecombe appeared to be perfectly willing to do this, and
soon the wearied men were wrapped in blankets and sleeping
peacefully.

Long before their lids unclosed, Bruno had an appetising meal in
readiness, although the others had broken fast long before, and
Ixtli, his hands tightly clasped behind his back, as a child is
wont to resist temptation, was inspecting the air-ship in awed
silence.

Taking advantage of this preoccupation, Bruno quickly yet clearly
explained to his uncle all that had happened, showing that by
playing a more prudent part the young warrior must inevitably
have perished.

Then, making sure Cooper Edgecombe was not near enough to catch
his words, Bruno told in brief the information gleaned from Ixtli
concerning the Children of the Sun, whom he and Waldo more than
suspected must be the long-lost wife and daughter of the exiled
aeronaut.

As might have been expected, Professor Featherwit was deeply
stirred by all this, fidgeting nervously while keeping alert
ears, with difficulty smothering the ejaculations which fought
for exit through his lips.

After satisfying his craving for food, the professor led the
young Aztec apart from the rest of the party, speaking kindly and
sympathetically until he had won a fair share of liking for his
own, then broaching the subject of the Sun Children.

After this it was by no means a difficult matter to get at the
seat of trouble, and little by little Featherwit satisfied
himself that Ixtli would do all, dare all, for the sake of
benefiting the woman and maiden who had treated him so kindly.

At a covert sign from the professor, Bruno came to join in the
talk, and his sympathy made the young Aztec even more
communicative. And Ixtli spoke more at length concerning
Tlacopa, the paba, and another enemy whom the Children of the Sun
had nearly equal cause to fear, one Huatzin, or Prince Hua,
chiefest among the mighty warriors of the Aztecan clans.

This evil prince had for years past sought Victo for his bride,
while his son, Iocetl, tried in vain to win the heart-smiles of
the fair Glady, Victo's daughter. And, through revenge for
having their suit frowned upon, these wicked knaves had joined
hands with the priest in trying to drag the Sun Children down
from their lofty pedestal.

It did not take long questioning, or shrewd, to convince the
professor that in Ixtli they could count upon a true and daring
supporter in case they should conclude to interfere in behalf of
his patroness and teacher, adored Victo.

The professor led the way over to the air-ship, there producing
the clothing and arms once worn by another Aztec warrior, which
he had carefully stowed away in the locker, loath to lose sight
of such valuable relics; truly unique, as he assured himself at
the moment.

Bruno gave a little exclamation at sight of the articles, then in
eager tones he made known the daring idea which then flashed
across his busy brain.

"We ought to make sure before taking action, uncle Phaeton. Then
why not let me don these clothes and steal down into the valley,
under cover of darkness, to see the ladies and--"

"No, no, my lad," quickly interrupted the professor, gripping an
arm as though fearful of an instant runaway. "That would be too
risky; that would be almost suicidal! And--no use talking," with
an obstinate shake of his head, as Bruno attempted to edge in an
expostulation. "I will never give my consent; never!"

"Or hardly ever," supplied Waldo, coming that way like one who
feels the proprieties have been more than sufficiently outraged.
"Give some other person a chance to wag his chin a bit, can't ye,
gentlemen? Not that _I_ care to chatter merely for sake of
hearing my own voice; but--eh?"

"We were considering whether or no 'twould be advisable to take a
walk over to the observatory," coolly explained the professor.
"Of course, if you would rather remain here to watch the
aerostat--"

"Let Bruno do that, uncle. He grew thoroughly disgusted with
what he saw over yonder, yesterday," placidly observed the
youngster.

"Waldo, you villain!"

"Well, didn't you vow and declare that you could recognise grace
and beauty and all other varieties of attractiveness only
in--dark brunettes, old man?"

Professor Featherwit hastily interposed, lest words be let fall
through which Mr. Edgecombe might catch a premature idea of the
possible surprise held in store; and shortly afterwards the start
was made for the snug covert from whence the Lost City had been
viewed on prior occasions.

Naturally their route led them directly past the scene of the
bear fight, where the huge carcass lay as yet undisturbed, and
calling forth sundry words of wonder and even admiration, through
its very ponderosity and now harmless ferocity.

Professor Featherwit deemed it his duty to gravely reprove his
wards for their rash conduct, yet something in his twinkling eyes
and in the kindly touch of his bony hand told a far different
tale. His anger took the shape of pride and of heart-love.

In due course of time the lookout was won, and without delay the
savant turned his field-glass upon the temple which appeared to
appertain to the so-called Sun Children; but, not a little to his
chagrin, the azotea was utterly devoid of human life.

But that disappointment was of brief existence, for, almost as
though his action was the signal for which they had been waiting,
mother and daughter came slowly into view, arm in arm, clad in
robes of snowy white, with their luxuriant locks flowing loose as
upon former occasions.

Both lads--three of them, to be more exact--gave low exclamations
of eager interest as those shapes came in sight, while even
Cooper Edgecombe gazed with growing interest upon the scene,
wholly unsuspecting though he was as yet.

A slight nod from the professor warned the brothers to stand
ready in case of need, then he offered the exile the glass,
begging him to inspect yonder fair women upon the teocalli.

The glass was levelled and held firmly for a half minute, then
the exile gave a choking cry, gasping, ere he fell as one smitten
by death:

"Merciful heavens! My wife--my child!"





Next: DISCUSSING WAYS AND MEANS.

Previous: THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN GOD.



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