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THE PROFESSOR'S GREAT ANTICIPATIONS.

from The Lost City





A stretch and a yawn, which in Waldo's case ended in a prolonged
howl, which would not have disgraced either of their four-footed
visitors of the past evening, then the brothers Gillespie sprung
forth from the flying-machine, entering upon a race for the
brawling mountain stream, "shedding" their garments as they ran.

"First man in!" cried Bruno, whose clothes seemed to slip off the
more readily; but Waldo was not to be outdone so easily, and,
reckless of the consequences, he plunged into the eddying pool,
with fully half of his daylight rig still in place.

The water proved to be considerably deeper than either brother
had anticipated, and Waldo vanished from sight for a few seconds,
then reappearing with lusty puff and splutter, shaking the pearly
drops from his close-clipped curls, while ranting:

"Another vile fabrication nailed to the standard of truth, and
clinched by the hammer of--ouch!"

A wild flounder, then the youngster fairly doubled himself up,
acting so strangely that Bruno gave a little cry of alarm; but
ere the elder brother could take further action, Waldo swung his
right arm upward and outward, sending a goodly sized trout
flashing through the air to the shore, crying in boyish
enthusiasm:

"Glory in great chunks! I want to camp right here for a year to
come! Will ye look at that now?"

Bruno had to dodge that writhing missile, and, before he could
fairly recover himself, Waldo had floundered ashore, leaving a
yeasty turmoil in his wake, but then throwing up a dripping hand,
and speaking in an exaggerated whisper:

"Whist, boy! On your life, not so much as the ghost of a
whimper! The hole's ramjammed chuck full of trout, and we'll
have a meal fit for the gods if--where's my fishing tackle?"

Bruno picked up the trout, so queerly brought to light, really
surprised, but feigning still further, as he made his
examination.

"It really IS a trout, and--how long have you carried this about
in your clothes, Waldo Gillespie?"

"Not long enough for you to build a decent joke over it, brother
mine. Just happened so. Tried to ram its nose in one of my
pockets, and of course I had to take him in out of the wet.
Pool's just full of them, too, and I wouldn't wonder if--oh, quit
your talking, and do something, can't you, boy?"

Vigorously though he spoke, Waldo wound up with a shiver and
sharp chatter of teeth as the fresh morning air struck through
his dripping garments. He gave a coltish prance, as he turned to
seek his fishing tackle; but, unfortunately for his hopes of
speedy sport, the professor was nigh enough to both see and hear,
and at once took charge of the reckless youngster.

"Wet to the hide, and upon an empty stomach, too! You foolish
child! Come, strip to the buff, and put on some of these
garments until--here by the fire, Waldo."

And thus taken in tow, the lad was forced to slowly but
thoroughly toast his person beside the freshly started fire,
ruefully watching his brother deftly handle rod and line, in a
remarkably short space of time killing trout enough to furnish
all with a bounteous meal.

"And I was the discoverer, while you reap all the credit, have
all the fun!" dolefully lamented Waldo, when the catch was
displayed with an ostentation which may have covered just a tiny
bit of malice. "I'll put a tin ear on you, Amerigo Vespucius!"

"All right; we'll have a merry go together, after you've cleaned
the trout for cooking, lad," laughed his elder.

Waldo gazed reproachfully into that bright face for a brief
space, then bowed head in joined hands, to sob in heartfelt
fashion, his sturdy frame shaking with poorly suppressed
grief--or mirth?

Bruno passed an arm caressingly over those shoulders, murmuring
words of comfort, earnestly promising to never sin again in like
manner, provided he could find forgiveness now. And then, with
deft touch, that same hand held his garment far enough for its
mate to let slip a wriggling trout adown his brother's back.

Waldo howled and jumped wildly, as the cold morsel slipped along
his spine, and ducking out of reach, the elder jester called
back:

"Land him, boy, and you've caught another fish!"

Although laughing heartily himself, Professor Featherwit deemed
it a part of wisdom to interfere now, and, ere long, matters
quieted down, all hands engaged in preparing the morning meal,
for which all teeth were now fairly on edge.

If good nature had been at all disturbed, long before that
breakfast was despatched it was fully restored, and of the trio,
Waldo appeared to be the most enthusiastic over present
prospects.

"Why, just think of it, will you?" he declaimed, as well as might
be with mouth full of crisply fried mountain trout. "where the
game comes begging for you to bowl it over, and the very fish try
to jump into your pockets--"

"Or down your back, Amerigo," interjected Bruno, with a grin.

"Button up, or you'll turn to be a Sorry-cus--tomer, old man,"
came the swift retort, with a portentous frown. "But, joking
aside, why not? With such hunting and fishing, I'd be willing to
sign a contract for a round year in this region."

"To say nothing of exploration, and such discoveries as naturally
attend upon--"

"Then you really mean it all, uncle Phaeton?"

Leaning back far enough to pluck a handful of green leaves, which
fairly well served the purpose of a napkin, Professor Featherwit
brought forth pipe and pouch, maintaining silence until the
fragrant tobacco was well alight. Then he gave a vigorous nod of
his head, to utter:

"It has been the dearest dream of my life for more years gone by
than you would readily credit, my lads; or, in fact, than I would
be wholly willing to confess. And it was with an eye single to
this very adventure that I laboured to devise and perfect yonder
machine."

"A marvel in itself, uncle Phaeton. Only for that, where would
we have been, yesterday?" seriously spoke the elder Gillespie.

"I know where we wouldn't have been: inside that blessed
cy-nado!"

"Nor here, where you can catch brook trout in your clothes
without the trouble of taking them off, youngster."

"And where you'll catch a precious hiding, without you let up
harping on that old string; it's way out of tune already, old
man,"

"Tit for tat. Excuse us, please, uncle Phaeton. We're like
colts in fresh pasture, this morning," brightly apologised Bruno,
for both.

Apparently the professor paid no attention to that bit of
sparring between his nephews, staring into the glowing camp-fire
with eyes which surely saw more than yellow coals or ruddy flames
could picture; eyes which burned and sparkled with all the fires
of distant youth.

"The dearest dream of all my life!" he repeated, in half dreamy
tones, only to rouse himself, with a a start and shoulder shake,
an instant later, forcing a bright smile as he glanced from face
to face. "And why not? How better could my last years be
employed than in piercing the clouds of mystery, and doubt, and
superstition, with which this vast tract has been enveloped for
uncounted ages?"

"Is it really so unknown, then, uncle Phaeton?" hesitatingly
asked Bruno, touched, in spite of himself, by that intensely
earnest tone and expression. "Of course, I know what the Indians
say; they are full of a rude sort of superstitious awe, which--"

"Which is one of the surest proofs that truth forms a foundation
for that very superstition," quickly interjected the professor.
"It is an undisputed fact that there are hundreds upon hundreds
of square miles of terra incognita, lying in this corner of
Washington Territory. No white man ever fairly penetrated these
wilds, even so far as we may have been carried while riding the
tornado. Or, if so, he assuredly has never returned, or made
known his discoveries."

"Provided there was anything beyond the ordinary to see or
experience, shouldn't we add, uncle?" suggested Waldo, modestly.

"There is,--there must be! No matter how wildly improbable their
traditions may seem in our judgment, it only takes calm
investigation to bring a fair foundation to light. In regard to
this vast scope of country, go where you will among the natives,
question whom you see fit, as to its secrets, and you will meet
with the same results: a deep-seated awe, a belief which cannot
be shaken, that here strange monsters breed and flourish, matched
in magnitude and power by an armed race of human beings, before
whose awful might other tribes are but as ants in the pathway of
an elephant."

Waldo let escape a low, prolonged whistle of mingled wonder and
incredulity, but Bruno gave him a covert kick, himself too deeply
interested to bear with a careless interruption just then.

"Of course there may be something of exaggeration in all this,"
admitted the enthusiastic professor. "Undoubtedly, there is at
least a fair spice of that; but, even so, enough remains to both
waken and hold our keenest interest. Listen, and take heed, my
good lads.

"You have often enough, of late days, noticed these mountains,
and if you remark their altitude, the vast scope of country they
dominate, the position they fill, you must likewise realise one
other fact: that an immense quantity of snow in winter, rain in
spring and autumn, surely must fall throughout the Olympics.
Understand?"

"Certainly; why not, uncle Phaeton?"

"Then tell me this: where does all the moisture go to? What
becomes of the surplus waters? For it is an acknowledged fact
that, though rivers and brooks surely exist in the Olympics, not
one of either flows away from this wide tract of country!"

The professor paused for a minute, to let his words take full
effect, then even more positively proceeded:

"You may say, what I have had others offer by way of solution,
that all is drained into a mighty inland sea or enormous lake.
Granting so much, which I really believe to be the truth as far
as it goes, why does that lake never overflow? Of all that
surely must drain into its basin, be that enormously wide and
deep as it may, how much could ordinary evaporation dispose of?
Only an infinitesimal portion; scarcely worth mentioning in such
connection. Then,--what becomes of the surplusage?"

Another pause, during which neither Gillespie ventured a
solution; then the professor offered his own suggestion:

"It must flow off in some manner, and what other manner can that
be than--through a subterranean connection with the Pacific
Ocean?"

Bruno gave a short ejaculation at this, while Waldo broke forth
in words, after his own particular fashion:

"Jules Verne redivivus! Why can't WE take a trip through the
centre of the earth, or--or--any other little old thing like
that?"

"With the tank of compressed air as a life-preserver?" laughed
Bruno, in turn. "That might serve, but; unfortunately, we have
only the one, and we are three in number, boy."

"Only two, now; I'm squelched!" sighed the jester, faintly.

If the professor heard, he heeded not. Still staring with vacant
gaze into the fire, his face bearing a rapt expression curious to
see, he broke into almost unconscious speech:

"An enormous inland sea! Where float the mighty ichthyosaurus,
the megalosaurus, in company with the gigantic plesiosaurus! Upon
whose sloping shores disport the enormous mastodon, the
stately megatherium, the tremendous--eh?"

For Waldo was now afoot, brandishing a great branch broken from a
dead tree, uttering valiant war-whoops, and dealing tremendous
blows upon an imaginary enemy, spouting at the top of his voice a
frenzied jargon, which neither his auditors nor himself could
possibly make sense out of.

Bruno, ever sensitive through his affectionate reverence for
their uncle, caught the youngster, and cast him to earth,
whereupon Waldo pantingly cried:

"Go on, please, uncle Phaeton. It's next thing to a museum and
menagerie combined, just to hear--"

"Will you hush, boy?" demanded Bruno, yet unable to wholly
smother a laugh, so ridiculous did it all sound and seem.

But Professor Featherwit declined, his foxy face wrinkling in a
bashful laugh. Whether so intended or not, he had been brought
down to earth from that dizzy flight, and now was fairly himself
again.

"Well, my dear boys, I dare say it seems all a matter of jest and
sport to you; yet, after our riding in the centre of a tornado
for uncounted miles, coming forth with hardly a scratch or a
bruise to show for it all, who dare say such things may not be,
even yet?"

"But,--those strange creatures are gone; the last one perished
thousands upon thousands of years ago, uncle Phaeton."

"So it is said, and so follows the almost universal belief. Yet
I have seen, felt, cooked, tasted, and ate to its last morsel a
steak from a mammoth. True, the creature was dead; had been
preserved for ages, no doubt, within the glacier which finally
cast it forth to human view; yet who would have credited such a
discovery, only fifty years ago? He who dared to even hint at
such a thing would have been derided and laughed at, pronounced
either fool or lunatic. And so,--if we should happen to discover
one or all of those supposedly extinct creatures here in this
terra incognita, I would be overjoyed rather than astounded."

Bruno looked grave at this conclusion, but Waldo was not so
readily impressed, and, with shrugging shoulders, he made answer:

"Well, uncle, I'm not quite so ambitious as all that comes to.
May I give you my idea of it all?"





Next: A DUEL TO THE DEATH.

Previous: A BRACE OF UNWELCOME VISITORS.



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