ASTOUNDING, YET TRUE.





The professor gave a great start at this almost reluctant

suggestion, shrinking back with a look which fell not far short

of being horrified. But then he rallied, forcing a laugh before

speaking.



"No, no, Bruno. All conditions are lacking to form the mirage of

the desert. And, too; everything was so distinct and clearly

outlined that one could--"



"Fairly feel those blessed bow-arrows tickling a fellow in the

short ribs," vigorously declared the younger Gillespie. "Not but

that--I say, uncle Phaeton?"



"What is it now, Waldo?"



"Reckon they're like any other people? Got boys and--and girls

among 'em, I wonder?"



"I daresay, yes, why not?" answered Featherwit, scarcely

realising what words were being shaped by his lips, while Bruno

broke into a brief-lived laugh, more at that half-sheepish

expression than at the query itself.



"Both boys and girls galore, I expect, Kid; but you needn't

borrow trouble on either score. You can outrun the lads, while

as for the fairer sex,--well, they'll take precious good care to

keep well beyond your reach,--especially if you wear such another

fascinating grin as--"



"Oh, you go to thunder, Bruno Gillespie!"



Through all this interchange the air-ship was maintaining a wide

sweep, drawing nearer the forest beneath, if only to keep hidden

from the eyes of the strange people in yonder deep valley. Yet

the gaze of Phaeton Featherwit as a rule kept turned towards that

particular point, his eyes on fire, his lips twitching, his whole

demeanour that of one who feels a discovery of tremendous

importance lies just before him.



"Are we going to land, uncle Phaeton?" queried Bruno, taking note

of that preoccupation, which might easily prove dangerous under

existing circumstances.



That question served to recall the professor to more material

points, and, after a keen, sweeping look around, he nodded

assent.



"Yes, as soon as I can discover or secure a fair chance. I wish

to see more--I must secure a fairer view of the--of yonder

place."



"Will it not be too dangerous, though? Not for us, especially,

uncle, but for the aerostat? Even if these be not the people you

imagine--"



"They are past all doubt a remnant of the ancient Aztecs. Yonder

lies the true Lost City, and we are--oh, try to comprehend all

that statement means, my lads! Picture to yourselves what

boundless fame and unlimited credit awaits our report to the

outer world! The benighted world! The besotted world!

The--the--"



"While we'll form the upsotted world, or a portion of it, without

something is done,--and that in a howling hurry, too!" fairly

spluttered Waldo, as the again neglected air-ship sped swiftly

towards a more elevated portion of that earth, part of the tall

hill-crest which acted as nature's barricade to yonder by nature

depressed valley.



"Time enough, lad, time enough, since we are going to land,"

coolly assured the professor, deftly manipulating the

steering-gear and still curying around those tree-crowned hills.

"If we are really hunted after, 'twill naturally be in the

quarter of our vanishment, while by alighting around yonder,

nearly at right angles with our initial approach, we will have

naught to fear from the--the Aztecan clans!"



Clearly the professor had settled in his own mind just what lay

before them, and nothing short of the Lost City of the Aztecs

would come anywhere near satisfying that exalted ideal. And,

taking all points into full consideration, was there anything so

very absurd in his method of reasoning, or of drawing a

deduction?



Still, that exaltation did not prevent uncle Phaeton from taking

all essential precautions, and it was only when an especially

secure landing-place was sighted that he really attempted to

touch the earth.



Fully one-half of that wide circuit had been made, and as nothing

could be detected to give birth to fears for either self or

air-ship, the aeronauts skilfully landed their vessel with only

the slightest of jars. It was a well-screened location, where

naught could be seen of the flying-machine until close at hand,

yet so arranged as to make a hasty flight a very easy matter

should the occasion ever arise.



Not until the landing was effected and all made secure, did

Professor Featherwit speak again. Then it was with gravely

earnest speech which suitably affected his nephews.



"Above all things, my dear lads, bear ever in mind this one

fact,--we are not here to fight. We do not come as conquerors,

weapons in hand, hearts filled with lust of blood. To the

contrary, we are on a peaceful mission, hoping to learn, trusting

to enlighten, with malice towards none, but honest love for all

those who may wear the human shape, be they of our own colour

or--or--otherwise."



"That's what's the matter with Hannah's cat!" cheerfully chipped

in the irrepressible Waldo. "I say, uncle Phaeton, is it just a

lie-low here until yonder fellows grow tired of looking for what

they can't find, then a flight on our part; or will we--"



"Have we voyaged so far and seen so much, to rest content with so

very little?" exclaimed the professor, hardly as precise of

speech as under ordinary conditions. "No, no, my lads! Yonder

lies the greatest discovery of the nineteenth century, and we

are--Get a hustle on, boys! The day is waning, and with so much

to see, to study, to--Come, I say!"



In spite of his initial attempt to impress his nephews with a due

sense of the heavy responsibilities which rested upon them,

Phaeton Featherwit was far more excited than either one of the

brothers. Doubtless he more nearly appreciated the importance of

this wondrous discovery, provided his now firm belief was

correct,--that yonder stood a solid, substantial city, erected by

the hands of a people whom common consent had agreed were long

since wiped out of existence.



The story told by Cooper Edgecombe, backed up by the articles

taken from the person of the warrior whom he had slain in

self-defence, certainly had its weight; while the brief and

imperfect glimpse which he had won of yonder valley helped to

bear out that astounding belief. And yet, how could it be true?



Really believing, yet forced by more sober reason to doubt, the

poor professor was literally "in a sweat" long ere another view

could be won of the depressed valley, although the landing of the

air-ship was so well chosen as to make that trip of the briefest

duration consistent with prudence.



The natural obstacles were considerable, however, and as they

picked their way along, the brothers for the first time began to

gain a fairly accurate idea of what was meant by the term, a

virgin forest.



To all seeming, the human foot had never ventured here, nor were

any marks or spoor of wild beasts perceptible on either side.



Although the aerostat had landed not far below the crest of those

hills, the adventurers had to climb higher, before winning the

coveted view, partly because the most practicable route led down

into and along a winding gulch, where the footing was far less

treacherous than upon the higher ground, cumbered, as that was,

with the leaf-mould of centuries.



Still, half an hour's steady labour brought the little squad to

the coveted point, and once again Professor Featherwit was almost

literally stricken speechless,--for there, far below their

present location, spread out in level expanse, lay the secret

valley with all its marvels.



Far more extensive than it had appeared by that initial glimpse,

the valley itself seemed composed of fertile soil, yet, by aid of

the river which cut through, near its centre, irrigating ditches

conveyed water to every acre, thus ensuring bounteous crops of

grain and of fruit as well.



Numerous buildings stood in irregular array, for the most part of

no great height, nor with many pretensions towards architectural

beauty or grace of outline; but in the centre of the valley

upreared its head a massive structure, pyramidal in shape,

consisting of five comparatively narrow terraces, connected one

with another only at each of the four corners, where stood a

wide-stepped flight of stones.



"Behold!" huskily gasped the professor, intensely excited, yet

still able to control the field-glass through which he was

eagerly scanning yonder marvels. "The temple of the gods! And,

yonder, the temple of sacrifice, unless my memory is--and look!

The people are--they wear just such garb as--Oh, marvellous!

Amazing! Astounding! Incredible--yet true!"



Although their uncle could thus take in the various details to

better advantage, still the intervening distance was not so great

as to entirely debar the brothers from finding no little to

interest them, as was readily proven by their various

exclamations.



"Just look at the people, will ye, now? Flopping around like

they hadn't any bigger business than to--Reckon they're looking

for us to come back, Bruno?"



"Or watching for the monster bird of prey, rather," suggested the

elder Gillespie. "Of course they couldn't distinguish our faces,

and our bodies were fairly well hidden. And, even more, of

course, they must be totally ignorant of all such things as

flying-machines and the like."



"Poor, ignorant devils!" sympathetically sighed the youngster.

"Well, we'll have to do a little missionary work in this quarter,

before taking our departure, eh, uncle Phaeton?"



With a start, Featherwit descended out of the clouds in which he

had been lost ever since winning a fair view of the secret city;

and now, rallying his wits and fairly aglow with eager interest

in this marvellous discovery, he began pointing out the various

objects of special importance, naming them with glib assurance,

then reminding the boys how wonderfully similar all was to what

had existed in Old Mexico before the conquest.



Bruno listened with greater interest than his brother could

summon at will. For one thing, he had long been a lover of the

genial Prescott, and, now that his memory was freshened in part,

was able to closely follow the course of that little lecture,

noting each strong point made by the professor in bolstering up

his delightful theory.



That monologue, however, was abruptly broken in upon by Waldo,

who gave an eager exclamation, as he reached forth a pointing

finger:



"Look! There's a white woman yonder,--two of 'em, in fact!"





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