DISCUSSING WAYS AND MEANS.





In good measure prepared for some such result, in case their

expectations should prove true, friendly hands at once closed

upon the exile, hurrying him back, and still more completely

under cover, as quickly as might be.



Cooper Edgecombe seemed as wax in their hands, not utterly

deprived of consciousness, but rather like one dazed by some

totally unexpected blow. He made not the slightest resistance,

yielding to each impulse given, shivering and weak as one just

rallying from an almost mortal illness.



Yet there came an occasional flash to his eyes which warned the

wary professor of impending trouble, and as quickly as might be

the stunned aeronaut was removed from the point of observation,

taken by short stages back to the spot where rested the

flying-machine.



Ixtli seemed something awed by this (to him) inexplicable conduct

on the part of the gaunt-limbed stranger, but gave his new-found

friends neither trouble nor cause for worry, bearing them company

and even lending a hand whenever he thought it might be needed.



The Gillespie brothers were far more deeply stirred, as was

natural, but even Waldo contrived to keep a fair guard over his

at times unruly member, speaking but little during that retreat.



With each minute that elapsed Cooper Edgecombe gained in bodily

powers, and while his mental strength was slower to respond, that

proved to be a blessing rather than otherwise.



The rendezvous was barely gained ere he gave a hoarse cry of

reviving memory, then strove to break away from that friendly

care, calling wildly for his wife, his daughter, fancying them in

some dire peril from which alone his arms could preserve them.



It was a painful scene as well as a trying one, that which

followed closely, and respite only came after bonds had been

applied to the limbs of the madman,--for such Cooper Edgecombe

assuredly was, just then.



There were tears in the professor's eyes, as he strove hardest to

soothe the sufferer, assuring him that his loved ones should be

restored to his arms, yet repeatedly reminding him that any rash

action taken then must almost certainly work against their better

interests.



The exile grew less violent, but that was more through physical

exhaustion than aught else, and what had, from the very first,

appeared a difficult enigma, now looked far worse.



Only when fairly well assured that the sufferer would not attract

unwelcome attention their way through too boisterous shouting,

did the professor draw far enough away for quiet consultation

with his nephews.



Mr. Edgecombe was deposited within the air-ship, secured in such

a manner that it would be well-nigh impossible for him to do

either himself or the machine material injury, no matter how

violent he might become; and hence, in case of threatened trouble

from the inmates of the Lost City, flight would not be seriously

hindered through caring for him.



Professor Featherwit now gleaned from his nephews pretty much all

they could tell him concerning sights and events since his

departure in quest of the exile. That proved to be very little

more than he had already learned, and contained still less which

seemed of especial benefit to that particular enigma awaiting

solution.



True, Waldo suggested that Ixtli be employed as a medium of

communication between the Sun Children and themselves; but,

possibly because, as a rule, this irrepressible youngster's ideas

were generally the wildest and most far-fetched imaginable, uncle

Phaeton frowned upon the plan.



No; the young Aztec might prove true at heart, even as

indications went, but the risk of so trusting him would prove far

too great.



"That's just because you haven't known and slept with him, like

we have," declared Waldo. "He's red on the outside, but he's got

just as white a soul as the best of us,--bar none."



Bruno likewise appeared to think well of the young brave, and

suggested an amendment to Waldo's motion,--that he accompany

Ixtli into the sunken valley, covered by the friendly shades of

night, there to open communication with the Sun Children.



"By so doing, we could make certain of their identity," the young

man argued, earnestly. "That, it appears to me, is the first

step to be taken. For, in spite of the apparent recognition by

Mr. Edgecombe, it is possible that no actual relationship

exists."



"What of that?" bluntly cut in the younger Gillespie. "Don't you

reckon strangers'd like to take a little walk, just as well as

any other people?"



"Patience, my lad," interposed the professor. "While we seem in

duty bound to lend aid and assistance to women in actual

distress, we can only serve them with their own free will and

accord. Granting that the women we saw upon the teocalli were

other than those believed by our afflicted friend--"



"But, uncle, look at their names! And don't Ixtli say--tell 'em

all over again, pardner, won't ye?" urged Waldo, taking a burning

interest in the matter, as was his custom when fairly involved.



The young Aztec complied as well as lay within his power, giving

it as his fixed opinion that sore trouble, if not actual peril,

awaited the Children of the Sun, unless assisted by powerful

friends. He spoke of the mighty chieftain, Prince Hua, and of

the high priest, Tlacopa, who was, to all seeming, playing

directly into the hands of the 'Tzin.



"He say Mother of Gods call--loud! He say sacrifice, and

dat--no, no! Quetzal' send--Quetzal' save--MUST save Victo,

Glady!"



Further questioning resulted in but little more information,

though, as Ixtli grew calmer, he emphasised such statements as he

had already made, elaborating them a trifle. And, by this, his

questioners learned that, humanly speaking, the fate of the Sun

God's Children depended almost entirely upon the whim or fancy of

the chief paba of the teocalli.



Through Tlacopa issued the awesome oracles, and when his voice

thundered forth the dread fiat, who dared to openly rebel?



Further questioning brought forth one more important fact,--that

there was absolutely no hope of either Victo or Glady coming

forth from the valley, either by night or by day. While

ostensibly free of will as they were of limb, neither woman was

permitted to leave yonder temple, save under armed escort; and

guards were on duty each hour of the day and night.



"But we could get to see and speak with them, Ixtli?" asked

Bruno, eager to reach some fair understanding as to the future

course of action.



"Yes, white brother, go with Ixtli," came the hesitating reply;

but then the Aztec caught one of Gillespie's hands, holding it in

close contrast to his own brown paw, shaking his head doubtingly.



"No like. Keen eye, dem people. Watch close. Find 'nother

white skin--bad!"



"You hear that, Bruno?" asked the professor, really relieved at

such positive evidence in conflict with the rash proposition made

by the young man.



"Of course I thought of going under cover of the night, uncle,

and surely it would not be such a difficult matter to darken my

face and hands? With dirt, if nothing better can be found. And

if I wore the clothes you brought from the cavern, uncle

Phaeton?"



"That's the ticket!" broke in Waldo, eagerly. "Why, in a rig

like that, I could turn the trick my own self!"



The consultation was broken off at this juncture by a faint

summons from Cooper Edgecombe, and Professor Featherwit was only

too glad of the excuse, hurrying over to the flying-machine,

finding to his great joy that the exile was now far more like his

old-time self.



Still, great caution was used in revealing all, and it was not

until considerably later in the day that Mr. Edgecombe felt

capable of taking part in the discussion of ways and means.



He declared that his recognition had been complete, in spite of

the long years which had elapsed since losing sight of his dear

ones; and he earnestly vowed to never give over until their

rescue was effected, or he had lost his life while making the

attempt.



While the two air-voyagers were thus engaged in talk, Bruno

silently stole away with Ixtli, taking a bundle along, and

leaving Waldo to throw their uncle off the track in case his

suspicions should be prematurely awakened. Then, side by side,

two Indian braves silently approached the aerostat, causing

Professor Featherwit to make a hasty dive for his dynamite gun to

repel a fancied onslaught.



"Sold again, and who comes next?" merrily exploded Waldo, dancing

about in high glee as the supposed redskin slowly turned around

for inspection before speaking, in familiar tones:



"Would there be such an enormous risk of discovery, uncle

Phaeton, provided I put lock and seal upon my lips, save for the

ladies?"



That experiment proved to be a complete success, and after Cooper

Edgecombe added his pathetic pleadings to the young man's own

arguments, Professor Featherwit gradually gave way, though still

with reluctance.



"I could never find forgiveness should harm come to your mother's

son, boy," he huskily murmured, his arm stealing about Bruno's

middle. "I'd far rather venture myself, and--why not, pray?" as

Waldo burst into an involuntary laugh.



Then he turned upon Ixtli, a hand resting upon each shoulder

while he gazed keenly into those lustrous dark orbs for a full

minute in perfect silence. Then he spoke, slowly, gravely:



"Can we trust you, friend? Would you sell the boy to whose arm

you owe your own life, unto his enemies? Would you lead him

blindly to his death, Ixtli, son of Aztotl?"



A wondering gaze, then the Indian appeared to flush hotly. He

shook off those far from steady hands, drawing his knife and with

free fingers tearing open his dress above the heart. Thrusting

the weapon into Bruno's hand, he spoke in clear, distinct

accents:



"Strike hard, white brother! Open heart; see if all black!"



Eye to eye the two youths stood for a brief space in silence,

then the weapon was let fall, and Bruno gripped the Indian's hand

and shook it most cordially.



"Strike you, Ixtli? I'd just as soon smite my brother by birth!"



"And that's mighty right, too!" cried Waldo, impetuously.



"I really begin to believe that you are all in the right, while I

alone am left in the wrong," frankly admitted the professor.





DINAH'S NEW YEAR'S PRESENT. DOWN AMONG THE DEAD. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback