A DUEL TO THE DEATH.





Professor Featherwit nodded assent, and, after a brief chuckle,

Waldo resumed:



"You can take all those big fellows with the jaw-breaking names,

but as for me, smaller game will do. Maybe a fellow couldn't

fill his bag quite so full, nor quite so suddenly, but there

would be a great deal more sport, and a mighty sight less danger,

I take it!"



It was by no means difficult to divine that the professor had not

yet spoken all that busied his brain, but the thread was broken,

his pipe was out, and, emptying the ashes by tapping pipe-bowl

against the heel of his shoe, he rose erect, once more the man of

action.



"You will have to clear up, lads, for I must make such few

repairs as are necessary to restore the aerostat to a state of

efficiency. So long as that remains in serviceable condition, we

will always have a method of advance or retreat. Without

it--well, I'd rather not think of the alternative."



That dry tone and quiet sentence did more than all else to

impress the brothers with a sense of their unique position. Back

came the remembrance of all they had gathered concerning this

strange scope of country since first settling down fairly within

the shadows of the Olympics, there to put that strange machine

together, preparing for what was to prove a wonder-tour through

many marvellous happenings.



Times beyond counting they had been assured by the natives that

no mortal could fairly penetrate that vast wilderness. Natural

obstacles were too great for any man to surmount, without saying

aught of what lay beyond; of the enormous animals, such as the

civilised world never knew or fought with; of the terrible

natives, taller than the pines, larger than the hills, more

powerful by far than the gods themselves, eager to slay and to

devour,--so eager that, at times, living flesh and blood was more

grateful than all to their depraved tastes!



"Do you really reckon there is anything in it all, Bruno?" asked

the younger brother in lowered tones, glancing across to where

their uncle was busily engaged in those comparatively trifling

repairs.



"It hardly seems possible, and yet--would the members of four

different tribes tell a story so nearly alike, without they had

at least a foundation of truth to go upon?"



"That's right. And yet--the inland sea sounds natural enough. We

know, too, that there are such things as underground rivers,

outside of Jules Verne's yarns. But those animals,--or

reptiles,--which?"



"Both, I believe," answered Bruno, with a subdued laugh.



"That's all right, old man. I never was worth a continental when

it came to such things. I prefer to live in the present, and

so--well, now, will you just look at that old cow!"



In surprise Waldo pointed across to where a bovine shape showed

not far beyond the pool at the base of the miniature waterfall;

but his brother had a fairer view, and, instantly divining the

truth, grasped an arm and hastily whispered:



"Hush, boy; can't you see? It's a buffalo, a hill buffalo,

and--"



"Quick! the guns are in the machine! Down, Bruno, and maybe we

can get a shot and--"



His eager whisper was cut short, though not by grip of arm or act

by his brother. A rumbling roar broke forth from the further

side of that mountain stream, and as the dense bushes beyond were

violently agitated, the hill buffalo wheeled that way with

marvellous rapidity.



Just as a long head and mighty shoulders spread the shrubbery

wide apart, jaws opening and lips curling back to lay great teeth

bare, while another angry sound, half growl, half snort, only too

clearly proclaimed that monster of the mountains, a grizzly bear.



"Smoke o' sacrifice!" gasped Waldo, as the grizzly suddenly

upreared its mighty bulk, head wagging, paws waving in queer

fashion, lolling tongue lending the semblance of drollery rather

than viciousness.



"This way; to your guns, boys!" cautiously called out the

professor, whose notice had likewise been caught by those unusual

sounds, and who had already armed himself with his pet dynamite

gun.



"Careful! He'll make a break for us at first sight, unless--down

close, and crawl for it, brother!"



Bruno set the good example, and Waldo was not too proud of spirit

to humble himself in like manner. Although this was their first

glimpse of "Old Eph" in his native wilds, both brothers

entertained a very respectful opinion of his prowess.



Under different circumstances their expectations might have been

more fully met, but just now the grizzly seemed wholly occupied

with the buffalo bull, whose sturdy bulk and armed front so

resolutely opposed his further progress towards that common goal,

the pool of water.



The boys quickly reached the flying-machine and gripped the

Winchester rifles which Professor Featherwit had drawn forth from

the locker at first sight of the dangerous game. Thus armed,

they felt ready for whatever might come, and stood watching

yonder rivals with growing interest.



"Will you look at that, now?" excitedly breathed Waldo, eyes

aglow, as he saw the bull cock its tail on high and tear up the

soft soil with one fierce sweep of its cloven hoof, shaking head

and giving vent to a low but determined bellow.



"It means a fight unto the death, I think," whispered the

professor.



"It's dollars to doughnuts on the bear," predicted Waldo. "Scat,

you bull-headed idiot! Don't you know that you're not deuce high

to his ace? Can't you see that he can chew you up like--"



"Are you mighty sure of all that, boy?" laughingly cut in Bruno;

for at that moment the buffalo made a sudden charge at his

upright adversary, knocking the grizzly backward in spite of its

viciously flying paws.



"Great Peter on a bender! If I ever--no, I never!"



Even the professor was growing excited, holding the dynamite gun

under one arm while gently tapping palms together as an encore.



Naturally enough, their sympathies were with the buffalo, since

the odds seemed so immensely against him; but their delight was

short-lived, for, instead of following up the advantage so

bravely won, the bull fell back to paw and bellow and shake his

shaggy front.



With marvellous activity for a brute of his enormous bulk and

weight, the grizzly recovered its feet, then lumbered forward

with clashing teeth and resounding growls.



Nothing loath, the buffalo met that charge, and for a short space

of time the struggle was veiled by showers of leaf-mould and damp

dirt cast upon the air as the rivals fought for supremacy--and

for life.



For that this was destined to be a duel to the very death not one

of those spectators could really doubt. That encounter may have

been purely accidental, but the creatures fought like enemies of

long standing.



As their relative positions changed, the buffalo contrived to get

in another vigorous butt, sending bruin end for end down that

gentle slope to souse into the pool of water, that cool element

cutting short a savage roar of mad fury.



Then the trio of spectators could take notes, and with something

of sorrow they saw that the buffalo had already suffered

severely, bleeding from numerous great gashes torn by the

grizzly's long talons, while one bloody eye dangled below its

socket, held only by a thread of sinew.



Nor had bruin escaped without hurt, as all could see when he

floundered out of the water, bent upon renewing the duel; but

there was little room left for doubting what the ultimate result

would be were the animals left to their own devices.



Like all bold, free-hearted lads, Waldo ever sympathised with the

weaker, and now, unable to hold his feelings in check, he gave a

short cry, levelling his Winchester and opening fire upon the

grizzly, just as it won fairly clear of the water.



Stung to fury by those pellets, the brute reared up with a horrid

roar, turning as though to charge this new enemy; but ere he

could do more, the professor's gun spoke, and as the dynamite

shell exploded, bruin fell back a writhing mass, his head

literally smashed to pieces.



Heedless of all else, the wounded buffalo charged with lusty

bellow, goring that quivering mass with unabated fury, though its

life was clearly leaking out through those ghastly cuts and

slashes.



A brief pause, then Professor Featherwit swiftly reloaded his

gun, sending another shell across the stream, this time more as a

boon than as punishment.



Smitten fairly in the forehead, the bull dropped as though

beneath a bolt of lightning, life going out without so much as a

single struggle or a single pang.



"Twas better thus," declared the professor, as Waldo gave a

little ejaculation of dismay. "He must have bled to death in a

short time, and this was true mercy. Besides, buffalo meat is

very good eating, and the day may come when we shall need all we

can get. Who knows?"



After the animals were inspected, and due comment made upon the

awfully sure work wrought by the dynamite gun, the professor

suggested that, while he was completing repairs upon the

aeromotor, the brothers should secure a supply of fish and of

flesh, cooking sufficient to provide for several meals, for there

was no telling just when they would have an equal chance.



"Just as soon as we can put all in readiness," he continued, "I

am going to leave this spot. My first wish is to thoroughly test

the aerostat, to make certain it has received no serious injury.

Then, if all promises well, I mean to begin our tour of

exploration, hoping that we may, at least, find something well

worthy the strange reputation given these Olympics by the

natives."



Without raising any objections, the brothers fell to work, Bruno

looking after the flesh, while Waldo undertook to supply the

fish. That was but fair, since he had been cheated out of

catching the first mess.



Not a little to his delight, the professor found that the

flying-machine would promptly answer his touch and will, rising

easily off the ground, then descending at call, evidently having

passed through the ordeal of the bygone evening without serious

harm.



Still, all this consumed time, and it was after a late dinner

that everything was pronounced in readiness for an ascension:

the meat and fish nicely cooked and packed for carriage, a pot of

strong coffee made and stowed beyond risk of leakage, the

flying-machine itself quivering in that gentle breeze as though

eager to find itself once more afloat far above the earth and its

obstructions to easy navigation.



Waldo expressed some grief at leaving a spot where game came in

such plentitude to find the hunter, and trout simply longed to be

caught; but upon being assured of other opportunities, perhaps

even more delightful, he sighed and gave consent to mount into

space.



"Only--don't ask me to tackle any of those big dictionary fellows

such as you talked about this morning, uncle Phaeton, for I

simply can't; they'd get away with my baggage while I was trying

to spell their names and title--and all that!"



Without any difficulty the aeromotor was sent out of and above

the forest, heading towards the northwest; that is, direct for

the heart of the Olympics, of whose marvels Professor Featherwit

held such exalted hopes and expectations.



Grim and forbidding those mountains looked as the air-ship sailed

swiftly over them, opening up a wider view when the bare, rugged

crest was once left fairly to the rear. Save for those bald

crowns, all below appeared a solid carpet of tree-tops, now

lower, there higher, yet ever the same: seemingly impenetrable

to man, should such an effort be made.



Once fairly within the charmed circle, leaving the rocky ridge

behind, Professor Featherwit slackened speed, permitting the ship

to drift onward at a moderate pace, one hand touching the

steering-gear, while its fellow held a pair of field-glasses to

his eager eyes.



All at once he gave a half-stifled cry, partly rising in his

excitement, then crying aloud in thrilling tones:



"The sea,--an inland sea!"





A DARING UNDERTAKING. A FLIGHT UNDERGROUND. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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