DOWN AMONG THE DEAD.
: The Lost City
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 jus
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,
It may be doubted whether Ixtli fully appreciated this
conclusion, yet he divined something of what was spoken, and made
"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
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
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
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
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
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