Part 2 out of 4
Bruno, ever sensitive through his affectionate reverence for
their uncle, caught the youngster, and cast him to earth,
whereupon Waldo pantingly cried:
"Go on, please, uncle Phaeton. It's next thing to a museum and
menagerie combined, just to hear--"
"Will you hush, boy?" demanded Bruno, yet unable to wholly
smother a laugh, so ridiculous did it all sound and seem.
But Professor Featherwit declined, his foxy face wrinkling in a
bashful laugh. Whether so intended or not, he had been brought
down to earth from that dizzy flight, and now was fairly himself
"Well, my dear boys, I dare say it seems all a matter of jest and
sport to you; yet, after our riding in the centre of a tornado
for uncounted miles, coming forth with hardly a scratch or a
bruise to show for it all, who dare say such things may not be,
"But,--those strange creatures are gone; the last one perished
thousands upon thousands of years ago, uncle Phaeton."
"So it is said, and so follows the almost universal belief. Yet
I have seen, felt, cooked, tasted, and ate to its last morsel a
steak from a mammoth. True, the creature was dead; had been
preserved for ages, no doubt, within the glacier which finally
cast it forth to human view; yet who would have credited such a
discovery, only fifty years ago? He who dared to even hint at
such a thing would have been derided and laughed at, pronounced
either fool or lunatic. And so,--if we should happen to discover
one or all of those supposedly extinct creatures here in this
terra incognita, I would be overjoyed rather than astounded."
Bruno looked grave at this conclusion, but Waldo was not so
readily impressed, and, with shrugging shoulders, he made answer:
"Well, uncle, I'm not quite so ambitious as all that comes to.
May I give you my idea of it all?"
A DUEL TO THE DEATH.
Professor Featherwit nodded assent, and, after a brief chuckle,
"You can take all those big fellows with the jaw-breaking names,
but as for me, smaller game will do. Maybe a fellow couldn't
fill his bag quite so full, nor quite so suddenly, but there
would be a great deal more sport, and a mighty sight less danger,
I take it!"
It was by no means difficult to divine that the professor had not
yet spoken all that busied his brain, but the thread was broken,
his pipe was out, and, emptying the ashes by tapping pipe-bowl
against the heel of his shoe, he rose erect, once more the man of
"You will have to clear up, lads, for I must make such few
repairs as are necessary to restore the aerostat to a state of
efficiency. So long as that remains in serviceable condition, we
will always have a method of advance or retreat. Without
it--well, I'd rather not think of the alternative."
That dry tone and quiet sentence did more than all else to
impress the brothers with a sense of their unique position. Back
came the remembrance of all they had gathered concerning this
strange scope of country since first settling down fairly within
the shadows of the Olympics, there to put that strange machine
together, preparing for what was to prove a wonder-tour through
many marvellous happenings.
Times beyond counting they had been assured by the natives that
no mortal could fairly penetrate that vast wilderness. Natural
obstacles were too great for any man to surmount, without saying
aught of what lay beyond; of the enormous animals, such as the
civilised world never knew or fought with; of the terrible
natives, taller than the pines, larger than the hills, more
powerful by far than the gods themselves, eager to slay and to
devour,--so eager that, at times, living flesh and blood was more
grateful than all to their depraved tastes!
"Do you really reckon there is anything in it all, Bruno?" asked
the younger brother in lowered tones, glancing across to where
their uncle was busily engaged in those comparatively trifling
"It hardly seems possible, and yet--would the members of four
different tribes tell a story so nearly alike, without they had
at least a foundation of truth to go upon?"
"That's right. And yet--the inland sea sounds natural enough. We
know, too, that there are such things as underground rivers,
outside of Jules Verne's yarns. But those animals,--or
"Both, I believe," answered Bruno, with a subdued laugh.
"That's all right, old man. I never was worth a continental when
it came to such things. I prefer to live in the present, and
so--well, now, will you just look at that old cow!"
In surprise Waldo pointed across to where a bovine shape showed
not far beyond the pool at the base of the miniature waterfall;
but his brother had a fairer view, and, instantly divining the
truth, grasped an arm and hastily whispered:
"Hush, boy; can't you see? It's a buffalo, a hill buffalo,
"Quick! the guns are in the machine! Down, Bruno, and maybe we
can get a shot and--"
His eager whisper was cut short, though not by grip of arm or act
by his brother. A rumbling roar broke forth from the further
side of that mountain stream, and as the dense bushes beyond were
violently agitated, the hill buffalo wheeled that way with
Just as a long head and mighty shoulders spread the shrubbery
wide apart, jaws opening and lips curling back to lay great teeth
bare, while another angry sound, half growl, half snort, only too
clearly proclaimed that monster of the mountains, a grizzly bear.
"Smoke o' sacrifice!" gasped Waldo, as the grizzly suddenly
upreared its mighty bulk, head wagging, paws waving in queer
fashion, lolling tongue lending the semblance of drollery rather
"This way; to your guns, boys!" cautiously called out the
professor, whose notice had likewise been caught by those unusual
sounds, and who had already armed himself with his pet dynamite
"Careful! He'll make a break for us at first sight, unless--down
close, and crawl for it, brother!"
Bruno set the good example, and Waldo was not too proud of spirit
to humble himself in like manner. Although this was their first
glimpse of "Old Eph" in his native wilds, both brothers
entertained a very respectful opinion of his prowess.
Under different circumstances their expectations might have been
more fully met, but just now the grizzly seemed wholly occupied
with the buffalo bull, whose sturdy bulk and armed front so
resolutely opposed his further progress towards that common goal,
the pool of water.
The boys quickly reached the flying-machine and gripped the
Winchester rifles which Professor Featherwit had drawn forth from
the locker at first sight of the dangerous game. Thus armed,
they felt ready for whatever might come, and stood watching
yonder rivals with growing interest.
"Will you look at that, now?" excitedly breathed Waldo, eyes
aglow, as he saw the bull cock its tail on high and tear up the
soft soil with one fierce sweep of its cloven hoof, shaking head
and giving vent to a low but determined bellow.
"It means a fight unto the death, I think," whispered the
"It's dollars to doughnuts on the bear," predicted Waldo. "Scat,
you bull-headed idiot! Don't you know that you're not deuce high
to his ace? Can't you see that he can chew you up like--"
"Are you mighty sure of all that, boy?" laughingly cut in Bruno;
for at that moment the buffalo made a sudden charge at his
upright adversary, knocking the grizzly backward in spite of its
viciously flying paws.
"Great Peter on a bender! If I ever--no, I never!"
Even the professor was growing excited, holding the dynamite gun
under one arm while gently tapping palms together as an encore.
Naturally enough, their sympathies were with the buffalo, since
the odds seemed so immensely against him; but their delight was
short-lived, for, instead of following up the advantage so
bravely won, the bull fell back to paw and bellow and shake his
With marvellous activity for a brute of his enormous bulk and
weight, the grizzly recovered its feet, then lumbered forward
with clashing teeth and resounding growls.
Nothing loath, the buffalo met that charge, and for a short space
of time the struggle was veiled by showers of leaf-mould and damp
dirt cast upon the air as the rivals fought for supremacy--and
For that this was destined to be a duel to the very death not one
of those spectators could really doubt. That encounter may have
been purely accidental, but the creatures fought like enemies of
As their relative positions changed, the buffalo contrived to get
in another vigorous butt, sending bruin end for end down that
gentle slope to souse into the pool of water, that cool element
cutting short a savage roar of mad fury.
Then the trio of spectators could take notes, and with something
of sorrow they saw that the buffalo had already suffered
severely, bleeding from numerous great gashes torn by the
grizzly's long talons, while one bloody eye dangled below its
socket, held only by a thread of sinew.
Nor had bruin escaped without hurt, as all could see when he
floundered out of the water, bent upon renewing the duel; but
there was little room left for doubting what the ultimate result
would be were the animals left to their own devices.
Like all bold, free-hearted lads, Waldo ever sympathised with the
weaker, and now, unable to hold his feelings in check, he gave a
short cry, levelling his Winchester and opening fire upon the
grizzly, just as it won fairly clear of the water.
Stung to fury by those pellets, the brute reared up with a horrid
roar, turning as though to charge this new enemy; but ere he
could do more, the professor's gun spoke, and as the dynamite
shell exploded, bruin fell back a writhing mass, his head
literally smashed to pieces.
Heedless of all else, the wounded buffalo charged with lusty
bellow, goring that quivering mass with unabated fury, though its
life was clearly leaking out through those ghastly cuts and
A brief pause, then Professor Featherwit swiftly reloaded his
gun, sending another shell across the stream, this time more as a
boon than as punishment.
Smitten fairly in the forehead, the bull dropped as though
beneath a bolt of lightning, life going out without so much as a
single struggle or a single pang.
"Twas better thus," declared the professor, as Waldo gave a
little ejaculation of dismay. "He must have bled to death in a
short time, and this was true mercy. Besides, buffalo meat is
very good eating, and the day may come when we shall need all we
can get. Who knows?"
After the animals were inspected, and due comment made upon the
awfully sure work wrought by the dynamite gun, the professor
suggested that, while he was completing repairs upon the
aeromotor, the brothers should secure a supply of fish and of
flesh, cooking sufficient to provide for several meals, for there
was no telling just when they would have an equal chance.
"Just as soon as we can put all in readiness," he continued, "I
am going to leave this spot. My first wish is to thoroughly test
the aerostat, to make certain it has received no serious injury.
Then, if all promises well, I mean to begin our tour of
exploration, hoping that we may, at least, find something well
worthy the strange reputation given these Olympics by the
Without raising any objections, the brothers fell to work, Bruno
looking after the flesh, while Waldo undertook to supply the
fish. That was but fair, since he had been cheated out of
catching the first mess.
Not a little to his delight, the professor found that the
flying-machine would promptly answer his touch and will, rising
easily off the ground, then descending at call, evidently having
passed through the ordeal of the bygone evening without serious
Still, all this consumed time, and it was after a late dinner
that everything was pronounced in readiness for an ascension:
the meat and fish nicely cooked and packed for carriage, a pot of
strong coffee made and stowed beyond risk of leakage, the
flying-machine itself quivering in that gentle breeze as though
eager to find itself once more afloat far above the earth and its
obstructions to easy navigation.
Waldo expressed some grief at leaving a spot where game came in
such plentitude to find the hunter, and trout simply longed to be
caught; but upon being assured of other opportunities, perhaps
even more delightful, he sighed and gave consent to mount into
"Only--don't ask me to tackle any of those big dictionary fellows
such as you talked about this morning, uncle Phaeton, for I
simply can't; they'd get away with my baggage while I was trying
to spell their names and title--and all that!"
Without any difficulty the aeromotor was sent out of and above
the forest, heading towards the northwest; that is, direct for
the heart of the Olympics, of whose marvels Professor Featherwit
held such exalted hopes and expectations.
Grim and forbidding those mountains looked as the air-ship sailed
swiftly over them, opening up a wider view when the bare, rugged
crest was once left fairly to the rear. Save for those bald
crowns, all below appeared a solid carpet of tree-tops, now
lower, there higher, yet ever the same: seemingly impenetrable
to man, should such an effort be made.
Once fairly within the charmed circle, leaving the rocky ridge
behind, Professor Featherwit slackened speed, permitting the ship
to drift onward at a moderate pace, one hand touching the
steering-gear, while its fellow held a pair of field-glasses to
his eager eyes.
All at once he gave a half-stifled cry, partly rising in his
excitement, then crying aloud in thrilling tones:
"The sea,--an inland sea!"
GRAPPLING A QUEER FISH.
At nearly the same moment both Bruno and Waldo caught a glimpse
of water, shining clear and distinct amidst that sombre setting;
but as yet a tree-crested elevation interfered with the prospect,
and it was not until after the course of the air-ship had been
materially changed, and some little time had elapsed, that aught
definite could be determined as to the actual spread of that body
This proved to be considerable, although it needed but a single
look into the professor's face to learn that his eager hopes and
exalted anticipations fell far short of realisation.
"Well, it's a sea all right," generously declared Waldo, giving a
vigorous sniff by way of strengthening his words. "I can smell
the salt clear from this. A sea, even if it isn't quite so large
as others,--what one might term a lower-case c!"
If nothing else, that generous effort brought its reward in the
dry little chuckle which escaped the professor's lips, and a
kindly glow showed through his glasses as he turned towards Waldo
with a nod of acknowledgment.
"Barring the salty scent, my dear boy, which probably finds birth
in your kindly imagination. So, on the whole, perhaps 'twould be
just as well to term it a lake."
"One of no mean dimensions, at any rate, uncle Phaeton."
"True, Bruno," with a nod of agreement, yet with forehead
contracting into a network of troubled lines. "Naturally so, and
yet--surely this must be merely a portion? Unless--yet I fail to
see aught which might be interpreted as being--"
Promptly responding to each touch of hand upon steering-gear, the
aeromotor swung smoothly around, sailing on even keel right into
the teeth of the gentle wind, by this time near enough to that
body of water for the air-voyagers to scan its surface: a
considerable expanse, all told, yet by no means of such magnitude
as Professor Featherwit had anticipated.
Too deeply absorbed in his own thoughts to notice the little
cries and ejaculations which came from the brothers, he caused
the aerostat to rise higher, slowly sweeping that extended field
with his glasses.
He could see where several streams entered the body of water,
coming from opposite points of the compass, and thus confirming
at least one portion of his explained theory; but, so far as his
visual powers went, there was no other considerable body of water
to be discovered.
"Yet, how can that contracted basin contain all the drainage from
this vast scope of country? How can we explain the stubborn fact
of--What now, lads?"
An abrupt break, but one caused by the eager cry and loud speech
from the lips of the younger Gillespie.
"Looky yonder! Isn't that one o' those sour-us dictionary
fellows on a bender? Isn't that--but I don't--no, it's only--"
"Only a partly decayed tree gone afloat!" volunteered Bruno, with
a merry laugh, as his eager brother drew back in evident chagrin.
"Well, that's all right. It ought to've been one, even if it
isn't. What's the use in coming all this way, if we're not going
to discover something beyond the common? And my sour-us is worth
more than one of the other kind, after all; get it ashore and you
might cook dinner for a solid month by it; now there!"
It was easily to be seen that Waldo had been giving free rein to
his expectations ever since the professor's little lecture, but
his natural chagrin was quickly forgotten in a matter of far
Professor Featherwit had resumed his scrutiny of yonder body of
water, slowly turning his glasses while holding the air-ship on a
true course and even keel.
For a brief space nothing interfered with the steady motion of
the field-glasses, but then something called for a more thorough
examination, and little by little the savant leaned farther
forward, breath coming more rapidly, face beginning to flush with
Bruno took note of all this, and, failing to see aught to account
for the symptoms with unaided eyes, at length ventured to speak.
"What is it, uncle Phaeton? Something of interest, or your
Professor Featherwit gave a start, then lowered the glasses and
reached them towards his nephew, speaking hurriedly:
"You try them, Bruno; your eyes are younger, and ought to be
keener than mine. Yonder; towards the lower end of the--the
Nothing loath, Gillespie complied, quickly finding the correct
point upon which the professor's interest had centred, holding
the glasses motionless for a brief space, then giving vent to an
"What is it all about, bless you, boy?" demanded Waldo, unable
longer to curb his hot impatience. "Another drifting tree, eh?"
"No, but,--did you see it, uncle?"
"I saw something which--what do YOU see, first?"
"A great big suck,--a monster whirlpool which is hollowed like--"
"I knew it! I felt that must be the true solution of it all!"
cried uncle Phaeton, squirming about pretty much as one might
into whose veins had been injected quicksilver in place of
ordinary blood. "The outlet! Where the surplus waters drain off
to the Pacific Ocean!"
"I say, give me a chance, can't you?" interrupted Waldo, grasping
the glasses and shifting his station for one more favourable as a
He had seen sufficient to catch the right angle, and then gave a
suppressed snort as he took in the view. Half a minute thus,
then a wild cry escaped his lips, closely followed by the words:
"Now I DO see something! And it isn't a drifting tree, either!
Or, that is, something else which--shove her closer, uncle
Phaeton! True as you live, there's something caught in yonder big
suck which is--closer, for love of glory!"
"If this is another joke, Waldo--"
"No, no, I tell you, Bruno! Shove her over, uncle, for, without
this glass is hoodooed, we're needed right yonder,--and needed
mighty bad, too!"
Little need of so much urging, by the way, since Professor
Featherwit was but slightly less excited by their double
discovery, and even before the glasses were clapped to Waldo's
eyes the aerostat swung around to move at full speed towards that
precise quarter of the compass.
"What is it you see, then, boy?" demanded Bruno, itching to take
the glasses, yet straining his own vision towards that as yet
"Something like--oh, see how the water is running out,--just like
emptying a bathtub through a hole at the bottom! And see what--a
man caught in the whirl, true's you're a foot high, uncle!"
"A man? Here? Impossible,--incredible, boy!" fairly exploded
the professor, not yet ready to relinquish his cherished belief
in a terra incognita.
The air-voyagers were swiftly nearing that point of interest, and
now keen-eyed Bruno caught a glimpse of a drifting object which
had been drawn within the influence of yonder whirlpool, but
which was just as certainly a derelict from the forest.
"Another floating tree-trunk for Waldo!" he cried, with a short
laugh, feeling far from unpleased that the intense strain upon
his nerves should be thus lessened. "Try it again, lad, and
"Try your great-grandmother's cotton nightcap! Don't you suppose
I can tell the difference between a tree and a--"
"Ranting, prancing, cavorting 'sour-us' right out of Webster's
Unabridged, eh, laddy-buck?"
"That's all right, if you can only keep on thinking that way, old
man; but if yonder isn't a fellow being in a mighty nasty pickle,
then I wouldn't even begin to say so! And--you look, uncle
Nothing loath, the professor took the proffered glasses, and but
an instant later he, too, gave a sharp cry of amazement, for he
saw, clinging to the trunk of a floating tree, swiftly moving
with those circling waters, a living being!
And but a few seconds later, Bruno made the same discovery,
greatly to the delight of his younger brother.
"A man! And living, too!"
"Of course; reckon I'd make such a howl about a floater?" bluntly
interjected Waldo. "But I'll do my crowing later on. For now
we've got to get the poor fellow out of that,--just got to yank
Through all this hasty interchange of words, the aeromotor was
swiftly progressing, and now swung almost directly above the
whirlpool, giving all a fair, unobstructed view of everything
The suction was so great that a sloping basin was formed, more
one hundred yards in diameter, while the actual centre lay a
of feet lower than the surrounding level.
Half-way down that perilous slope a great tree was revolving, and
to this, as his forlorn hope, clung a half-clad man, plainly
since he was looking upward, and--yes, waving a hand and uttering
a cry for aid and succour.
"Help! For love of God, save me!"
"White,--an American, too!" exploded Waldo, taking action as by
brilliant inspiration. "Hang over him, uncle, for I'm going--to
go fishing--for a man!"
Waldo was tugging at the grapnel and long drag-rope. Bruno was
quick to divine his intention, and lent a deft hand, while the
professor manipulated the helm so adroitly as to keep the
flying-machine hovering directly above yonder imperilled
stranger, leaning far over the hand-rail to shout downward:
"Have courage, sir, and stand ready to help yourself! We will
rescue you if it lies within the possibilities of--we WILL save
"You bet we just will, and right--like this," spluttered Waldo,
as he cast the grapnel over the rail and swiftly lowered it by
the rope. "Play you're a fish, stranger, and when you bite, hang
on like grim death to a--steady, now!"
Fortunately nothing occurred to mar the programme so hastily
arranged, for the drift was drawing nearer the centre of the
whirl, and if once fairly caught by that, nothing human could
preserve the stranger from death.
"Make a jump and grab it, if you can't do better!" cried Waldo,
intensely excited now that the crisis was at hand.
The long rope with its iron weight swayed awkwardly in spite of
all he could do to steady it, and as each one of the three prongs
was meant for catching and holding fast to whatever they touched,
there was no slight risk of impaling the man, thus giving him the
choice of another and still more painful death.
Then, with a desperate grasp, a death-clutch, he caught one arm
of the grapnel, holding fast as the shock came. He was carried
clear of the tree, and partly submerged in the water as his added
weight brought the flying-machine so much lower.
"Up, up, uncle Phaeton!" fairly howled Waldo, at the same time
tugging at the now taut rope, in which he was ably seconded by
his brother. "For love of--higher, uncle!"
Then the noble machine responded to the touch of its builder,
lifting the dripping stranger clear of the whirling currents,
swinging him away towards yonder higher level, where a fall would
not prove so quickly fatal. And then the eager professor gave a
shrill cheer as he saw the man, by a vigorous effort, draw his
body upward sufficiently far to throw one leg over an arm of the
Knowing now that the rescued was in no especial peril, uncle
Phaeton left the air-ship to steer itself long enough for his
nimble hands to take several turns of the drag-rope around the
cleat provided for that express purpose, thus relieving both
Bruno and Waldo of the heavy strain, which might soon begin to
tell upon them.
"Hurrah for we, us, and company!" cried Waldo, relieving his
lungs of a portion of their pent-up energy, then leaning
perilously far over the edge of the machine to encourage the
queer fish he had hooked.
RESCUED AND RESCUERS.
Despite their very natural excitement, caused by this peril and
foiling, Professor Featherwit retained nearly all his customary
coolness and presence of mind.
Readily realising that after such a grim ordeal would almost
certainly come a powerful revulsion, his first aim was to swing
the stranger far enough away from the whirlpool to give him a
fair chance for life, in case he should fall, through dizziness
or physical collapse, from the end of the drag-rope.
This took but a few seconds, comparatively speaking, though,
doubtless, each moment seemed an age to the rescued stranger.
Then the professor slowed his ship, looking around in order to
determine upon the wisest route to take.
For one thing, it would be severe work to draw the stranger
bodily up and into the aerostat. For another, unless he should
grow weak, or suffer from vertigo, both time and labour would be
saved by taking him direct to the shore of this broad lake.
As soon as the rope was made fast, and the strain taken off their
muscles as well as their minds, Bruno flashed a look around,
naturally turning his eyes in the direction of the whirlpool.
Although less than a couple of minutes had elapsed since the man
was lifted off the circling drift, even thus quickly had the end
drawn nigh; for, even as he looked that way, Gillespie saw the
great trunk sucked into the hidden sink, the top rising with a
shiver clear out of the water as the butt lowered, a hollow,
rumbling sound coming to all ears as--
"Gone!" cried Bruno, in awed tones, as the whole drift vanished
from sight for ever.
"Sucked in by Jonah's whale, for ducats!" screamed Waldo,
excitedly. "Fetch on your blessed 'sour-us' of both the male and
female sect! Trot 'em to the fore, and if my little old suck
don't take the starch out of their backbones,--they DID have
backbones, didn't they, uncle Phaeton?"
Professor Featherwit frowned, and shook his head in silent
reproof. More nearly, perhaps, than either of the boys, he
realised what an awful peril this stranger had so narrowly
escaped. It was far too early to turn that escape into jest,
even for one naturally light of heart.
He leaned over the hand-rail, peering downward. He could see the
rescued man sitting firmly in the bend of the grapnel, one hand
tightly gripping the rope, its mate shading his eyes, as he
stared fixedly towards the whirling death-pool, from whose jaws
he had so miraculously been plucked.
There was naught of debility, either of body or of mind, to be
read in that figure, and with his fears on that particular point
set at rest, for the time being, Professor Featherwit called out,
"Is it all well with you, my good friend? Can you hold fast
until the shore is reached, think?"
"Heaven bless you,--yes!" came the reply, in half-choked tones.
"If I fail in giving thanks--"
"Never mention it, friend; it cost us nothing," cheerily
interrupted the professor, then adding, "Hold fast, please, and
we'll put on a wee bit more steam."
The flying-machine was now fairly headed for a strip of shore
which offered an excellent opportunity for making a safe landing,
and as that accelerated motion did not appear to materially
affect the stranger, it took but a few minutes to clear the lake.
"Stand ready to let go when we come low enough, please," warned
the professor, deftly managing his pet machine for that purpose.
The stranger easily landed, then watched the flying-machine with
painfully eager gaze, hands clasped almost as though in prayer.
A more remarkable sight than this half-naked shape, burned brown
by the sun, poorly protected by light skins, with sinew
fastenings, could scarcely be imagined; and there was something
close akin to tears in more eyes than one when he came running in
chase, arms outstretched, and voice wildly appealing:
"Oh, come back! Take me,--don't leave me,--for love of God and
humanity, don't leave me to this living death!"
Professor Featherwit called back a hasty assurance, and brought
the air-ship to a landing with greater haste than was exactly
prudent, all things considered; but who could keep cool blood and
unmoved heart, with yonder piteous object before their eyes?
When he saw that the flying-machine had fairly landed, and beheld
its inmates stepping forth upon the sands with friendly
salutations, the rescued stranger staggered, hands clasping his
temples for a moment of drunken reeling, then he fell forward
like one smitten by the hand of sudden death.
Professor Featherwit called out a few curt directions, which were
promptly obeyed by his nephews, and after a few minutes'
well-directed work consciousness was restored, and the stranger
feebly strove to give them thanks.
In vain these were set aside. He seemed like one half-insane
from joy, and none who saw and heard could think that all this
emotion arose from the simple rescue from the whirlpool. Nor did
Wildly, far from coherently, the poor fellow spoke, yet something
of the awful truth was to be gleaned even from those broken,
For ten years an exile in these horrible wilds. For ten years
not a single glimpse of white face or figure. For ten ages no
intelligible voice, save his own; and that, through long disuse,
had threatened to desert him!
"Ten years!" echoed Waldo, in amazement. "Why didn't you rack
out o' this, then? I know I would; even if the woods were full
of--'sour-us' and the like o' that! Yes, SIR!"
A low, husky laugh came through those heavily bearded lips, and
the stranger flung out his hands in a sweeping gesture, sunken
eyes glowing with an almost savage light as he spoke with more
"Why is it, young gentleman? Why did I not leave, do you ask?
Look! All about you it stretches: a cell,--a death-cell, from
which escape is impossible! Here I have fought for what is ever
more precious than bare life: for liberty; but though ten awful
years have rolled by, here I remain, in worse than prison!
Escape? Ah, how often have I attempted to escape, only to fail,
because escape from these wilds is beyond the power of any person
not gifted with wings!"
"Ten years, you say, good friend? And all that time you have
lived here alone?" asked the professor, curiously.
"Ten years,--ten thousand years, I could almost swear, only for
keeping the record so carefully, so religiously. And--pitiful
Lord! How gladly would I have given my good right arm, just for
one faraway glimpse of civilisation! How often--but I am
wearying you, gentlemen, and you may--pray don't think that I am
crazy; you will not?"
Both the professor and Bruno assured him to the contrary, but
Waldo was less affected, and his curiosity could no longer be
kept within bounds. Gently tapping one hairy arm, he spoke:
"I say, friend, what were you doing out yonder in the big suck?
Didn't you know the fun was hardly equal to the risk, sir?"
"Easy, lad," reproved the professor; but with a a smile, which
strangely softened that haggard, weather-worn visage, the
"Nay, kind sir, do not check the young gentleman. If you could
only realise how sweet it is to my poor ears,--the sound of a
friendly voice! For so many weary years I have never heard one
word from human lips which I could understand or make answer to.
And now,--what is it you wish to know, my dear boy?"
"Well, since you've lived here so long, surely you hadn't ought
to get caught in such a nasty pickle; unless it was through
"It was partly accidental. One that would have cost me dearly
had not you come to my aid so opportunely. And yet,--only for
one thing, I could scarcely have regretted vanishing for ever
down that suck!"
His voice choked, his head bowed, his hands came together in a
nervous grip, all betokening unusual agitation. Even Waldo was
just a bit awed, and the stranger was first to break that silence
"How did the mishap come about, is it, young gentleman?" he said,
a wan smile creeping into his face, and relaxing those tensely
drawn muscles once more. "While I was trying to replenish my
stock of provisions, and after this fashion, good friends.
"I was fishing from a small canoe, and as the bait was not taken
well, I must have fallen into a day dream, thinking of--no
matter, now. And during that dreaming, the breeze must have
blown me well out into the lake, for when I was roused up by a
sharp jerk at my line, I found myself near its middle, without
knowing just how I came there.
"I have no idea what sort of fish had taken my bait,--there are
many enormous ones in the lake,--but it proved far too powerful
for me to manage, and dragged the canoe swiftly through the
water, heading directly for the outlet, yonder."
"Why didn't you let it go free, then?"
"The line was fastened to the prow, and I could not loosen it in
time. I drew my knife,--one of flint, but keen enough to
serve,--only to have it jerked out of my hand and into the water.
Then, just as the fish must have plunged into the suck, I
abandoned my canoe, jumping overboard."
"That's just what I was wondering about," declared Waldo, with a
vigorous nod of his head. "Yet we found you--there?"
"Because I am a wretchedly poor swimmer. I managed to reach a
drift which had not yet fairly entered the whirl, but I could do
nothing more towards saving myself. Then--you can guess the
"And the canoe?" demanded Waldo, content only when all points
were made manifest.
"I saw it dragged down the centre of the suck," with an
involuntary shiver. "The fish must have plunged into the
underground river, whether willingly or not I can only surmise.
But all the while I was drifting yonder, around and around, with
each circuit drawing closer to the awful end, I could not help
picturing to myself how the canoe must have plunged down, and
A shuddering shiver which was more eloquent than words; but Waldo
was not yet wholly content, finding an absorbing interest in that
"You call it a river: how do you know it's a river?"
"Of course, I can only guess at the facts, my dear boy," the
stranger made reply, smiling once more, and, with an almost timid
gesture, extending one hairy paw to lightly touch and gently
stroke the arm nearest him.
Bruno turned away abruptly, for that gesture, so simple in
itself, yet so full of pathos to one who bore in mind those long
years of solitary exile, brought a moisture to his big brown eyes
of which, boy-like, he felt ashamed.
Professor Featherwit likewise took note, and with greater
presence of mind came to the rescue, lightly resting a hand upon
the stranger's half-bare shoulder while addressing his words to
A tremulous sigh escaped those bearded lips, and their owner drew
closer to the wiry little aeronaut, plainly drawing great comfort
from that mere contact. And with like ease uncle Phaeton lifted
one of those hairy arms to rest it over his own shoulders,
speaking briskly the while.
"There is only one way of demonstrating the truth more clearly,
my youthful inquisitor, and that is by sending you on a voyage of
exploration. Are you willing to make the attempt, Waldo?"
"Not this evening; some other evening,--maybe!" drawing back a
bit, with a shake of his curly pate to match. "But, I say, uncle
"Allow me to complete my say, first, dear boy," with a bland
smile. "That is easily done, though, for it merely consists of
this: yonder sink, or whirlpool, is certainly the method this
lake has of relieving itself of all surplus water. Everything
points to a subterranean river which connects this lake with the
"Wonder how long I'd have to hold my breath to make the trip?"
ANOTHER SURPRISE FOR THE PROFESSOR.
The stranger laughed aloud at this, then seemed surprised that
aught of mirth could be awakened where grief and despair had so
long reigned supreme.
"You will come with me to--to my den, gentlemen?" he asked, still
nervous, and plainly loath to do aught which indicated a return
to his recent dreary method of living.
"Is the distance great?" asked Professor Featherwit, with a
glance towards the aeromotor, then flashing his gaze further, as
though to guard against possible harm coming to that valuable
piece of property.
More than ever to be guarded now, since the words spoken by this
exile. Better death in yonder mighty whirlpool than a half-score
years' imprisonment here!
Not so very far, he was assured, while it would be comparatively
easy to float the air-ship above the trees, there of no
At the same time this assurance was given, the stranger could not
mask his uneasiness of mind, and it was really pitiful to see one
so strong in body and limb, so weak otherwise.
But uncle Phaeton was a fairly keen judge of human nature, and
possessed no small degree of tact. Divining the real cause of
that dread, he took the easiest method of allaying it, speaking
briskly as he moved across to the aerostat.
"Bear the gentleman company, my lads, while I manage the ship.
You will know what signals to make, and I can contrive the rest."
Again the recluse laughed, but now it was through pure joy, such
as he had not experienced for long years gone by. He was not to
be deserted by his rescuers from the whirlpool, and that was
comfort enough for the moment.
Thanks to that guidance, but little time was cut to waste,
Professor Featherwit taking the flying-machine away from the
shore of the lake, floating slowly above the tree-tops, guiding
his movements by those below, finally effecting a safe landing in
a miniature glade, at no great distance from the "den" alluded to
by their new-found friend.
"It will be perfectly safe here," the exile hastened to give
assurance, as that landing was made. "Then, too, this is the
only spot nigh at hand from which a hasty ascent could well be
made, even with such an admirable machine as yours. Ah, me!"
with a long breath which lacked but little of being a sigh, as he
keenly, eagerly examined the aerostat. "A marvel! Who would
have dared predict such another, only a dozen years ago? I
thought we had drawn very close to perfection while I was in the
profession, but this,--marvellous!"
Both words and manner gave the keen-witted professor a clew to
one mystery, and he quickly spoke:
"Then you were familiar with aerostatics, sir? Your name is--"
"What?" with undisguised surprise in face as in voice.
"Professor Edgecombe, the celebrated balloonist who was lost so
"Ay! lost here in this thrice accursed wilderness!" passionately
cried the exile; then, as though abashed by his own outburst, he
turned away, pausing again only when at the entrance to his
dreary refuge of many years.
"Give the poor fellow his own way until he has had time to rally,
boys," muttered uncle Phaeton, in lowered tones, before following
that lead. "I can understand it better, now, and this is--still
is the terra incognita of which I have dreamed so long!"
That refuge proved to be a large, fairly dry cavern, the entrance
to which was admirably masked by vines and creepers, while the
stony soil just there retained no trace of footprints to tell
Mr. Edgecombe vanished, but not for long. Then, showing a
light, formed of fat and twisted wick in a hollowed bit of
hardwood, he begged his rescuers to enter.
No second invitation was needed, for even the professor felt a
powerful curiosity to learn what method had been followed by this
enforced exile; how he had managed to live for so many weary
With only that smoky lamp to shed light around the place,
critical investigation was a matter of time and painstaking,
although a general idea of the cavern was readily formed.
High overhead arched the rocky roof, blackened by smoke, and
looking more gloomy than nature had intended. The side walls
were likewise irregular, now showing tiny niches and nooks, then
jutting out to form awkward points and elbows, which were but
partially disguised by such articles of wear and daily use as the
exile had collected during the years gone by, or since his
occupancy first began.
So much the professor took in with his initial glances, but then
he left Waldo and his brother to look more closely, himself
giving thought to the being whom they had so happily saved from
"Professor Edgecombe!" he again exclaimed, grasping those
roughened hands to press them cordially. "I ought to have
recognised you at sight, no doubt, since I have watched your
ascents time and time again."
The exile smiled faintly, shaking his head and giving another
"Ah, me! 'twas vastly different, then. I only marvel that you
should give me credit when I lay claim to that name, so long--it
has long faded from the public's memory, sir."
But uncle Phaeton shook his head, decidedly.
"No, no, I assure you, my friend; far from it. Whenever the
topic is brought to the front; whenever aerostatics are
discussed, your name and fame are sure to play a prominent part.
And yet,--you disappeared so long ago, never being heard of
"After sailing away upon the storm for which I had waited and
prayed, for so many weary, heart-sick months!"
"So the rumour ran, but we all believed that must be an
exaggeration, and not for a long time was all hope abandoned.
Then, more hearts than one felt sore and sad at thoughts of your
"A fate infinitely worse than ordinary death such as was credited
me," huskily muttered the exile. "Ten years,--and ever since I
have been here, helpless to extricate myself, doomed to a living
death, which none other can ever fully realise! Doomed to--to--"
His voice choked, and he turned away to hide his emotions.
Professor Featherwit thoroughly appreciated the interruption
which came through Waldo's lips just at that moment.
"Oh, I say,--uncle Phaeton!"
"What is it, lad? Don't meddle with what doesn't--"
"Looking can't hurt, can it? And to think people ever got along
with such things as these!"
Waldo was squared before sundry articles depending from the side
wall, and as the professor drew closer, he, too, displayed a
degree of interest which was really remarkable.
A gaily colored tunic of thickly quilted cotton was hanging
beside an oddly shaped war club, the heavier end of which was
armed with blades of stone which gleamed and sparkled even in
that dim light. And attached to this weapon was another, hardly
less curious: a knife formed of copper, with heft and blade all
from one piece of metal.
"Here is the rest of the outfit," said Edgecombe, holding forth a
bow and several feathered arrows with obsidian heads.
Professor Featherwit gave a low, eager cry as he handled the
various articles, both face and manner betraying intense delight,
which found partial vent in words a little later.
"Wonderful! Marvellous! Superb! I envy you, sir; I can't help
but envy your possession of so magnificent--and so
well-preserved, too! That is the marvel of marvels!"
"Well, to be sure, I haven't used them very much. The bow and
arrows I could manage fairly well, after busy practice. They
have saved me from more than one hungry night. But as for the
"You might have worn the--Is it a ghost-dance shirt, though?"
hesitatingly asked Waldo, gingerly fingering the wadded tunic.
"Waldo, I'm ashamed of you, boy!" almost harshly reproved the
professor. "Ghost-dance shirt, indeed! And this one of the most
complete--the only perfectly preserved specimen of the ancient
Aztec--pray, my good friend, where did you discover them? Surely
there can be no burial mounds so far above the latitude where
that unfortunate race lived and died?"
Mr. Edgecombe shook his head, with a puzzled look, then made
"No, sir. I took these all from an Indian I was forced to kill
in order to save my own life. I never thought--You are ill,
"Bless my soul!" ejaculated the professor, falling back a pace or
two, then sitting down with greater force than grace, all the
while gazing upon those weapons like one in a daze. "Found
them--Indian--killed him in order to--bless my soul!"
Then, with marvellous activity for one of his age, the professor
recovered his footing, mumbling something about tripping a heel,
then resumed his examination of the curiosities as though he had
care for naught beside.
Cooper Edgecombe turned away, and the professor improved the
opportunity by muttering to the brothers:
"Careful, lads. Give the poor fellow his own way in all things,
for he is--he surely must be--eh?"
Forefinger covertly tapped forehead, for there was no time
granted for further explanations. Edgecombe turned again,
speaking in hard, even strained tones:
"Fifteen years ago this month, on the 27th, to be exact, a
balloon with two passengers was carried away on a terrific gale
of wind which blew from the southeast. This happened in
Washington Territory. Can you tell me--has anything ever been
heard of either balloon or its inmates?"
Professor Featherwit shook his head in negation before saying:
"Not to my knowledge, though doubtless the prints of the day--"
Cooper Edgecombe shook both head and hand with strange
"No, no. I know they were never heard from up to ten years ago,
but since then--I am a fool to even dream of such a thing, and
yet,--only for that faint hope I would have gone mad long ago!"
Indeed, he looked little less than insane as it was.
CHAPTER XII. THE STORY OF A BROKEN LIFE.
This was the idea that occurred to both uncle and nephews, but
they had seen and heard enough to excuse all that, and Professor
Featherwit spoke again, in mildly curious tones:
"Sorry I am unable to give you better tidings, my good friend,
but, so far as my knowledge extends, nothing has come to light of
recent years. And--if not a leading question--were those
passengers friends of your own?"
"Only--merely my--my wife and little daughter," came the totally
unexpected reply, followed by a forced laugh which sounded
anything but mirthful.
Uncle Phaeton, intensely chagrined, hastened to apologise for his
luckless break, but Cooper Edgecombe cut him short, asking that
the matter be let drop for the time being.
"I will talk; I feel that I must tell you all, or lose what few
wits I have left," he declared, huskily. "But not right now. It
is growing late. You must be hungry. I have no very extensive
larder, but with my little will go the gratitude of a man who--"
His voice choked, and he left the sentence unfinished, hurrying
away to prepare such a meal as his limited means would permit.
While Edgecombe was kindling a fire in one corner of the cavern,
opening a pile of ashes to extract the few carefully cherished
coals by means of which the wood was to be fired, uncle and one
nephew left the den to look after the flying-machine and
Bruno remained behind, in obedience to a hint from the professor,
lest the exile should dread desertion, after all.
"Take these in and open them, Waldo," said the professor,
selecting several cans from the stock in the locker. "Poor
fellow! 'Twill be like a foretaste of civilisation, just to see
and smell, much less taste, the fruit."
"Even if he has turned looney, eh, uncle Phaeton?"
"Careful, boy! I hardly think he is just that far gone; but,
even if so, what marvel? Think of all he must have suffered
during so many long, dreary years! and--his wife and child! I
wonder--I do wonder if he really killed--but that is incredible,
simply and utterly incredible! An Aztec--here--alive!"
"Dead, uncle Phaeton," corrected Waldo. "Killed the redskin, he
said, and I really reckon he meant it. Why not, pray?"
"But--an Aztec, boy!" exclaimed the bewildered savant, unable to
pass that point. "The tunic of quilted cotton, the escaupil!
The maquahuitl, with its blades of grass! The bow and arrows
which--all, all surely of Aztecan manufacture, yet seemingly
fresh and serviceable as though in use but a month ago! And the
race extinct for centuries!"
"Well, unless he's a howling liar from 'way up the crick, he
extincted one of 'em," cheerfully commented Waldo, bearing his
canned fruit to the cavern.
Professor Featherwit followed shortly after, finding the exile
busy preparing food, looking and acting far more naturally than
he had since his rescue from the whirlpool. And then, until the
evening meal was announced, uncle Phaeton hovered near those
amazing curiosities, now gazing like one in a waking dream, then
gingerly fingering each article in turn, as though hoping to find
a solution for his enigma through the sense of touch.
Taken all in all, that was far from a pleasant or enjoyable meal.
A sense of restraint rested upon each one of that little company,
and not one succeeded in fairly breaking it away, though each
tried in turn.
Despite the struggle made by the exile to hold all emotions well
under subjection, Cooper Edgecombe failed to hide his almost
childish delight at sight and taste of those canned goods, and it
did not require much urging on the part of his rescuers to ensure
his partaking freely.
But the cap-sheaf came when uncle Phaeton, true to his habit of
long years, after eating, produced pipe and pouch, the fragrant
tobacco catching the exile's nostrils and drawing a low,
tremulous cry from his lips.
No need to ask what was the matter, for that eager gaze, those
quivering fingers, were enough. And just as though this had been
his express purpose, the professor passed the pipe over, quietly
"Perhaps you would like a little smoke after your supper, my good
friend? Oblige me by--"
"May I? Oh, sir, may I--really taste--oh, oh, oh!"
Bruno struck a match and steadied the pipe until the tobacco was
fairly ignited, then drew back and left the exile to himself for
the time being. And, as covert glances told them, never before
had their eyes rested upon mortal being so intensely happy as was
the long-lost aeronaut then and there.
At a sign from the professor, Bruno and Waldo silently arose and
left the cavern, bearing their guardian company to where the
air-ship was resting. And there they busied themselves with
making preparations for the night, which was just settling over
that portion of the earth.
Presently Cooper Edgecombe appeared, the empty pipe in hand, held
as one might caress an inestimable treasure, a dreamy, almost
blissful expression upon his sun-browned face.
"I thank you, sir, more than tongue can tell," he said, quietly,
as he restored the pipe to its owner. "If you could only realise
what I have suffered through this deprivation! I, an inveterate
smoker; yet suddenly deprived of it, and so kept for ten long
years! If I had had a pipe and tobacco, I believe--but enough."
"I can sympathise with you, at least in part, my friend. Will
you have another smoke, by the way?"
"No, no, not now; I feel blessed for the moment, and more might
be worse than none, after so long deprivation. And--may I talk
openly to you, dear, kind friends? May I tell you--am I selfish
in wishing to trouble you thus? Ten years, remember, and not a
soul to speak with!"
He laughed, but it was a sorry mirth; and not caring to trust his
tongue just then, uncle Phaeton nodded his head emphatically
while filling his pipe for himself. But Waldo never lacked for
words, and spoke out:
"That's all right, sir; we can listen as long as you can
chin-chin. Tell us all about--well, what's the matter with that
"Quiet, Waldo. Say what best pleases you, my friend. You can be
sure of one thing,--sympathetic listeners, if nothing better."
With a curious shiver, as though afflicted with a sudden chill,
Edgecombe turned partly away, figure drawn rigidly erect, hands
tightly clasped behind his back. A brief silence, then he spoke
in tones of forced composure.
"A balloon was the best, in my day, and I was proud of my
profession, although even then I was dreaming of better
things--of something akin to this marvellous creation of yours,
sir," casting a fleeting glance at the air-ship, then at the face
of its builder, afterward resuming his former attitude.
"Let that pass, though. I wanted to tell you how I met with my
awful loss; how I came to be out here in this modern hell!
"I had a wife, a daughter, each of whom felt almost as powerful
an interest in aerostatics as I did myself. And one day--but,
"I had an enemy, too; one who had, years before, sought to win my
love for his own; in vain, the cur! And that day--we were out
here in Washington Territory, living in comparative solitude that
I might the better study out the theory I was slowly shaping in
"The day was beautiful, but almost oppressively warm, and, as
they so frequently wished, I let my dear ones up in the balloon,
securely fastening it below. And then--God forgive me!--I went
back to town for something; I forget just what, now.
"A sudden storm came up. I hurried homeward; home to me was
wherever my dear ones chanced to be; but I was just too late!
That devil of all devils was ahead of me, and I saw him--merciful
God! I saw him--cut the ropes and let the balloon dart away upon
that awful gale!"
His voice choked, and for a few minutes silence reigned. Knowing
how vain must be any attempt to offer consolation, the trio of
air-voyagers said nothing, and presently Cooper Edgecombe spoke.
"I killed the demon. I nearly tore him limb from limb; I would
have done just that, only for those who came hurrying after me
from town, knowing that I might need help in bringing my balloon
to earth in safety. They dragged me away, but 'twas too late to
cheat my miserable vengeance. That hound was dead, but--my
darlings were gone, for ever!"
Another pause, then quieter, more coherent speech.
"God alone knows whither my wife and child were taken. The
general drift was in this direction, but how far they were
carried, or how long they may have lived, I can only guess;
enough that, despite all my inquiries, made far and wide in every
direction, I never heard aught of either balloon or passengers!
"After that, I had but one object in life: to follow along the
track of that storm, and either find my loved ones, or--or some
clew which should for ever solve my awful doubts! And for two
long years or more I fought to pierce these horrid
fastnesses,--all in vain. No mortal man could succeed, even when
urged on by such a motive as mine.
"Then I determined upon another course. I worked and slaved
until I could procure another balloon, as nearly like the one I
lost as might be constructed. Then I watched and waited for just
such another storm as the one upon whose wings my darlings were
borne away, meaning to take the same course, and so find--"
"Why, man, dear, you must have been insane!" impulsively cried
the professor, unable longer to control his tongue.
"Perhaps I was; little wonder if so," admitted Edgecombe, turning
that way, with a wan smile lighting up his visage. "I could no
longer reason. I could only act. I had but that one grim hope,
to eventually discover what time and exposure to the weather
might have left of my lost loves.
"Then, after so long waiting, the storm came, blowing in the same
direction as that other. I cut my balloon loose, and let it
drift. I looked and waited, hoping, longing, yet--failing! I was
wrecked, here in this wilderness. My balloon was carried away.
I failed to find--aught!"
Cooper Edgecombe turned towards the air-ship, with a sigh of
"If one had something like this then, I might have found
them,--even alive! But now--too late--eternally too late!"
CHAPTER XIII. 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
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
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
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
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
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
"Worse than those blessed 'sour-us' and cousins," he confided to
his brother, in a whisper. "Reckon it's all right, Bruno? Uncle
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
"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,
"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
A MARVELLOUS VISION.
But the night was considerably older ere any one of that
quartette lost himself in slumber, for all had been too
thoroughly wrought up by the exciting events of the past day for
sleep to claim an easy subject.
By common consent, however, that one particular subject was
barred for the present, and then, sitting in a cosy group about
the glowing fire there in the cavern, the recently formed friends
talked and chatted, asking and answering questions almost past
Little wonder that such should be the case, so far as Cooper
Edgecombe was concerned, since he had been lost to the busy world
and its many changes for a long decade.
Then, too, his own dreary existence held a strange charm for the
air-voyagers, and the exile grew wonderfully cheerful and
bright-eyed as he in part depicted his struggles to sustain life
against such heavy odds, and still strove to keep alive that one
hope,--that even yet he might be able to discover a clew to his
loved and lost ones.
"Not alive; I have long since abandoned that faint hope. But if
I might only find something to make sure, something that I could
pray over, then bury where my heart could hover above--"
"You are still alive, good friend, yet you have spent long years
out here in the wilderness," gently suggested the professor.
Edgecombe flinched, as one might when a rude hand touches a still
"But they, my wife, my baby girl,--they could never have lived as
I have existed. They surely must have perished; if not at once,
then when the first cruel storms of hideous winter came howling
down from the far north!"
"Unless they were found and rescued by--who knows, my good sir?"
forcing a cheerful smile, which, unfortunately, was only
surface-born, as the exile lifted his head with a start and a
gasping ejaculation. "Since it seems fairly well proven that
this supposedly unknown land is actually inhabited, why may your
loved ones not have been rescued?"
"The Indians? You mean by the Aztecs, sir?"
"If Aztecans they should really prove; why not?"
"But, surely I have heard--sacrifices?" huskily breathed the
greatly agitated man, while the professor, realising how he was
making a bad matter worse, brazenly falsified the records,
declaring that no human sacrifices had ever stained the record of
that noble, honourable, gallant race; and then changed the
subject as quickly as might be.
Nevertheless, there was one good effect following that talk.
Cooper Edgecombe had dreaded nothing so much as the fear of being
left behind by these, the first white people he had seen for what
seemed more than an ordinary lifetime; but now, when the
professor hinted at a longing to take a spin through ether, for
the purpose of winning a wider view, he eagerly seconded that
idea, even while realising that it would be difficult to take him
along with the rest.
Still, nothing was definitely settled that evening, and at a
fairly respectable hour before the turn of night, the
air-voyagers were wrapped in their blankets and soundly
Not so the exile. Sleep was far from his brain, and while he
really knew that danger could hardly menace that wondrous bit of
ingenious mechanism, he watched it throughout that long night,
ready to risk his own life in its defence should the occasion
Why not, since his whole future depended upon the aeromotor? By
its aid he hoped to reach civilization once more; and in spite of
the great loss which had wrecked his life, he was thrilled to the
centre by that glorious prospect. Here he was dead while
breathing; there he would at least be in touch with his fellow
men once more!
An early meal was prepared by the exile, and in readiness when
his trio of guests awakened to the new day; and then, while
busily discussing the really appetising viands placed before
them, the next move was fully determined upon.
Not a little to his secret delight, the professor heard Edgecombe
broach the subject of further explorations, and seeing that his
excitement had passed away in goodly measure during the silent
watches of the night, he talked with greater freedom.
"Of course we'll keep in touch with you, here, friend, and take
no decisive move without your knowledge and consent. Our fate
shall be yours, and your fate shall be ours. Only--I would
dearly love to catch a glimpse of--If there should actually be a
Lost City in existence!"
"If there is, as there surely must be one of some description,
judging from the number of red men I have seen collecting here at
the lake," observed the exile, "you certainly ought to make the
discovery with the aid of your air-ship. You can ascend at will,
of course, sir?"
Nothing loath, the professor spoke of his pet and its wondrous
capabilities, and then all hands left the cavern for the outer
air, to prepare for action.
As a further assurance, uncle Phaeton begged Edgecombe to enter
the aerostat, then skilfully caused the vessel to float upward
into clear space, sailing out over the lake even to the whirlpool
itself before turning, his passenger eagerly watching every move
and touch of hand, asking questions which proved him both shrewd
and ingenious, from a mechanical point of view.
Returning to their starting-point, Edgecombe sprang lightly to
earth to make way for the brothers, face ruddy and eyes aglow as
he again begged them all to keep watch for aught which might
solve the mystery yet surrounding the fate of his loved ones.
The promise was given, together with an earnest assurance that
they would soon return; then the parting was cut as short as
might be, all feeling that such a course was wisest and kindest,
For an hour or more the air-ship sped on, high in air, its
inmates viewing the various and varying landmarks beneath and
beyond them, all marvelling at the fact that such an immense
scope of country should for so long be left in its native
virginity, especially where all are so land-hungry.
Then, as nothing of especial interest was brought to their
notice, uncle Phaeton quite naturally reverted to that suit of
Aztecan armour, and the glorious possibilities which the words of
the exile had opened up to them as explorers.
Bruno listened with unfeigned interest, but not so his more
mercurial brother, who took advantage of an opening left by the
professor, to bluntly interject:
"What mighty good, even if you should find it all, uncle Phaeton?
You couldn't pick it up and tote it away, to start a dime museum
with. And, as for my part,--I'll tell you what! If we could
only find something like Aladdin's cave, now!"
"Growing miserly in your old age, are you, lad?" mocked his
"No; I don't mean just that. His trees were hung with riches,
but mine should be--crammed and crowded full of plum pudding,
fruit cake, angel food, mince pies, and the like! Yes, and there
should be fountains of lemonade! And mountains of ice-cream!
And sandbars of caramels, and chocolate drops, and trilbies,
and--well, now, what's the matter with you fellows, anyway?"
He spoke with boyish indignation at that laughing outbreak, but
the kindly professor quickly managed to smooth the matter over,
although not before Waldo had promised Bruno a sound thumping the
first time they set foot upon land.
Until past the noon hour that pleasant voyage lasted, without any
remarkable discovery being made, the trio munching a cold lunch
at their ease, rather than take the trouble to effect a landing.
But then, not very long after the sun had begun his downward
course, there came a change which caused Featherwit's blood to
leap through his veins far more rapidly than usual, for yonder,
still a number of miles away, there was gradually opening to view
a hill-surrounded valley of considerable dimension, certain
portions of which betrayed signs of cultivation, or at least of
vegetation different from aught the explorers had as yet come
across since entering that land of wonders.
Almost unwittingly Professor Featherwit sent the air-ship higher,
even as it sped onward at quickened pace, his face as pale as his
eyes were glittering, intense anticipation holding him spellbound
for the time being. And then--the wondrous truth!
"Behold!" he cried, shrilly, pointing as he spoke.
"Houses yonder! Cultivated fields, and--see! human beings in
motion, who are--"
"Kicking up a great old bobbery, just as though they'd sighted
us, and wanted to know--I say, uncle Phaeton, how would it feel
to get punched full of holes by a parcel of bow-arrows?"
With a quick motion the air-ship was turned, darting lower and
off at a sharp angle to its former course, for the professor
likewise saw what had attracted the notice of his younger nephew.
Scattered here and there throughout that secluded valley were
human beings, nearly all of whom had sprung into sudden motion,
doubtless amazed or frightened by the appearance of that oddly
Brief though that view had been, it was sufficiently long to show
the professor houses of solid and substantial shape, cultivated
plots, human beings, and a little river whose clear waters
sparkled and flashed in the sunlight.
It was very hard to cut that view so short, but the professor had
not lost all prudence, and he knew that danger to both vessel and
passengers might follow a nearer intrusion upon the privacy of
yonder armed people. Yet his face was fairly glowing with glad
exultation as he brought the aerostat to a lower strata of air,
shutting off all view from yonder valley, as it lay amid its
"Hurrah!" he cried, snatching off his cap and waving it
enthusiastically, as the air-ship floated onward at ease. "At
last! Found--we've discovered it at last! And all is true,--all
"Found what, uncle Phaeton?" asked Waldo, a bit doubtfully.
"The Lost City of the Aztecs, of course! Oh, glad day, glad
"Unless--what if it should prove to be only a--a mirage, uncle
Phaeton?" almost timidly ventured Bruno, a moment later.
ASTOUNDING, YET TRUE.
The professor gave a great start at this almost reluctant
suggestion, shrinking back with a look which fell not far short
of being horrified. But then he rallied, forcing a laugh before
"No, no, Bruno. All conditions are lacking to form the mirage of
the desert. And, too; everything was so distinct and clearly
outlined that one could--"
"Fairly feel those blessed bow-arrows tickling a fellow in the
short ribs," vigorously declared the younger Gillespie. "Not but
that--I say, uncle Phaeton?"
"What is it now, Waldo?"
"Reckon they're like any other people? Got boys and--and girls
among 'em, I wonder?"
"I daresay, yes, why not?" answered Featherwit, scarcely
realising what words were being shaped by his lips, while Bruno
broke into a brief-lived laugh, more at that half-sheepish
expression than at the query itself.
"Both boys and girls galore, I expect, Kid; but you needn't
borrow trouble on either score. You can outrun the lads, while
as for the fairer sex,--well, they'll take precious good care to
keep well beyond your reach,--especially if you wear such another
fascinating grin as--"
"Oh, you go to thunder, Bruno Gillespie!"
Through all this interchange the air-ship was maintaining a wide
sweep, drawing nearer the forest beneath, if only to keep hidden
from the eyes of the strange people in yonder deep valley. Yet
the gaze of Phaeton Featherwit as a rule kept turned towards that
particular point, his eyes on fire, his lips twitching, his whole
demeanour that of one who feels a discovery of tremendous
importance lies just before him.
"Are we going to land, uncle Phaeton?" queried Bruno, taking note
of that preoccupation, which might easily prove dangerous under
That question served to recall the professor to more material
points, and, after a keen, sweeping look around, he nodded
"Yes, as soon as I can discover or secure a fair chance. I wish
to see more--I must secure a fairer view of the--of yonder
"Will it not be too dangerous, though? Not for us, especially,
uncle, but for the aerostat? Even if these be not the people you
"They are past all doubt a remnant of the ancient Aztecs. Yonder
lies the true Lost City, and we are--oh, try to comprehend all
that statement means, my lads! Picture to yourselves what
boundless fame and unlimited credit awaits our report to the
outer world! The benighted world! The besotted world!
"While we'll form the upsotted world, or a portion of it, without
something is done,--and that in a howling hurry, too!" fairly
spluttered Waldo, as the again neglected air-ship sped swiftly
towards a more elevated portion of that earth, part of the tall
hill-crest which acted as nature's barricade to yonder by nature
"Time enough, lad, time enough, since we are going to land,"
coolly assured the professor, deftly manipulating the
steering-gear and still curying around those tree-crowned hills.
"If we are really hunted after, 'twill naturally be in the
quarter of our vanishment, while by alighting around yonder,
nearly at right angles with our initial approach, we will have
naught to fear from the--the Aztecan clans!"
Clearly the professor had settled in his own mind just what lay
before them, and nothing short of the Lost City of the Aztecs
would come anywhere near satisfying that exalted ideal. And,
taking all points into full consideration, was there anything so
very absurd in his method of reasoning, or of drawing a
Still, that exaltation did not prevent uncle Phaeton from taking
all essential precautions, and it was only when an especially
secure landing-place was sighted that he really attempted to
touch the earth.
Fully one-half of that wide circuit had been made, and as nothing
could be detected to give birth to fears for either self or
air-ship, the aeronauts skilfully landed their vessel with only
the slightest of jars. It was a well-screened location, where
naught could be seen of the flying-machine until close at hand,
yet so arranged as to make a hasty flight a very easy matter
should the occasion ever arise.
Not until the landing was effected and all made secure, did
Professor Featherwit speak again. Then it was with gravely
earnest speech which suitably affected his nephews.
"Above all things, my dear lads, bear ever in mind this one
fact,--we are not here to fight. We do not come as conquerors,
weapons in hand, hearts filled with lust of blood. To the
contrary, we are on a peaceful mission, hoping to learn, trusting
to enlighten, with malice towards none, but honest love for all
those who may wear the human shape, be they of our own colour
"That's what's the matter with Hannah's cat!" cheerfully chipped
in the irrepressible Waldo. "I say, uncle Phaeton, is it just a
lie-low here until yonder fellows grow tired of looking for what
they can't find, then a flight on our part; or will we--"
"Have we voyaged so far and seen so much, to rest content with so
very little?" exclaimed the professor, hardly as precise of
speech as under ordinary conditions. "No, no, my lads! Yonder
lies the greatest discovery of the nineteenth century, and we
are--Get a hustle on, boys! The day is waning, and with so much
to see, to study, to--Come, I say!"
In spite of his initial attempt to impress his nephews with a due
sense of the heavy responsibilities which rested upon them,
Phaeton Featherwit was far more excited than either one of the
brothers. Doubtless he more nearly appreciated the importance of
this wondrous discovery, provided his now firm belief was
correct,--that yonder stood a solid, substantial city, erected by
the hands of a people whom common consent had agreed were long
since wiped out of existence.
The story told by Cooper Edgecombe, backed up by the articles
taken from the person of the warrior whom he had slain in
self-defence, certainly had its weight; while the brief and
imperfect glimpse which he had won of yonder valley helped to
bear out that astounding belief. And yet, how could it be true?
Really believing, yet forced by more sober reason to doubt, the
poor professor was literally "in a sweat" long ere another view
could be won of the depressed valley, although the landing of the
air-ship was so well chosen as to make that trip of the briefest
duration consistent with prudence.
The natural obstacles were considerable, however, and as they
picked their way along, the brothers for the first time began to
gain a fairly accurate idea of what was meant by the term, a
To all seeming, the human foot had never ventured here, nor were
any marks or spoor of wild beasts perceptible on either side.
Although the aerostat had landed not far below the crest of those
hills, the adventurers had to climb higher, before winning the
coveted view, partly because the most practicable route led down
into and along a winding gulch, where the footing was far less
treacherous than upon the higher ground, cumbered, as that was,
with the leaf-mould of centuries.
Still, half an hour's steady labour brought the little squad to
the coveted point, and once again Professor Featherwit was almost
literally stricken speechless,--for there, far below their
present location, spread out in level expanse, lay the secret
valley with all its marvels.
Far more extensive than it had appeared by that initial glimpse,
the valley itself seemed composed of fertile soil, yet, by aid of
the river which cut through, near its centre, irrigating ditches
conveyed water to every acre, thus ensuring bounteous crops of
grain and of fruit as well.
Numerous buildings stood in irregular array, for the most part of
no great height, nor with many pretensions towards architectural
beauty or grace of outline; but in the centre of the valley
upreared its head a massive structure, pyramidal in shape,
consisting of five comparatively narrow terraces, connected one
with another only at each of the four corners, where stood a
wide-stepped flight of stones.
"Behold!" huskily gasped the professor, intensely excited, yet
still able to control the field-glass through which he was
eagerly scanning yonder marvels. "The temple of the gods! And,
yonder, the temple of sacrifice, unless my memory is--and look!
The people are--they wear just such garb as--Oh, marvellous!
Amazing! Astounding! Incredible--yet true!"
Although their uncle could thus take in the various details to
better advantage, still the intervening distance was not so great
as to entirely debar the brothers from finding no little to
interest them, as was readily proven by their various
"Just look at the people, will ye, now? Flopping around like
they hadn't any bigger business than to--Reckon they're looking
for us to come back, Bruno?"
"Or watching for the monster bird of prey, rather," suggested the
elder Gillespie. "Of course they couldn't distinguish our faces,
and our bodies were fairly well hidden. And, even more, of
course, they must be totally ignorant of all such things as
flying-machines and the like."
"Poor, ignorant devils!" sympathetically sighed the youngster.
"Well, we'll have to do a little missionary work in this quarter,
before taking our departure, eh, uncle Phaeton?"
With a start, Featherwit descended out of the clouds in which he
had been lost ever since winning a fair view of the secret city;
and now, rallying his wits and fairly aglow with eager interest
in this marvellous discovery, he began pointing out the various
objects of special importance, naming them with glib assurance,
then reminding the boys how wonderfully similar all was to what
had existed in Old Mexico before the conquest.
Bruno listened with greater interest than his brother could
summon at will. For one thing, he had long been a lover of the