SOMETHING LIKE A WHITE ELEPHANT.





Only a lad, slight-limbed and slenderly framed to the eye, yet

for all that gifted with a gallant heart, else he surely must

have been cowed to terror by the huge bulk of such a dire

adversary at close quarters.



Instead of trying to find safety in headlong flight, the Indian

stood at bay, with both hands firmly gripping the shaft of his

copper-bladed spear, at far too close quarters for employing bow

and arrows, while the copper knife in his sash was held in

reserve for still closer work.



Snarling, growling, displaying its great teeth while clumsily

waving enormous paws which bore talons of more than a

finger-length, the bear was balanced upon its hindquarters,

evidently just ready to lurch forward with striking paws and

gnashing teeth.



Its enormous weight would prove more than sufficient to end the

contest ere it fairly began, while a slight stroke from those

taloned paws would both slay and mutilate.



No one was better aware of all this than the Indian lad himself,

yet he took the initiative, swiftly darting his spear forward,

lending to its keen point all the power of both arms and body. A

suicidal act it certainly appeared, yet one which could scarcely

make his position more perilous.



An awful roar burst from bruin as he felt that thrust, the blade

sinking deep and biting shrewdly; but then he plunged forward,

striking savagely as he dropped.



The Indian strove to leap backward an instant after delivering

his stroke, but still clung to the spear-shaft. This hampered

his action to a certain degree, yet in all probability that stout

ashen shaft preserved his life, which that wound would otherwise

have forfeited.



The stroke but brushed a shoulder, nor did a claw take fair

effect, yet the stripling was felled to earth as though smitten

by a thunderbolt.



All this before the brothers could solve the enigma thus offered

them so unexpectedly; but that fall, and the awful rage displayed

by the wounded grizzly as he briefly reared erect to grind

asunder the spearshaft, decided the white lads, and, temporarily

forgetting how dangerously nigh were yonder Aztecan hosts, both

Bruno and Waldo opened fire with their Winchester rifles, sending

shot after shot in swift succession into the bulky brute, fairly

beating him backward under their storm of lead.



Victory came right speedily, but its finale was thrilling, if not

fatal, the huge beast toppling forward to drop heavily upon the

young savage, just as he was recovering sufficiently from shock

and surprise to begin a struggle for his footing.



Firing another couple of shots while rifle-muzzle almost touched

an ear, the brothers quickly turned attention towards the fallen

Indian, more than half believing him a corpse, crushed out of

shape upon the underlying rocks by that enormous carcass.



Fortunately for all concerned, the young Aztec was lying in a

natural depression between two firm rocks, and while his

extrication proved to be a matter of both time and difficulty,

saying nothing of main strength, success finally rewarded the

efforts of our young Samaritans.



The grizzly was stone-dead. The Indian seemed but a trifle

better, though that came through compression rather than any

actual wounds from tooth or talon. And the brothers themselves

were fairly dismayed.



Not until that rescue was finally accomplished did either lad

give thought to what might follow; but now they drew back a bit,

interchanging looks of puzzled doubt and worry.



"Right in it, up to our necks, old man! And we can't very well

kill the critter, can we?"



"Of course not; but it may cause us sore trouble if--"



Just then the young Aztec rallied sufficiently to move, drawing a

step nearer the brothers, right hand coming out in greeting,

while left palm was pressed close above his heart. And--still

greater marvel!



"Much obliged--me, you, brother!"



If yonder bleeding grizzly had risen erect and made just such a

salutation as this, it could scarcely have caused greater

surprise to either Bruno or Waldo, looking upon this being, as

they quite naturally did, in the light of a genuine "heathen,"

hence incapable of speaking any known tongue, much less the

glorious Americanese.



True, there was a certain odd accent, a curious dwelling upon

each syllable, but the words themselves were distinctly

pronounced and beyond misapprehension.



"Why, I took you for a howling Injun!" fairly exploded Waldo,

then stepping forward to clasp the proffered member, giving it a

regular "pump-handle shake" by way of emphasis. "And here you

are, slinging the pure United States around just as though it

didn't cost a cent, and you held a mortgage on the whole

dictionary! Why, I can't--well, well, now!"



For once in a way the glib-tongued lad was at a loss just what to

say and how to say it. For, after all, this surely was a

redskin, and the professor had explicitly warned them

against--oh, dear!



Was it all a dizzy dream? For the Aztec drew back, speaking

rapidly in an unknown tongue, then sinking to earth like one

overpowered by sudden physical weakness.



Bruno Gillespie, too, was recalling his uncle's earnest cautions,

and now took prompt action. He quickly secured the weapons which

had been scattered as the Indian fell before the grizzly's paw,

then the brothers drew a little apart to consult together.



"What'll we do about it?" whisperingly demanded Waldo, keeping a

wary eye upon yonder redskin. "You tell, for blamed if I know

how!"



"We daren't let him go free, else he might fetch the whole tribe

upon our track," said Bruno, in the same low tones, no whit less

sorely perplexed as to their wisest course.



"No, and yet we can't very well kill him, either! If we hadn't

come along just as we did, or if--but he's a man, after all! Who

could stand by and see that ugly brute make a meal off even an

Injun?"



Bruno cast an uneasy look around, at the same time deftly

refilling the partly exhausted magazine of his Winchester.



"Load up, Waldo. Burning powder reaches mighty far, even here in

the hills; and who knows,--the whole tribe may come

helter-skelter this way, to see what has broken loose! And we

can't fight 'em all!"



"Not unless we just have to," agreed the younger Gillespie,

placing a few shells where they would be handiest in case of

another emergency. "But what's the use of running, if we're to

leave this fellow behind to blaze our trail? If he is our

enemy--"



"No en'my; Ixtli friend,--heart-brother," eagerly vowed the young

Aztec, once again startling the lads by his strange command of a

foreign tongue.



He rose to his feet, though plainly suffering in some slight

degree from that brief collision with the huge beast, and smiling

frankly into first one face, then the other, took Bruno's hand,

touched it with his lips, then bowed his head and placed the

whiter palm upon his now uncovered crown.



In like manner he saluted Waldo, after which he drew back a bit,

still smiling genially, to add, in slowly spoken words:



"You save Ixtli. Bear kill--no; you kill--yes! Ixtli glad. Sun

Children great--big heart full of love. So--Ixtli never do hurt,

never do wrong; die for white brother--so!"



More through gesticulation than by speech, the young Indian brave

made his sentiments clearly understood, and if they could have

placed full dependence in that pledge, the brothers would have

felt vastly relieved in mind.



But they only too clearly recalled numerous instances of cunning

ill-faith, and, in despite of all, they could not well avoid

thinking that this was really something like a white elephant

thrown upon their hands.



"All right. Play we swallow it all, but keep your best eye

peeled, old man," guardedly whispered Waldo. "Fetch him along,

yes or no, for it may be growing worse than dangerous right here,

after so much shooting."



"You mean for us to--"



"Take the fellow along, and keep him with us, until uncle Phaeton

comes back to finally decide upon his case," promptly explained

Waldo. "Of course we ought to've let him die; ought, but didn't!

We couldn't then, wouldn't now, if it was all to do over. So

watch him so closely that he can't play tricks even if he

wishes."



There was nothing better to propose, and though the job promised

to be an awkward one to manage, Ixtli himself rendered it more

easy.



Past all doubt he could understand, as well as speak, the English

language, for he took a step in evident submission, speaking

gently:



"Ixtli ready; heart-brother say where go, now."



Again the brothers felt startled by that quaintly correct accent,

and almost involuntarily Bruno spoke in turn:



"You can talk English? When did you learn? And from whom?"



A still brighter smile irradiated the Aztec's face, and turning

his eyes towards the secluded valley, he bowed his head as though

in deep reverence, then softly, lovingly, almost adoringly,

responded:



"SHE tell me how. Victo,--Glady, too. Ixtli know little, not

much; his heart feel big for Sun Children, all time. So YOU,

too, for kill bear,--like dat!"



Bruno turned a bit paler than usual, catching his breath sharply,

as he repeated those names:



"Victo,--Glady,--Wasn't it by those names, Victoria, Gladys, that

Mr. Edgecombe called his lost ones, Waldo?"



"I can't remember; but get a move on, old man. The sooner we're

back where uncle Phaeton left us, where we can see a bit more of

what may be coming, the safer my precious scalp will feel. This

Injun--"



"No scalp," quickly interposed the Aztec, with a deprecatory

gesture to match his words. "You save Ixtli. Ixtli say no hurt

white brothers. Dat so,--dat sure for truth!"



Only partially satisfied by this earnest disclaimer of evil

intentions, Waldo gripped an arm and hurried the Aztec along,

leaving the bear where it had fallen, intent solely upon reaching

a comparatively safe outlook ere worse could follow upon the

heels of their latest adventure.



And Bruno brought up the rear as guard, eyes and rifle ready.





SOMETHING ABOUT FIRES. SOMETHING MAKES TOMMY VERY PROUD facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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