A DARING UNDERTAKING.





Still, that point was of too vital importance to justify hasty

decision, and the professor did not make his surrender complete

until the shades of another night were beginning to gather over

the land.



Meantime, partly for the purpose of keeping the youngsters

employed and thus out of the way of less harmless things, the

professor suggested that the huge grizzly be flayed. If the

proposed scheme should really be undertaken, that mighty pelt, if

uncomfortable to convey, would serve as a fair excuse for the

young brave's as yet unexplained absence from the Lost City.



As a matter of course, Cooper Edgecombe felt intense anxiety

through all, but he contrived to keep fair mastery over his

emotions, readily admitting that he himself could do naught

towards visiting the Lost City.



"I know that my loved ones are yonder. I would joyfully suffer

ten thousand deaths by torture for the chance to speak one word

to--to them. And yet I know any such attempt would prove fatal

to us all. The mere sight of--I would go crazy with joy!"



There is no necessity for repeating the various arguments used,

pro and con, before the final agreement was reached. Enough has

already been put upon record, and the result must suffice:

Professor Featherwit yielded the vital point, and, having once

fairly expressed his fears and doubts, flung his whole heart into

perfecting the disguise which was now counted upon to carry Bruno

safely into and out of yonder city.



He was carefully trigged out in the warlike uniform secured by

Cooper Edgecombe at the cost of a human life, and, with fresh

stain applied to his face and hands, the slight moustache he wore

was not dangerously perceptible.



" 'Twould take a strong light and mighty keen eyes to see it at

all, and even if a body should happen to notice it, he'd reckon

'twas a bit of smut, or the like," generously declared Waldo.



Under less trying circumstances, Bruno might have answered in

kind, but now he merely smiled at the jester, then turned again

to receive the earnest cautions let fall for his benefit by the

professor.



Above all else, he was to steer clear of fighting, and, without

he saw a fair chance of winning speech with the white women, he

was to keep in such hiding as Ixtli might furnish, trusting the

young Aztec to post the Children of the Sun as to what was in the

wind.



Tremulous, almost incapable of coherent speech, so intense was

his agitation, Cooper Edgecombe sent many messages to his loved

ones, begging for one word in return. And if nothing less would

serve--



His voice choked, and only his feverishly burning eyes could say

the rest.



It was well past sunset ere the youngsters set forth from the

rendezvous, accompanied a short distance by both Waldo and the

professor; but the parting came in good time. It would be worse

than folly to add to the existent perils that of possible

discovery by some prowling Aztec who might work serious injury to

them one and all.



That great bear-hide proved a tax upon their strength, even

though the bullet-riddled head-piece had been carefully cut off

and buried, lest those queer holes tell a risky tale on close

examination; but Ixtli, as well as Bruno, was upborne by an

exaltation such as neither had known before this hour.



There was nothing worse than the natural obstacles in the way to

be overcome, and, knowing every square yard of ground so

thoroughly, Ixtli chose the most practicable route to that

hill-encircled town.



The stony pass was followed to the lower level, and the young

adventurers had drawn fairly near the first buildings ere

encountering a living being; and then ample time was given them

for meeting the danger.



A low-voiced call sounded upon the night air, and Ixtli responded

in much the same tone. Bruno, of course, was utterly in the dark

as to what was being said, but he still held perfect faith in his

copper-hued guide, and left all to the son of Aztotl.



The Aztec brave appeared to be explaining his unusually

protracted absence, for he proudly displayed the great grizzly

pelt, then exhibited the spear-head from which protruded the

tooth-marked wood.



Like one who was already familiar with the details, Bruno slowly

lounged forward a pace or two, then in silence awaited the

pleasure of his companion on that night jaunt.



Ixtli was not many minutes in shaking off the Indian, and, almost

staggering beneath his shaggy burden, moved away as though in

haste to rejoin his family circle.



Fortunately for the venture, the Aztecans appeared to believe in

the maxim of going to bed early, for there were very few

individuals astir at that hour, young though the evening still

was. And by the clear moonlight which fell athwart the valley,

it was no difficult task to catch sight before being seen, where

eyes so busy as those of the two young men were concerned.



Only once were they forced to make a brief detour in order to

escape meeting another redskin, and then a guarded whisper from

the lips of the Aztec warned Bruno that they were almost at the

teocalli wherein the Children of the Sun made their home and

abiding-place.



Leaving the grizzly pelt at a corner, for the time being, Ixtli

led his white friend up and into the Temple of the Sun, pressing

a hand by way of added caution.



Although he had declared that an armed guard was kept night and

day over the Sun Children, and that he hoped to pass Bruno as

well as himself without any serious difficulty, since he had long

been a favoured visitor, and ever welcomed by Victo and Glady,

the temple was seemingly without such protection upon the present

occasion.



Ixtli expressed great surprise when this fact became evident, and

he showed uneasiness as to the welfare of his beloved patroness

and kindly teacher.



Surely something evil was impending! His father, Aztotl, was

chieftain of the guards, and wholly devoted to the Sun Children,

ready at all times to risk life in their behalf. Now, if the

usual guards were lacking, surely it portended evil,--treachery,

no doubt, at the bottom of which the paba and the 'Tzin almost

certainly lurked.



All this Ixtli contrived to convey to Bruno, who fairly well

shared that anxiety, but who was more for going ahead with a bold

rush, to learn the worst as quickly as might be.



Still, unfamiliar with the construction of the temple as he was,

Bruno felt helpless without his guide, and so timed his progress

by that of Ixtli, right hand tightly gripping the handle of his

"hand-wood," or maquahuitl, resolved to give a good account of

either of those rascally varlets in case trouble lay ahead.



The unwonted desolation which appeared to reign on all sides was

plainly troubling the Aztec brave, and he seemed to suspect a

cunning ambuscade, judging from his slow advance, pausing at

nearly every step to bend ear in keen listening.



Still, nothing was actually seen or heard until after the young

men reached the upper elevation, upon a portion of which the Sun

Children had been first sighted by the air-voyagers.



Here the first sound of human voices was heard, and Bruno stopped

short in obedience to the almost fierce grip which Ixtli closed

upon his nearest arm, listening for a brief space, then

breathing, lowly:



"We see, first. Dat good! Him see first, dat bad! Eye, ear,

two both. You know, brother?"



"You mean that we are to listen and play spy, first, Ixtli?"

asked Bruno, scarcely catching the real meaning of those hurried

words.



"Yes. Dat best. Come; step like snow falls, brother."



"Who is it, first?"



"Victo, she one. Odder man, not know sure, but think Huatzin.

He bad; all bad! Kill him, some day. Dat good; plenty good all

over!"



This grim vow appeared to do the Aztec good from a mental point

of view, and then he led his white friend silently towards the

covered part of the teocalli, from whence those sounds emanated.



Curtains of thick stuff served to shut in the light and to partly

smother the sound of voices, but Ixtli cautiously formed a couple

of peepholes of which they quickly made good use.



A portion of the sacred fire was burning upon its special altar,

while a large lamp, formed of baked clay, was suspended from the

roof, shedding a fair light around, as well as perfuming the

enclosure quite agreeably.



Almost directly beneath this hanging-lamp stood the two Children

of the Sun, one tall, stately, almost queenly of stature, and now

looking unusually impressive, as she seemed to act as shield for

her daughter, slighter, more yielding, but ah, how lovely of face

and comely of person!



Even then Bruno could not help realising those facts, although

his ears were tingling sharply with the harsh accents falling

from a far different pair of lips, those of a tall, muscular

warrior whose form was gorgeously arrayed in featherwork and

cunning weaving, rich-hued dyes having been called to aid the

other arts as well.



If this was actually the Prince Hua, then he was a most brutal

sample of Aztecan aristocracy, and at first sight Gillespie felt

a fierce hatred for the harsh-toned chieftain.



As a matter of course, Bruno was unable to comprehend just what

was being said, thanks to his complete ignorance of the language

employed; but he felt morally certain that ugly threats were

passing through those thin lips, and even so soon his hands began

to itch and his blood to glow, both urging him to the rescue.



Swiftly fell the reply made by Victo, and her words must have

stung the prince to the quick, since he uttered a savage cry,

drawing back an arm as though to smite that proudly beautiful

face with his hard-clenched fist.



That proved to be the cap-sheaf, for Bruno could stand no more.

He dashed aside the heavy curtain as he leaped forward, giving a

stern cry as he came, swinging the war club over his shoulder to

strike with all vengeance at the startled and recoiling Aztecan.



Only the young man's unfamiliarity with the weapon preserved

Prince Hua from certain death. As it was, he reeled, to fall in

a nerveless heap upon the floor, while, with a startled cry,

another Aztec broke away in flight.





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