PENETRATING GRIM SECRETS.





Bruno caught an imperfect view of moving figures at no great

distance ahead, but ere he could fairly decide just what they

might be, his red-skinned guide swiftly whispered:



"More come look. You don't say. Ixtli fool 'em--easy!"



Making not the slightest attempt to avoid the issue, the young

Aztec stepped a little in advance of Gillespie, thus casting him

into partial eclipse, speaking briskly, as he met the two

Indians, only one of whom bore a light:



"It is trouble for nothing, brothers. There is no sign here. If

he saw aught, 'twas in a dream, I think. And now--hark!"



Even there in the subterranean recesses something of the wildly

excited uproar which followed Waldo's rash attempt to go

a-fishing after his fellow men, and the sighting of that awful

air-demon by the Indians, could be heard, and, without divining

its actual import, Ixtli adroitly turned it to his own advantage.



"They have found the strange dog without!" he cried, sharply.

"Come, my brothers, else we will be too late for--hasten, all!"



But only one-half of the present group obeyed, the two Indians

dashing at full speed towards the main entrance to the city of

the dead, leaving Bruno behind, wholly unsuspected, and Ixtli

chuckling gleefully over the favourable change in the situation.



"Dey go--we come. Dis way, brother," the Aztec spoke, moving in

the opposite direction, followed willingly enough by the now

pretty well bewildered paleface.



"Whither are we going?" Bruno felt impelled to ask, after a few

moments more of blind obedience. "How are we going to get out?

And my friends,--they must have been alarmed by that great drum!"



Ixtli made response by touch rather than in words, and, giving

his companion barely time sufficient to read aright that look of

warning, he extinguished the light, leaving themselves in

complete darkness.



Naturally anticipating fresh danger, Bruno strained his ears to

catch at least an inkling of its precise nature ere the trouble

could fairly close in; but only silence surrounded

them,--silence, and an almost palpable gloom.



"Not cat," assured Ixtli, in a soft-toned whisper, as he divined

the expectations entertained by his comrade in peril. "Nobody

come, now. All gone see what noise 'bout, yonder. You, me, all

right. Best mek no big talk, dough. Come--see!"



Apparently the young Aztec found it no easy matter to elect words

which should fairly convey his desired meaning, and, abruptly

giving over the effort, he moved on, one hand lightly closed upon

Bruno's wrist to guard against possible separation in that utter

darkness.



Nothing further was said until Ixtli again came to a halt,

Gillespie giving a low exclamation as he felt what appeared to be

a blank wall before them. Was this no thoroughfare? Were they

blocked in, to perish of starvation, unless earlier discovered by

the red-skinned searchers?



Far from agreeable thoughts, yet such swiftly flashed across the

young man's brain, lending an echo of harshness to his voice as

he spoke.



"Where are we now, Ixtli? How are we going to get out of this?

If you have led me into a trap--"



Finger-tips lightly brushed his lips, then the Aztec explained as

well he was able, thanks to his limited vocabulary.



Escape from the catacomb by the same route they had taken in

seeking refuge there was entirely out of the question. Even

though the redskins might have abandoned the search in that

precise quarter for the time being, thanks to the sudden alarm

which had broken forth in the valley, almost certainly there

would be an armed guard so stationed as to intercept any or all

persons who might so attempt to emerge.



This much Bruno gathered, then took his turn at the verbal oars.



"But we can't stay here, man, dear. Nothing to eat or to drink,

and my friends worrying over us, outside. We've got to get out;

I have, at any rate. The only question is, just how, and where?"



"Dere one way go," Ixtli made reply, even his lowered tones

betraying more than ordinary impressiveness, Bruno fancied.

"Mebbe easy, mebbe hard. Find dat, when try. We go dis way.

Best be still, dough!"



Bruno was ready enough to promise all that, just so action was

being taken, his uneasiness being by far too deep for rest or

repose. More on account of his uncle and his brother, though,

than for his own safety. He had not yet lost hope of extrication

from the perils which surely surrounded them, not quite abandoned

hope of rescuing the Children of the Sun as well.



Turning abruptly to the left, Ixtli led the way into what

appeared (through the senses of touch and hearing) to be a

narrow, winding tunnel, which presently took an upward incline,

then broadened into a chamber of greater or lesser dimensions;

the faint echoes told Gillespie there was an enlargement of some

description, but the utter darkness veiled all else.



Barely had the two adventurous youths come to a pause, than dull,

uncertain sounds came from almost directly above their heads;

and, after listening for a brief space, Ixtli disappointedly

breathed a fear that they would have to wait for the time being.



"Why? What's going on up yonder? And where are we, anyway?"



Beneath the great teocalli, Ixtli made answer in his disjointed

way of speaking. There the evil-minded paba, Tlacopa, reigned

supreme. And there, almost directly above their heads, stood the

sacrificial stone, upon whose flat surface the Sun Children would

be doomed to suffer the last penalty, provided Tlacopa won his

wicked will.



Bruno thrilled to his centre with fierce indignation as he,

little by little, gathered this information. Perish by such

hideous methods? Give up her fair young life--



For, rather queerly, considering that Ixtli spoke of both Victo

and Glady, he now had thought of--could see but that one lovely

face and shrinking figure,--face and form of the daughter alone.



Discovery might have come all too soon, but for Ixtli's slipping

a palm over those indignant lips and thus smothering the outbreak

which the young man could not avoid; then, recalled to ordinary

prudence, Bruno talked and listened by turns.



Ixtli contrived to make his white brother understand just how

they were situated at the time: in a secret channel of

communication with the great war temple, through which sanctuary

he had hoped to lead his friend, thence to escape from the valley

itself, if a favourable chance should offer. Now their way was

barred, and they could only wait. Unless--would Bruno keep close

guard over his tongue?



Yes. Anything, rather than remain wholly idle, like this.



Adding a few minor cautions, Ixtli took Gillespie by a wrist, and

stole noiselessly forward, climbing upward, over and into a

contrivance which Bruno vainly sought to recognise by the sense

of touch, but giving a thrill of amazement when his guide paused

long enough to whisper in his nearest ear:



"Dis war-god body. Stand up in teocalli, look on kill-stone.

Wait; you see, hear, all dat, now!"



Thanks to the close association of that night, with all its

attendant perils, Bruno was growing fairly skilful in

interpreting the broken sentences of his copper-hued chum, and he

now knew they were moving about within the hollow image of the

Aztecan war-god, Huitzilopochtli, while--



He caught sight of several small apertures, through which yellow

light came dimly, and, almost without thinking, applied his eyes

to the one most convenient, peering forth upon the broad

sacrificial stone, with its foul, blood-stained surface, the

little channels intended to drain off the superfluous hemorrhage,

together with the gloomy, repulsive surroundings. And, too, a

most abominable stench appeared to rise from the altar of death,

and Bruno shrunk back with a shiver of disgust.



"No talk loud!" softly breathed Ixtli, gripping an arm with

force. "Dey kill, if find now. Look, dat one Tlacopa; big

priest, you call. DEM help paba fool all people; so!"



Although his meaning was not fully apparent, Bruno caught renewed

interest, and once more peered forth upon the scene, weird and

impressive enough, even from a Christian point of view.



Headed by Tlacopa, a ceremony of some description was taking

place, lesser priests and other acolytes performing their various

parts, the incantations rising now loudly, now sinking to a

hollow monotone, the whole affair being none the less absorbing

when Bruno remembered that, perhaps, it might have some

connection with the vile plots against the Sun Children, if not

endangering life itself.



Gillespie likewise took note of various other graven images;

among them one of the not less hideous war-goddess, Teoyaomiqui,

or "divine war death," fitting consort for the mighty

"humming-bird" himself.



Meanwhile, Ixtli, who appeared to look upon the whole affair as a

more or less jolly good jest at the expense of his superstitious

people, took occasion to give his white brother a few pointers,

letting him see how easy it was for false oracles to be

manufactured to order; how certain the lightest wishes of the

head priest were to find speedy fulfilment at all times.



While thus divulging part of the mysteries of the temple, that

ceremony reached a finale, and the little crowd slowly melted

away, leaving but Tlacopa and a select few of his trusted

henchman. And Ixtli certainly caught enough of their talk to

alter his manner most materially.



"Come, quick!" he fiercely whispered in Bruno's ear, gripping an

arm, and fairly forcing the young man to accompany his retreat.



Not another word was spoken before the lower level was reached,

and then Gillespie broke the ice, asking what was the matter.



Dark though it was all around them, Bruno could tell by sense of

touch that his guide was powerfully agitated, and, though Ixtli

clearly hesitated before imparting the asked-for information,

persistence won the point; and then--



Imperfectly though that discovery was set forth, Gillespie

contrived to gather this much: Tlacopa decreed that the Sun

Children should be brought to trial, if not to actual execution,

when the morning sun arose!



"Never!" fiercely vowed Bruno, all on fire, as he recalled that

more than fair face. "Never,--while I live and draw breath!"





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