THE LOST CITY OF THE AZTECS.





Uncle Phaeton was more than willing to do the honours of his pet

invention, and this afforded a most happy diversion, although the

deepening twilight hindered any very extensive examination.



Cooper Edgecombe showed himself in a vastly different light while

thus engaged, his shrewd questions, his apt comments, quite

effectually removing the far from agreeable doubts born of his

earlier words and demeanour.



"Well, if he's looney, it's only on some points, not as the whole

porker, anyway," confidentially asserted Waldo, when an

opportunity offered. "Coax him to tell how he knocked the

redskin out, uncle Phaeton."



Little need of recalling that perplexing incident to the worthy

savant, for, try as he might, Featherwit could not keep from

brooding over that wondrous collection of relics pertaining to a

long-since extinct people. Of course, the last one had perished

ages ago; and yet--and yet--



Through his half-bewildered brain flashed the accounts given by

the coast tribes, members of which he had so frequently

interviewed concerning this unknown land, one and all of whom had

more or less to say in regard to a strange people, terrible

fighters, mighty hunters, one burning glance from whose eyes

carried death and decay unto all who were foolhardy enough even

to attempt to pass those mighty barriers, built up by a

beneficent nature. Only for that nearly impassable wall, the

entire earth would be overrun and dominated by these monsters in

human guise.



Then, after the air-ship was cared for to the best of his

ability, and the night-guard set in place so that an alarm might

give warning of any illegal intrusion, the little party returned

to the cavern home of the exile where, after another refusal on

his part, the professor filled and lighted his beloved pipe.



Almost in spite of himself Featherwit was drawn towards those

marvellous articles depending from the wall, and, as he gazed in

silent marvel, Cooper Edgecombe drew nigh, with still other

articles to complete the collection.



"You may possibly find something of interest in these, too, dear

sir, although I have given them rather rough usage. This formed

a rather comfortable cap, and--"



"A helmet! And sandals! A sash which is--yes! worn about the

waist, mainly to support weapons, and termed a maxtlatl,

which--and all sufficiently well preserved to be readily

recognised as genuine--unless--Surely I am dreaming!"



If not precisely that, the worthy professor assuredly was almost

beside himself while examining these articles of warrior's wear,

one by one, knowing that neither eyes nor memory were at fault,

yet still unable to believe those very senses.



Up to this, Cooper Edgecombe had felt but a passing interest in

the matter, forming as it did but a single incident in a more

than ordinarily eventful life; but now he began to divine at

least a portion of the truth, and his face was lighted up with

unusual animation, when Phaeton Featherwit turned that way, to

almost sharply demand:



"Where did you gain possession of these weapons and garments,

sir? And how,--from whom?"



"I took them from an Indian, nearly two years ago. He caught me

off my guard, and, when I saw that I could neither hide nor flee,

I fought for my life," explained the exile; then giving a short,

bitter laugh, to add: "Strange, is it not? Although I had long

since grown weary of existence such as this, I fought for it; I

turned wild beast, as it were! Then, after all was over, I took

these things, more because I feared his comrades might suspect--"



"His comrades?" echoed the professor. "More than the one, then?

You killed him, but--there were others, still?"



"Many of them; far too many for any one man to withstand,"

earnestly declared the exile. "I made all haste in bearing the

redskin here, obliterating all signs as quickly as possible; yet

for days and nights I cowered here in utter darkness, each minute

expecting an attack from too powerful a force for standing

against."



Uncle Phaeton rubbed his hands briskly, shifting his weight

hurriedly from one foot to its mate, then back again, the very

personification of eager interest and growing conviction.



"More of them? A strong force? Armed,--and garbed as of old?

The clothing, the footwear, and, above all else, the weapons,

purely Aztecan? And here, only two short years ago?"



"Sadly long and hideously dreary years I have found them, sir,"

the exile said, in dejected tones.



The professor burst into a shrill, excited laugh, which sounded

almost hysterical, and, not a little to the amazement of his

nephews, broke into a regular dance, jigging it right merrily,

hands on hips, head perked, and chin in air, at the same time

striving to carry the tune in his far from melodious voice.



After all, perhaps no better method could have been taken to work

off his almost hysterical excitement, and presently he paused,

panting and heated, chuckling after an abashed fashion as he

encountered the eyes of his nephews.



"Not a word, my dear boys," he hastened to plead. "I had to do

something or--or explode! I feel better, now. I can behave

myself, I hope. I am calm, cool, and composed as--the genuine

Aztecs! And we are the ones to discover that--oh, I forgot!"



For Waldo was fairly exploding with mirth, while Bruno smiled,

and even the exile appeared to be amused to a certain extent at

his expense.



Little by little, the worthy savant calmed down, and then, almost

forcing the exile to indulge in another delicious smoke, he led

up to the subject in which his interest was fairly intense.



Cooper Edgecombe was willing enough to tell all that lay in his

power, although he was only beginning to realise how much that

might mean to the world at large, judging by the actions of the

professor.



According to his account, the great lake, or drainage reservoir

of the Olympics, was a sort of semi-yearly rendezvous for a

warlike tribe of red men, where they congregated for the purpose

of catching and drying vast quantities of fish, doubtless to be

used during the winter.



"As a general thing they pitch their camp on the other side, over

towards the northeast; but small parties are pretty sure to rove

far and wide, coming around this way quite as often as not."



"And their garb,--the weapons they bore?" asked the professor.



Edgecombe motioned towards those articles in which such a lively

interest had been awakened, then said that, while few of the red

men who had come beneath his near observation had been so

elaborately equipped, he had taken notice of similar weapons and

garments, with additions which he strove hard to describe with

accuracy.



Nearly every sentence which crossed his lips served to confirm

the marvellous truth which had so dazzlingly burst upon the

professor's eager brain, and with a glib tongue he named each

weapon, each garment, as accurately as ever set down in ancient

history, not a little to the wide-eyed amazement of Waldo

Gillespie.



"Worse than those blessed 'sour-us' and cousins," he confided to

his brother, in a whisper. "Reckon it's all right, Bruno? Uncle

isn't--eh?"



But uncle Phaeton paid them no attention, so deeply was he

stirred by this wondrous revelation. He felt that he was upon

the verge of a discovery which would startle the wide world as no

recent announcement had been able to do, unless--but it surely

must be correct!



And then, when Cooper Edgecombe finished all he could tell

concerning those queerly armed and gaudily garbed red men, the

professor let loose his tongue, telling what glorious hopes and

dazzling anticipations were now within him.



"For hundreds upon hundreds of years there have been wild, weird

legends about the Lost City, but that merely meant a mass of

wondrous ruins, long since overwhelmed by shifting sands,

somewhere in the heart of the great American desert, so-called.



"By some it was claimed that this ancient city owed its primal

existence to a fragment of the Aztecs, driven from their native

quarters in Old Mexico. By others 'twas attributed unto one of

the fabulous 'Lost Tribes of Israel,' but even the most

enthusiastic never for one moment dreamed of--this!"



"Except yourself, uncle Phaeton," cut in Waldo, with a subdued

grin. "This must be one of the marvels you calculated on

discovering, thanks to the flying-machine, eh?"



"Nay, my boy; I never let my imagination soar half so high as all

that," quickly answered the professor. "But now--now I feel

confident that just such a discovery lies before us, and with the

dawn of a new day we will ascend and look for the glorious 'Lost

City of the Aztecs!' "



Again the savant sprang to his feet, wildly gesticulating as he

strode to and fro, striving to thus work off some of the intense

excitement which had taken full possession. And words fell

rapidly from his lips the while, only a portion of which need be

placed upon record in this connection, however.



"A fico for the paltry lost cities of musty tradition, now! They

may sleep beneath the sand-storms of countless years, but this--I

would gladly give one of my eyes for the certainty that its mate

might gaze upon such a wondrous spectacle as--Oh, if it might

only prove true! If I might only discover such a stupendous

treasure! Aztecs! And in the present day! Alive--armed and

garbed as of yore! Amazing! Incredible! Astounding beyond the

wildest dreams of a confirmed--"



With startling swiftness uncle Phaeton wheeled to confront the

exile, gripping his arm with fierce vigour, as he shrilly

demanded:



"Opium--are you an eater of drugs, Cooper Edgecombe?"



Even as the words crossed his lips, the professor realised how

preposterous they must sound, but the exile shook his head,

earnestly.



"I never ate drugs in that shape, sir. Even if I had been

addicted to morphine and the like, how could I indulge the

appetite here, in these gloomy, lonely wilds?"



"I beg your pardon, sir; most humbly I implore your forgiveness.

I have but one excuse--this wondrous--Good night! I'm going to

bed before I add to my new reputation as--a blessed idiot, no

less!"





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