DOWN AMONG THE DEAD.





Ixtli spoke with a degree of earnestness which left no room for

doubt, even if the young man's own keen sense of hearing had not

given warning but an instant later.



Ominous sounds came from the entrance, which had served them but

so brief a time gone by, and Bruno knew that, even if they had

escaped being seen while thus attempting to win such a gruesome

refuge, the possibility of their having elected just such a line

of flight had occurred to some of the redskins.



Gillespie heard the heavy doors open, then clang to again. He

was fairly confident that some of the Aztecs had entered,

although as yet the utter darkness hindered further recognition.



"What next, Ixtli?" he whispered, lips almost touching the face

of his young guide, as they stood close together in the mirk.

"They can't take me alive! Is it fight, or--"



"No fight yet," gently breathed the Aztec in turn. "Dey look,

dat not make sure find. Dey try see; we try not see all time.

Dey come, we go,--like dis!"



Catching a hand within his own clasp, Ixtli led Bruno away in

that utter darkness, seemingly well acquainted with the lay of

the ground, although it quickly became evident that there must be

more than one direct passage. Bruno felt convinced that there

were other chambers turning at right angles to their present

course, though it might have bothered the young man to give

entirely satisfactory reasons for such belief.



Ixtli did not flee fast nor far, in that first spurt, pausing

shortly to turn face towards the rear, a low, musical chuckle

coming through his lips.



"Dey come look, got no eyes for see in dark," he explained,

barely loud enough for Bruno to catch his meaning. "We play fool

dem all; dat be fun; heap fun all time over!"



Ixtli was scarcely as precise of speech while under the influence

of excitement as when he had ample time in which to pick and

choose his words; but there was little room for mistaking his

meaning, which, after all, is fairly sufficient.



But this time the young brave was in error, for only a few

moments later both fugitives caught sight of a dim light in

hurried motion far towards the entrance to these underground

crypts. That warned them of added peril, and Ixtli's chuckle

died abruptly away.



"They'll fetch us now," grimly muttered Bruno, shaking his fairly

athletic shoulders and fingering the knife at his belt as though

making preparations for an inevitable struggle. "All right.

They may kill, but I'll furnish some red paint for my tombstone,

anyway!"



It may be doubted whether Ixtli fully appreciated this

conclusion, yet he divined something of what was spoken, and made

swift response:



"No kill yet. Dey look, we hide. Mebbe not find. Mebbe play

fool all over--yes!"



"Where can we hide that lights won't ferret us out, though? If a

fellow might only have the same advantage; here in this darkness

I'm not worth a sick kitten!"



Just a bit disgustedly came the words, but Bruno was not giving

over in weak despair. No matter how vast the odds might show

against him, he would put up a gallant fight as long as he could

lift his hand or strike a blow.



Still, he was by no means anxious for the crisis to arrive. He

would far rather run than fight, under existing circumstances;

but whither, and how?



Ixtli took it upon himself to solve the perplexing enigma, in a

whisper bidding his white brother follow with as little sound as

might be, once more hurrying away through the gloomy blackness,

which was by no means rendered more agreeable to Bruno by that

fleeting glimpse of the dead men's bones.



There was little room left for doubting the truth. Their

presence in the death-cells surely was more than suspected,

judging from the actions of yonder redskins, who flashed the

light over and into each angle and corner, each niche and jog,

where a human being might possibly seek concealment.



They were not so many in number, but still a larger force than

could well be met with success by two youths, even granting that

Ixtli would turn lethal weapons against his own people, which

Bruno felt was by no means a settled fact.



For some little time the young men kept without that limited

circle of light, watching each movement made by the searchers,

and at the same time taking care that none of the little party

stole a dangerous march upon them by hastening in advance of the

lights.



Ixtli apparently enjoyed the affair, much as a child might a

successful game of I-spy, for he emitted occasional chuckles, and

let fall soft whispers which, if caught by other ears, certainly

would not have deeply benefited the fugitives when captured.



Thanks to that slow progress, rendered thus by the care and

minuteness of the search, Bruno began to marvel at the extent of

the catacombs, and almost involuntarily calculate how many

centuries it must have taken to accumulate such enormous

quantities of remains. For, thanks to yonder prying light, he

could see how high those grim relics of perishing mortality were

piled up in tiers, with here and there upright skeletons in

position of greater prominence.



Perhaps Gillespie might have been better able to appreciate

Ixtli's amusement had he even an inkling as to how this game of

hide-and-go-seek was fated to end. That an end must come,

eventually, was a foregone conclusion. And then?



He ventured to ask Ixtli how they were to escape detection when

they could retreat no farther, but before an answer could be

fairly shaped, that end seemed actually upon them.



Without sound or warning of any sort, another bright light showed

at a considerable distance in the opposite direction, and, as

Bruno stared that way, he made out several armed warriors who

appeared to be engaged in that same occupation: searching that

city of the dead for the living!



Thus caught between two fires, there seemed only one course to

pursue, and, with the courage of his fathers, Bruno spoke in low,

grim tones to his young guide:



"No use for you to join in the mix, Ixtli. I'll do the best I

know how, but if I can't make the riffle, if I go down for good

and all, I ask you to convey the news to my friends. You will?"



But Ixtli was not at the end of his resources, and gripping a

wrist, he urged Bruno towards yonder second light, speaking

hastily as they moved along towards the edge of that wide

passage. No fight, yet. Best hide; mebbe no find; dat best try

first. Den Ixtli fight like white brother,--fast!"



There was time for scant speech, for just then the two parties

seemed, for the first time, to catch sight of each other, and

while the brave bearing the rude lantern still maintained his

slow movements, searching well as he came, the other Indians came

in advance, giving the fugitives barely time in which to crouch

down under temporary cover.



The moment these enemies had passed them by, Ixtli urged Bruno

on, then, in swift whispers, instructed him how to perfect his

hiding, even aiding the young paleface into one of the upright

crypts, back of a grim skeleton, the mouldering blankets

assisting in covering the one of flesh and blood.



After like fashion, the Aztec sought cover on the opposite side

of the passage. None too quickly, either; for now the single

searcher drew dangerously nigh, peering into every practicable

hiding-place on either side, before moving onward.



Little by little he drew closer, while the other band of

searchers apparently turned off into a side passage, or large

chamber, since nothing could be seen or heard of them by the

fugitives.



In all probability, Ixtli's bold ruse would have proved a

complete success, for the Aztec warrior showed no suspicion as he

drew nearer; but it was not to be thus.



Fairly holding his breath, lest he disturb some of the dry bones

immediately in front of himself, Bruno waited and hoped, only to

feel his blood chill, and his heart fail him, as a sickening

horror crept over his brain; nor was that the only creeping

thing,--worse luck!



Past all room for doubting, his entrance into that crypt had

disturbed the repose of a snake of some description; for now he

could feel the loathsome reptile crawling slowly up his back,

turning the skin beneath to scorching ice in its horrid passage.



One horrible nightmare minute that lasted, then the serpent

paused upon his shoulder and biceps, touching his cheek with

nose, then drawing back its ugly head to give an ominous hiss.



Human flesh and blood could endure no more, and Bruno flung the

snake violently off, striking forcibly against that mass of dry

bones as he did so. With a rattling clatter, the skeleton lost

its frail coherence and tumbled outward, leaving Bruno fairly

exposed within the niche.



With a cry the Aztec warrior turned in that direction, but ere he

could fetch his light to bear upon the right spot, Ixtli sprung

forth to the rescue, hooting like a frightened owl, as he dashed

the light to earth, and, at the same time, deftly tripping the

Indian headlong.



Swift as thought itself he followed up the advantage thus won,

smiting the fallen brave heavily upon the crown with a clubbed

thighbone, depriving him of sensibility for the time being at

least. And then snatching up the still burning light, he called,

in guarded tones, to his white friend:



"Come, brother, play hunt, now! Fast--not stop here; dat bad for

you see by dem so soon. Dat good you go--like dis way!"



Scarcely realising just what fresh ruse the Aztec had in mind,

but far from recovered from that horrible fear of death from

poisonous fangs, Gillespie submitted, Ixtli hurrying him away,

turning off into what appeared to be a side passage, less

spacious than that to which they had until then confined their

retreat.



The young Aztec hastily explained his present scheme, which was

to play the role of searchers as well; and scarcely had he made

that project known, than another difficult test was offered their

courage.





DISCUSSING WAYS AND MEANS. EDWARD LEAR facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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