AGAINST OVERWHELMING ODDS.





This double appearance--for Ixtli kept fair pace with his

hot-headed white brother--caused no little stir, and added

considerable to the partial bewilderment which had fallen over

that audience.



Prince Hua shouted forth savage threats, but he, as well as the

paba, was fairly demoralised for the moment by the totally

unexpected failure of their carefully laid schemes.



Seeing his chance, Aztotl bade his men escort the Sun Children

from the Hall of Sacrifice back to their own abiding-place,

barely noticing his son, and paying no heed at all to the

disguised paleface.



With spears ready for stroke or parry as occasion might demand,

the guard faced about and slowly moved away from the great stone

of sacrifice, rigid of face, cool of nerve, ready to die if must

be, yet never once thinking of disobedience to orders, or of

playing cur to save life.



Almost involuntarily the crowd parted before that measured

advance, giving way until a fair pathway lay open, along which

the body-guard moved with neither haste nor hesitation, outwardly

ignorant of the fact that ugly cries and dangerous gestures were

coming thicker and faster their way.



Scores of other voices caught up the fierce cry given by the head

priest, and now the temple was ringing throughout with demands

that the false Sun Children should pay full penalty, should be

haled to the sacrificial stone, there to purge themselves without

further delay!



Others showed an inclination to favour the descendants of

Quetzal', and thus the widely conflicting shouts and cries formed

a medley which was fairly deafening.



For one of his fierce temper the Red Heron showed a marvellous

coolness throughout that perilous retreat, and never more than

during the first few seconds. Then a single injudicious word or

too hasty movement might easily have precipitated a fight, where

the vast audience would surely have brought disaster, whether the

majority so willed or not.



Holding his men well in hand, moving only as rapidly as prudence

justified, yet losing neither time nor ground, where both were of

such vital importance; Aztotl forced a passage from the great

Hall of Sacrifice down to the level, then out into the open air,

where one could see and fight if needs be.



Through all this, Bruno Gillespie held the position he had taken,

one hand gripping tightly his maquahuitl, but placing his main

dependence upon the revolver which nestled conveniently within

the folds of his sash, one nervous forefinger touching the curved

trigger.



He could not help seeing that the danger was great. He felt

certain that they could not retreat much farther without coming

to blows, when the odds would be overwhelmingly against them.

Yet never for an instant did he regret having taken such a

decided step; not for one moment did he give thought to himself.



Almost within reach of his hand, if extended at the length of his

arm, moved the fair maiden whose face and form had made so deep

an impression upon his mind and his heart. She was in peril.

She needed aid. That was enough!



Then the briefly stunned Tlacopa rushed forth from his desecrated

temple, wildly flourishing his arms, furiously denouncing both

the Sun Children and their body-guard, thundering forth the

curses of all the gods upon the heads of those who refrained from

arresting the evil ones.



"The mighty Mother of Gods calls for her own! Seize them!

Strike down the impious dogs who dare attempt to defraud our

Mother! Seize them! To the sacrifice--to the sacrifice!"



Equally loud of voice, the Prince Hua came leaping down to the

sandy level, urging his people to the assault, offering almost

fabulous sums as reward for the brave Aztec whose arm should lay

yonder traitorous Red Heron prone in the dust.



The crisis came, and the dogs of war were let loose.



An arrow whizzed narrowly past the feathered helmet worn by the

captain of the guards. A stone came humming out of sling, to be

deftly dashed aside by Aztotl's shield ere it could fairly smite

that gold-crowned head as, outwardly calm and composed, Victo

aided her trembling daughter on towards the Temple of the Sun

God, where alone they might look for safety.



But would it be found even there?



No! For, at savage howl from lips of the high priest, a strong

force of armed redskins took up position at the teocalli,

blocking each one of the four flights of stone steps in order to

intercept the body-guard, while still closer pressed the yelling,

screeching, frantic heathen of both sexes and all ages.



Aztotl saw how he had been flanked, but made no sign, even while

slightly turning course for another temple at less distance, a

single word being sufficient to post his true-hearts.



So far not a single blow had been struck by the retreating party,

although great provocation had been given them. More than one of

their number was bleeding, yet all were afoot, and still capable

of holding ranks. Then--



Bravest of the brave, a man among men in spite of his tender

years, Ixtli laid down his life in defence of his idolised Victo.



From one of that maddened rabble came a heavy stone, flung with

all the power of a sinewy arm and great sling. Smitten fairly

between the eyes, the poor lad's skull was crushed, as a giant

hand might mash an eggshell.



One gasping sigh, then the lad sunk to earth, dead ere he could

fairly measure his length thereupon.



For a single instant Aztotl seemed as one stupefied, but then an

awful uproar burst from his labouring lungs, and he hurled his

heavy javelin full at yonder murderer, winging it with a father's

curses.



Swift flew the dart, but fully as quickly sank that varlet, the

head of the spear scraping his skull, to pass on and smite with

death one even more evil, if that might be.



Full in the throat Tlacopa was stricken, the broad blade of

copper tearing a passage through, and the shaft following after

for the greater portion of its length. Unable to scream, though

his visage was hideously distorted by mingled fear and agony, the

high priest caught the wood in both hands, even as he reeled to

partly turn, then fall upon his face, dead,--thrice dead!



With a wild thrill of grief and horror, Bruno Gillespie saw his

red brother reel in cruel death, and, for the moment heedless of

his own peril, which surely was doubled thereby, he sprang that

way, to stoop and catch that quivering shape in his eager hands.



Too late, save to show his comradeship. That heavy stone had

only too surely performed its grim mission. Dead! Poor lad:

dead, while seeking to save another!



With a fierce cry of angry mourning, Bruno lifted the mutilated

corpse in his arms, trying to toss it over a shoulder, to bear

away from risk of trampling under the heedless feet of the

yelling heathen; but it was not to be. Another stone smote his

arm near the elbow, breaking no bone, yet so benumbing the member

as to temporarily disable it, causing that precious burden to

drop to earth once more.



Then came an awful outcry from the people, whom the sight of

their high-priest reeling in death had, for a few fleeting

seconds, fairly stupefied. Cries which meant much to the living,

and before which even that band of true-hearts receded with

slightly quickened pace.



With the others fell back Bruno, leaving his hand-wood lying

beside the lifeless corpse of his redskinned brother-at-heart,

but drawing forth the weapon which he knew so much better how to

use.



The fierce lust of vengeance now seized upon him, heart and

brain. He shouted forth grim defiance to that howling crew, and

as the deadly missiles came in thickening clouds, carrying death

and wounds to the bodyguard of the Sun Children, he opened fire,

shooting to kill.



Entirely without firearms themselves, and in all probability

ignorant of such an instrument of destruction, this might have

produced a far more beneficial result under other circumstances.

As it was now, few, if any, took heed of what they could not hear

above that awful tumult, and those who felt the boring lead never

rose up to give their testimony.



Closer crowded the superstition-ridden heathen, showering

missiles of all descriptions upon the body-guard, confounding all

with the one to whose javelin their head priest owed his

death,--only to recoil once more, in fierce awe, as another

victim of high rank paid forfeit his life for the death of Ixtli,

sole offspring of Aztotl, the Red Heron.





AGAINST IDLENESS AND MISCHIEF AN ENIGMA FOR THE BROTHERS. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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