Part 4 out of 4
unpleasant distinctness. And was she so certain that Aztotl
looked upon her as merely a god-descended priestess?
The Red Heron arose easily, head rising proudly above his shapely
shoulders as he met those great blue eyes,--eyes as pure and as
fathomless as the cloudless sky in midsummer.
And then, more like one giving a bare statement of facts than one
offering a defence for himself, Aztotl spoke of a faithless
subordinate, who was guilty of either careless neglect, or worse.
"It may be that Tezcatl lost his wits through strong waters, Sun
Child, or even that he took evil pay from still more vile hands.
You have seen the last of him, though, Child of Quetzal'l."
"You surely do not mean that--"
Aztotl lightly tapped the knife-hilt showing above his maxtlatl,
coldly adding words to that significant gesture:
"There is no place for fool or traitor upon the body-guard of the
Sun Children. Tezcatl sinned; he has paid full forfeit. And
just so shall all others perish who dare cast an evil glance
Another outcry arose from the other side of the curtained recess,
and the Red Heron instantly sprang away in that direction, hands
gripping weapons in readiness for instant use in case of need.
Almost as swiftly, Victo and the maiden followed, one through
fear, the other through utter lack of fear, for herself.
Those savage cries came from the lips of none other than the
chieftain whose now bare head bore significant traces of Bruno
Gillespie's handiwork, and he seemed bent on rushing directly
into the presence of the Sun Children, until Red Heron
interposed, stern and icy-toned:
"Stand back, my Lord Hua!" he ordered, left hand advanced with
open palm, but its dexter mate armed and ready for hot work if
that must come. "Venture no closer, on thy peril, chief!"
Huatzin recoiled a bit, though that might have been more through
surprise than because he feared this proud warrior. He gripped
his knife-hilt, and partly drew the blade from its supporting
sash. A hissing oath escaped his lips, and he crouched a trifle,
as a wild beast gathers its deadliest force prior to making a
"Darest thou bar my path, Aztotl?" he cried, hoarsely. "Make
way, I bid thee; make way, for I will see the Sun Children and--"
"Not so, my Lord Hua," coldly interrupted the master of guards,
that warning palm still turned to the front. "You are here
without law or leave, and know what the edict says: from the
going to the return of the sun, these stones are sacred from all
feet save those of the Sun Children and their regular
"What care I for laws? Or for such as thou, Red Heron? I will
that such a thing shall be, and it comes to pass. And--thou dare
to bar my way, Aztotl?"
"Ay. By words if they prove sufficient. By force if called for.
By death if worst must come; even the death of a mighty chieftain
like Lord Hua would not be too great a feat."
For a brief space it seemed as though Huatzin would make a leap
to which there could be but one termination, death to one or to
both. But Aztotl coldly spoke on:
"I have given you fair and friendly warning, Lord Hua. Go, now,
while the path of peace lies open. Go, else I sound the call,
and my guard will take you in charge, just as they would any
other rascally intruder."
"Your precious son, for instance?" retorted the 'Tzin, viciously.
"He came with one whom--one of a different race from our own,
Aztotl! A traitor in thy own family, yet thou darest hint at--"
Aztotl lifted a bent finger to his lips, sounding a shrill,
far-penetrating whistle. The response was prompt indeed, an
armed force advancing with weapons held ready, awaiting only word
from commander to punish that rash intruder by hurling him to
death over the terraces.
Although nearly beside himself with fury, Huatzin glared defiance
at both guard and its commander, then turned more directly upon
the Sun Children, speaking in savage tones:
"Unto you, proud Victo, I'll either win you as my--"
"Go on, Lord Hua," coldly spoke the woman, as his voice choked.
"I'll win and wear you as my squaw, or else give you to the stone
of sacrifice!" he snarled, then turned away as Aztotl motioned
his guards to clear the temple of all intruders, then see that
none other dared enter.
WALDO GOES FISHING.
It was with stronger forebodings than he dared acknowledge even
to himself, that Professor Featherwit watched the two young men
out of sight in the early gloom, and scarcely had his nephew
passed beyond hearing than uncle Phaeton would gladly have
Waldo made light of all fears, prophesying complete success, and
even going so far as to predict Bruno's return accompanied by the
Children of the Sun; enthusiastic words which set the exile to
trembling with excess of joy and anticipation.
What, then, was the blank dismay of all when, floating through
the night, came the hollow throbbing of yonder mighty war-drum,
fetching each person to his feet and holding him spellbound for
the first few seconds.
Cooper Edgecombe turned sick at heart, even while ignorant as to
the method of sending forth that alarm, his hollow groan being
the first sound to follow the simultaneous exclamation which
burst from three pairs of lips as the surprise came. And but a
breath later Waldo broke forth with the excited query:
"What is it? What's broken loose now? Surely--thunder?"
Only Professor Phaeton at once recognised the sound, through
description, and each one of those swiftly succeeding strokes
seemed falling upon his heart, bidding him mourn for his beloved
nephew, upon whom his aged eyes had surely looked their last in
Yet it was the professor who took prompt action, speaking sharply
as he darted across to where the air-ship rested:
"Come; get aboard, and let us do what lies in our power. It was
criminal to send the poor lad into the jaws of death, but
now--hasten, there may be a chance, even yet!"
The call was still hot upon his lips when his two companions
entered the aerostat, gripping tight the hand-rail as Professor
Featherwit sent the vessel afloat with reckless haste. As by a
miracle they escaped disaster through rushing into a bushy
treetop, and that fact served to steady the aeronaut's nerves.
"On guard, uncle Phaeton!" cried Waldo, making a lucky snatch at
his cap, which one of the stiff boughs brushed off his head.
"Ay, ay, lad," responded the man at the guiding-gear, as the
air-ship shot onward and upward, now heading, as directly as was
practicable, for the Lost City of the Aztecs. "That was the very
lesson I needed. I am steady of nerve, now, and will show no
lack,--heaven grant that we may not be for ever too late,
"What do you reckon could have kicked up such a bobbery, uncle?
And what--ugh!" as the wardrum's throbbings again swelled forth
in grim alarm. "What in time is that, anyway?"
As briefly as might be, the professor explained, and almost for
the first time Waldo felt a thrill of dread.
"If they've got Bruno, what will they do with him?"
That very dread was worrying uncle Phaeton, and already through
his busy brain were flashing horrid pictures of punishment and
sacrifice, of hideous scenes of torture, wherein the eldest son
of his dead sister played a prominent role, perforce.
He dared not trust his tongue to make answer, just then, and sent
the aeromotor onward at top speed, leaning far forward to win the
earliest glimpse of--what?
He caught sight of blazing beacons fairly encircling the Lost
City, forming a cordon through which no stranger could hope to
pass unseen. He beheld hundreds of armed shapes rushing to and
fro, plainly looking for some intruder or other enemy, yet almost
as certainly failing as yet to make the longed-for discovery.
Not until that moment had uncle Phaeton dared indulge in even the
shadow of a hope. The awful alarm seemed proof conclusive that
poor Bruno had been taken, through the treachery of Ixtli.
Naturally enough, that was his first belief, but now, as the
air-ship slackened pace to circle more deliberately above the
valley, all eyes on the eager watch for either Bruno or something
to hint at his fate, Professor Featherwit lost a portion of that
If Bruno had indeed fallen victim to misplaced confidence, and
had been craftily lured into this den of ravening wild beasts,
why all this confusion and mad skurry? Why had not the traitor
first made sure of his victim? Why such a general alarm?
Although such haste in getting afloat had been made, some little
time had been thus consumed, and, before the aerostat was fairly
above the Lost City, Bruno and Ixtli had dropped by stages down
the shadowed side of the Temple of the Sun God, to burrow
underneath the ground as their surest method of eluding pursuit.
Only for that, the end might have been different, for, once
sighted, Gillespie would have been rescued by his friends, or
those friends would surely have shared death with him.
And so it came to pass that, circle though they might, calling
ears to supplement their eyes, swooping perilously low down in
their fierce eagerness to sight their imperilled one, never a
glimpse of the young man could they obtain, nor even a definite
hint as to where next to look for him.
"Surely they cannot have captured Bruno, as yet?" huskily
muttered uncle Phaeton, hungrily straining his eyes without
reward. "If the poor boy had actually fallen into such evil
hands, why such crazy confusion? Why--oh, why did I permit his
coaxings to overpower my better judgment? Why did I send him
The words stuck in his throat and refused to issue. Phaeton
Featherwit just then felt himself little less than a cold-blooded
Mr. Edgecombe was but little less deeply stirred, although his
feelings were more of a mixture. He grieved for Bruno, and would
willingly risk his life in hopes of doing the young man a
service, yet his gaze was drawn far more frequently towards
yonder temple, on the top of which he had--surely he HAD caught
sight of his wife, his daughter!
"Let me down and try to find him," he eagerly begged, as one
might plead for a great boon. "I promise to save him if yet
alive, and--let me try, professor; I beg of you, give me this
chance to show my heartfelt gratitude."
But Professor Featherwit shook his head in negation.
"That would only add to our trouble, friend. Knowing nothing of
the dialect, you would be wholly at a loss. And, looking so
entirely different in every respect, how could you hope to pass
"All seems so confused, that I might--surely it is worth trying."
"It would be suicidal, so say no more on that score," almost
harshly spoke the usually mild-mannered aeronaut, sending his
vessel upon another circuit, only with stern vigilance choking
back the appealing shout to his lost nephew.
This time the aerostat was brought directly above the Temple of
the Sun, where there appeared to be some unusual disturbance, a
number of armed guards fairly driving a gaily arrayed Indian down
to the lower levels, and that greatly against his inclinations,
judging from the harsh cries and ringing threats which burst from
Recognising the building, and unable to hold his intense emotions
longer under stern control, Cooper Edgecombe called aloud the
names of his wife and daughter, begging that they might come to
him; but then the air-ship was sent onward and upward, with a
dizzying swoop, and Professor Featherwit gripped an arm, sternly
"Quiet, sir! Another outbreak like that and I'll lock your lips,
if I have to send a bullet through your mad brain!"
"I forgot. I could not wait longer, knowing that my loved
"You forgot that the lives of all depend upon our remaining at
liberty," coldly interrupted Featherwit. "Without this means of
conveyance, how can your loved ones escape? Now, your solemn
pledge to maintain utter silence, or I will take you back to
yonder wilderness, leaving you to shift for yourself as best you
can. Promise, sir!"
"I will,--I do. Forgive me, for I was carried away by--'twas
there I saw--after so many horrible years!" huskily muttered the
exile, fairly cowering there, before his saviour from the
"Enough; bear in mind that the rescue of your loved ones depend
on our efforts. If discovered by yonder snarling beasts, and the
machine is injured,--farewell, all hopes! Now, quiet, and look
Again the air-ship circled over the valley, in spite of the
moonlight passing wholly unseen and unsuspected by the Aztecs,
whose energies were bent on ferreting out mortal foes, not demons
of the upper world.
Waldo leaned farther over the hand-rail as they floated closer to
an excited group of warriors, the central figure being Lord Hua
himself, fiercely denouncing Aztotl and his son, Ixtli, as
traitors to the common welfare, and calling upon all honest
braves to mete forth befitting punishment.
Professor Featherwit caught one name indistinctly; that of the
young Aztec in whose company Bruno had set forth on his
ill-starred venture; and hoping to learn more of importance, he
caused the aerostat to hover directly above that particular group
Waldo, never stopping to count the risk he might thus fetch upon
them all, silently lowered the grapnel, by means of the
drag-rope, giving a boyish chuckle as the three-pronged hook
descended amidst that gathering, the sight causing more than one
superstitious brave to leap aside, with cries of amazed affright.
The air-ship gave a sudden swoop, and the grapnel caught Huatzin
by his girdle, jerking him fairly off his feet, and swinging him
into air, pretty much as a youngster might land a writhing fish.
But no fish ever sent forth so wild a screech of mingled rage and
terror as split the air just then.
Although hardly realising what was happening, Professor
Featherwit sent the aeromotor upward with a mighty jerk. The
shock proving too much for that sash, Lord Hua fell back to
earth, literally biting the dust, although he met with no bodily
harm beyond sundry bruises.
"Caught a sucker, and--I'll never do it again, uncle!" exploded
Waldo, as he swiftly hauled in his novel fish-line; but he had to
take a severe lecture from the professor before the subject was
And, worse than all else, the air-demon was now the target for
both eyes and arrows, and, perforce, sailed swiftly away into the
DOWN AMONG THE DEAD.
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 just 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
PENETRATING GRIM SECRETS.
Bruno caught an imperfect view of moving figures at no great
distance ahead, but ere he could fairly decide just what they
might be, his red-skinned guide swiftly whispered:
"More come look. You don't say. Ixtli fool 'em--easy!"
Making not the slightest attempt to avoid the issue, the young
Aztec stepped a little in advance of Gillespie, thus casting him
into partial eclipse, speaking briskly, as he met the two
Indians, only one of whom bore a light:
"It is trouble for nothing, brothers. There is no sign here. If
he saw aught, 'twas in a dream, I think. And now--hark!"
Even there in the subterranean recesses something of the wildly
excited uproar which followed Waldo's rash attempt to go
a-fishing after his fellow men, and the sighting of that awful
air-demon by the Indians, could be heard, and, without divining
its actual import, Ixtli adroitly turned it to his own advantage.
"They have found the strange dog without!" he cried, sharply.
"Come, my brothers, else we will be too late for--hasten, all!"
But only one-half of the present group obeyed, the two Indians
dashing at full speed towards the main entrance to the city of
the dead, leaving Bruno behind, wholly unsuspected, and Ixtli
chuckling gleefully over the favourable change in the situation.
"Dey go--we come. Dis way, brother," the Aztec spoke, moving in
the opposite direction, followed willingly enough by the now
pretty well bewildered paleface.
"Whither are we going?" Bruno felt impelled to ask, after a few
moments more of blind obedience. "How are we going to get out?
And my friends,--they must have been alarmed by that great drum!"
Ixtli made response by touch rather than in words, and, giving
his companion barely time sufficient to read aright that look of
warning, he extinguished the light, leaving themselves in
Naturally anticipating fresh danger, Bruno strained his ears to
catch at least an inkling of its precise nature ere the trouble
could fairly close in; but only silence surrounded
them,--silence, and an almost palpable gloom.
"Not cat," assured Ixtli, in a soft-toned whisper, as he divined
the expectations entertained by his comrade in peril. "Nobody
come, now. All gone see what noise 'bout, yonder. You, me, all
right. Best mek no big talk, dough. Come--see!"
Apparently the young Aztec found it no easy matter to elect words
which should fairly convey his desired meaning, and, abruptly
giving over the effort, he moved on, one hand lightly closed upon
Bruno's wrist to guard against possible separation in that utter
Nothing further was said until Ixtli again came to a halt,
Gillespie giving a low exclamation as he felt what appeared to be
a blank wall before them. Was this no thoroughfare? Were they
blocked in, to perish of starvation, unless earlier discovered by
the red-skinned searchers?
Far from agreeable thoughts, yet such swiftly flashed across the
young man's brain, lending an echo of harshness to his voice as
"Where are we now, Ixtli? How are we going to get out of this?
If you have led me into a trap--"
Finger-tips lightly brushed his lips, then the Aztec explained as
well he was able, thanks to his limited vocabulary.
Escape from the catacomb by the same route they had taken in
seeking refuge there was entirely out of the question. Even
though the redskins might have abandoned the search in that
precise quarter for the time being, thanks to the sudden alarm
which had broken forth in the valley, almost certainly there
would be an armed guard so stationed as to intercept any or all
persons who might so attempt to emerge.
This much Bruno gathered, then took his turn at the verbal oars.
"But we can't stay here, man, dear. Nothing to eat or to drink,
and my friends worrying over us, outside. We've got to get out;
I have, at any rate. The only question is, just how, and where?"
"Dere one way go," Ixtli made reply, even his lowered tones
betraying more than ordinary impressiveness, Bruno fancied.
"Mebbe easy, mebbe hard. Find dat, when try. We go dis way.
Best be still, dough!"
Bruno was ready enough to promise all that, just so action was
being taken, his uneasiness being by far too deep for rest or
repose. More on account of his uncle and his brother, though,
than for his own safety. He had not yet lost hope of extrication
from the perils which surely surrounded them, not quite abandoned
hope of rescuing the Children of the Sun as well.
Turning abruptly to the left, Ixtli led the way into what
appeared (through the senses of touch and hearing) to be a
narrow, winding tunnel, which presently took an upward incline,
then broadened into a chamber of greater or lesser dimensions;
the faint echoes told Gillespie there was an enlargement of some
description, but the utter darkness veiled all else.
Barely had the two adventurous youths come to a pause, than dull,
uncertain sounds came from almost directly above their heads;
and, after listening for a brief space, Ixtli disappointedly
breathed a fear that they would have to wait for the time being.
"Why? What's going on up yonder? And where are we, anyway?"
Beneath the great teocalli, Ixtli made answer in his disjointed
way of speaking. There the evil-minded paba, Tlacopa, reigned
supreme. And there, almost directly above their heads, stood the
sacrificial stone, upon whose flat surface the Sun Children would
be doomed to suffer the last penalty, provided Tlacopa won his
Bruno thrilled to his centre with fierce indignation as he,
little by little, gathered this information. Perish by such
hideous methods? Give up her fair young life--
For, rather queerly, considering that Ixtli spoke of both Victo
and Glady, he now had thought of--could see but that one lovely
face and shrinking figure,--face and form of the daughter alone.
Discovery might have come all too soon, but for Ixtli's slipping
a palm over those indignant lips and thus smothering the outbreak
which the young man could not avoid; then, recalled to ordinary
prudence, Bruno talked and listened by turns.
Ixtli contrived to make his white brother understand just how
they were situated at the time: in a secret channel of
communication with the great war temple, through which sanctuary
he had hoped to lead his friend, thence to escape from the valley
itself, if a favourable chance should offer. Now their way was
barred, and they could only wait. Unless--would Bruno keep close
guard over his tongue?
Yes. Anything, rather than remain wholly idle, like this.
Adding a few minor cautions, Ixtli took Gillespie by a wrist, and
stole noiselessly forward, climbing upward, over and into a
contrivance which Bruno vainly sought to recognise by the sense
of touch, but giving a thrill of amazement when his guide paused
long enough to whisper in his nearest ear:
"Dis war-god body. Stand up in teocalli, look on kill-stone.
Wait; you see, hear, all dat, now!"
Thanks to the close association of that night, with all its
attendant perils, Bruno was growing fairly skilful in
interpreting the broken sentences of his copper-hued chum, and he
now knew they were moving about within the hollow image of the
Aztecan war-god, Huitzilopochtli, while--
He caught sight of several small apertures, through which yellow
light came dimly, and, almost without thinking, applied his eyes
to the one most convenient, peering forth upon the broad
sacrificial stone, with its foul, blood-stained surface, the
little channels intended to drain off the superfluous hemorrhage,
together with the gloomy, repulsive surroundings. And, too, a
most abominable stench appeared to rise from the altar of death,
and Bruno shrunk back with a shiver of disgust.
"No talk loud!" softly breathed Ixtli, gripping an arm with
force. "Dey kill, if find now. Look, dat one Tlacopa; big
priest, you call. DEM help paba fool all people; so!"
Although his meaning was not fully apparent, Bruno caught renewed
interest, and once more peered forth upon the scene, weird and
impressive enough, even from a Christian point of view.
Headed by Tlacopa, a ceremony of some description was taking
place, lesser priests and other acolytes performing their various
parts, the incantations rising now loudly, now sinking to a
hollow monotone, the whole affair being none the less absorbing
when Bruno remembered that, perhaps, it might have some
connection with the vile plots against the Sun Children, if not
endangering life itself.
Gillespie likewise took note of various other graven images;
among them one of the not less hideous war-goddess, Teoyaomiqui,
or "divine war death," fitting consort for the mighty
Meanwhile, Ixtli, who appeared to look upon the whole affair as a
more or less jolly good jest at the expense of his superstitious
people, took occasion to give his white brother a few pointers,
letting him see how easy it was for false oracles to be
manufactured to order; how certain the lightest wishes of the
head priest were to find speedy fulfilment at all times.
While thus divulging part of the mysteries of the temple, that
ceremony reached a finale, and the little crowd slowly melted
away, leaving but Tlacopa and a select few of his trusted
henchman. And Ixtli certainly caught enough of their talk to
alter his manner most materially.
"Come, quick!" he fiercely whispered in Bruno's ear, gripping an
arm, and fairly forcing the young man to accompany his retreat.
Not another word was spoken before the lower level was reached,
and then Gillespie broke the ice, asking what was the matter.
Dark though it was all around them, Bruno could tell by sense of
touch that his guide was powerfully agitated, and, though Ixtli
clearly hesitated before imparting the asked-for information,
persistence won the point; and then--
Imperfectly though that discovery was set forth, Gillespie
contrived to gather this much: Tlacopa decreed that the Sun
Children should be brought to trial, if not to actual execution,
when the morning sun arose!
"Never!" fiercely vowed Bruno, all on fire, as he recalled that
more than fair face. "Never,--while I live and draw breath!"
BROUGHT BEFORE THE GODS.
Once again Aztotl, the Red Heron, was bowing humbly before the
Children of the Sun God, but now there was stern grief impressed
upon his visage, rather than pure devotion, such as one might
feel at the feet of a divinity.
And the face of Victo was unusually pale, her lips tightly
compressed to keep them from trembling too visibly, while her arm
clasped Gladys with almost fierce love in its warm strength.
Aztotl glanced upwards for a moment, then slowly spoke:
"Such are the commands laid upon thy captain of guards, Daughter
of Quetzal', the Fair God. He hath been commanded to fetch Victo
and Glady to the teocalli, there to be--no!" with an outbreak of
fierce rebellion, drawing his superb figure erect, and gripping
javelin until the springy ash quivered, as though suddenly
winning life for itself. "The gods lie! They are speaking
falsely, or--or the paba lies, when trying to thus interpret the
Gladys shrunk away, but her mother stood firm, seeming to gain in
coolness and nerve what this ardent servant was losing.
"It must be thus, my good friend," she spoke, in low, even tones.
"The word hath come to a soldier, and obedience is his first
"Not when obedience means leading to sacrifice--"
"That may never come, good Aztotl. We have committed no sin, in
deed or in thought. The Mother of Gods will not lay claim to an
innocent victim. Or, even then, the right shall triumph!
Tlacopa is powerful, but hath Victo no influence? Lord Hua may
throw HIS influence to the wrong side, but hath truth no answer?"
"If not truth, then death!" sternly vowed the captain of the
body-guard. "If Tonatiuh fails to punish the enemies of his
daughter, then this right arm shall hurl the false prince down to
Mictlanteuctli, grim lord of the under-world!"
"What is it all about, mother?" murmured Gladys, clinging in sore
affright to the side of her Amazonian relative. "Surely the
people will not--surely we need not go forth to--"
A mother's kiss closed those quivering lips, and then, with far
more assurance than she really could find in her heart, Victoria
bade her child fear nothing; that all would come aright in a
Little by little, the maiden's terrors were calmed, and then she
took position by her parent's side with a greater display of
nerve than might have been anticipated.
Through all, Aztotl waited, fiercely silent, held from open
rebellion only by the influence of the woman whose very life was
now menaced. And as the Sun Children stood before him, in
readiness to comply with the commands issued by those in high
authority, the Red Heron broke bonds.
"Say but one word, Daughter of Quetzal', and all this shall never
come to pass! Give me but permission to--"
"What wouldst thou do, good Aztotl?"
"Surround the Sun Children with their loyal body-guard and defend
them, while one brave might strike blow, or hold shield in front
of their sacred charge," slowly yet fiercely declared the
captain, eyes telling how dearly he longed to receive that
But Victo shook her head in slow negation. She was still cool of
brain enough to realise how fatal such course would be in the
end. If one deadly blow should be dealt, the end could be but
one,--annihilation to both defended and defenders.
Then, too, she recalled the wondrous tidings brought the evening
before by Ixtli and his comrade. Friends were seeking to rescue
them, and if only time might be won--it must be played for, then!
And so, his petition finally denied, with no other course left
open to take, the Red Heron summoned his picked band and, with
the Sun Children in their midst, left the temple, crossed the
plain, and slowly marched into the War God's teocalli.
In awed silence a vast number of Aztecs followed that little
procession, silent as they, yet clearly anticipating events of
far more than ordinary importance. And thus the foredoomed women
were taken before the great stone of sacrifice, whereupon lay a
snow-white lamb, bound past the possibility of struggling.
Close beside the prepared sacrifice stood the head priest,
Tlacopa, robed for the awesome ceremony, sacrificial knife in
hand, temples crowned as customs dictated, eyes blazing as
vividly as they might if backed by living fire.
Not far distant stood Huatzin, head bandaged and face none the
better looking for his floundering fall when his sash gave way
the evening before. And as he caught the passing gaze of the
woman whom he had so basely persecuted, a repulsive smile showed
itself, the grin of a veritable fiend in human guise.
Sternly cold, and outwardly unmoved, the captain of guards
performed his sworn duty, then in grim silence awaited the end.
And in like manner each man of that carefully selected band
rested upon his arms.
A brief pause, during which the utter silence grew actually
oppressive, then the head priest lifted a hand as though
commanding full attention before he should speak.
Then, in tones which were by no means loud, yet which were
modulated so as to fill that expanse most perfectly, Tlacopa
recited the grave accusations brought against the false children
of the mighty Sun God.
To their evil influence he attributed the comparative failure of
crops which had now cursed their fair people throughout the past
years. Unto them, he claimed, belonged the evil credit of many
untimely deaths which had covered so many proud heads with the
ashes of mourning and of despair. To their door might be traced
all of misfortune with which the favourite children of the mighty
gods had been so sorely afflicted.
In proud silence Victo listened to this deliberate arraignment,
not deigning to interpose denial, or offer plea in self-defence,
until the paba was clearly at an end. And even then she gazed
upon Tlacopa with eyes of scorn, and lips which curled with
A low murmur from the eager crowd told how anxious they were to
hear more, and, taking her cue from that, Victo made a graceful
motion with her white hand, following it by words that sounded
rarely sweet in their deep mellowness, after the harsh, dry notes
of the paba.
"Who dares to bring such base charges against the Daughters of
Quetzal'? Who are our accusers, head priest?"
Did Tlacopa shrink from that queenly presence? If so, 'twas but
another cunning device intended to pave the way to complete
success; to catch the fickle fancy of his audience by rendering
his retort all the more effective.
"Who dares accuse us of wrong-doing?" again demanded the
Amazonian mother, speaking for her child as well, around whose
waist her left arm was clinging as a needed support.
"The Mother of all the gods!" forcibly replied the priest, now
casting aside all presence of timidity, and gazing into that
proud face with eyes which were filled with fire of hatred and
jealousy. "The all-powerful Centeotl hath made known the awful
truth through the lips of the infallible oracle, my children!
She hath declared that no smiles shall be turned towards the
children of Anahuac so long as false prophets disgrace this great
city! She hath demanded the sacrifice--"
"Who can bear witness to any such demand?" sternly interposed the
captain of the body-guard, unable to listen longer in silence.
Tlacopa flashed an evil look his way, but from the audience
issued another murmur, rising louder until it took upon itself
the shape of words, demanding indubitable proof that the oracle
had indeed spoken thus. And, no longer daring to rely upon his
own authority, Tlacopa turned to the sacrificial stone whereupon
lay the helpless lamb, bowing knee and lifting face as he volubly
repeated the customary invocation; just then it appeared far more
nearly an incantation.
Having thus complied with all the requirements of his office, the
paba first kissed his blade of sacrifice, then seized the lamb
and turned it upon its back, one hand holding it helpless while
with the other he ripped the poor beast wide from throat to tail,
then, making a swift cross-slash, laid bare the cavity and
exposed the quivering heart.
Dropping his knife, Tlacopa grasped this vital organ, fiercely
tearing it away, drawing back where all might see as be lifted
the heart on high for inspection.
One brief look appeared to satisfy his needs, for he gave a
fierce shout as he hurled the bleeding heart towards the accused,
"An omen! An omen! The Mother of the Gods claims her victims!"
BENEATH THE SACRIFICIAL STONE.
Contrary to the expectations of Ixtli escape by way of the War
God's temple was barred throughout the remainder of that eventful
night. Tlacopa, the head priest, together with a number of his
acolytes, varying as to force, yet ever too powerful for any two
men to force a passage contrary to the will of their leader,
remained on duty each and every hour. And hence it came to pass
that those early hours found our fugitives still beneath the
temple, worn through loss of sleep and stress of anxiety, yet
firmly resolved not to permit that intended outrage without at
least striking one fair blow for the Children of the Sun.
Slowly enough the time passed, yet it could hardly be called
monotonous. Whenever wearied of their darksome waiting, the
young men would steal again into the hollow image of Huitzil',
there to utilise the cunningly arranged peepholes, now looking
out upon the priests, or listening to catch such words as fell
from the lips of those nearest the stone of sacrifice.
In this manner Ixtli contrived to pick up quite a little fund of
information, mainly through the confidences reposed in a certain
favoured few of the brotherhood by the chief paba. And this, in
turn, filtered through his lips after the chums once again
retreated to the lower regions for both safety and comfort.
And then Bruno learned how the adventurous young Aztec, far less
superstitious than the vast majority of his people, thanks to the
kindly teaching of Victo, Child of Quetzal', had in his
explorations discovered so many secrets of the temple and
priesthood, secrets which he now had no scruple in communicating
to another of a different race.
Ixtli told how, on various occasions, he had lurked behind the
scenes while the miraculous "oracle" was delivering fiat or
prophecy, and then he told his white brother how Tlacopa meant to
completely confound the Children of the Sun when once brought
before the gods.
"He tell slave what say. Slave come dis way. Hide in War God.
Wait for time, den tell Tlacopa's words!"
A most infernal scheme, yet the danger of which Bruno could
readily recognise, together with the serious difficulty of
refuting any such supernatural evidence.
"Surely your people will not suffer a few dirty curs to do such
horrible wrong to ladies like--Why, Ixtli, even the gods you
fellows bow the knee to in worship, ought to rise up in their
But Ixtli merely sighed, then spoke in sad tones, explaining how
he alone had been taken wholly into the confidence of the Sun
Children. Even the captain of their guards knew Victo and Glady
as but descendants of the great Fair God whom the audacious
trickery of a rival sent far away from the land of his favoured
people, to find an abiding-place in the sun itself.
"He good brave. He die for dem,--easy! But he not know all. He
think drop from sun, to lead people back to light. If think not
so, dat make face turn black; dat make mad come--great big!"
As was ever the case when his feeling seemed deeply stirred,
Ixtli found it difficult to fully or fairly explain his
sentiments; but Bruno caught sufficient of his meaning to give a
fair guess at the rest.
He found a ray of hope in the belief that Aztotl at least would
defend the Children of the Sun, and Ixtli predicted with apparent
confidence that the members of the body-guard would stand firm
under the Red Heron's leadership.
Keeping thus upon the alert throughout the remainder of that
night, the young men were able to take prompt action when the
crisis drew nigh.
Ixtli caught the first inkling of what was coming, and hastily
sent Bruno away from the peepholes, dropping a word in his ear as
they both prepared for clean work.
Through a secret entrance, shaped amidst the drapery which
surrounded the pedestal of the mighty Huitzil', a slave of the
temple crept to play the part of echo to Tlacopa's evil will; and
scarcely had he secured what was to be a place of waiting and
watching than the attack was made from out the darkness.
Ixtli flung his tunic over the slave's head, twisting both ends
tightly about his throat, effectually smothering all attempt at
crying aloud for aid, while Bruno clasped arms about his middle,
holding hands powerless to strike or to draw weapon.
A brief struggle, which produced scarcely any noise, certainly
not sufficient to reach the ears of priest or helper, then the
trembling, unnerved slave was bundled down that narrow passage,
to be dumped in a remote corner, and there effectually bound and
gagged by the young men.
All this was performed without hitch or mishap, and then, nerved
to fighting pitch, Ixtli and Bruno went back beneath the stone of
sacrifice, resolved to play their part to the end in manful
There was no further fear of intrusion, for, of course, Tlacopa
would never think of endangering his own evil scheme by risking
an exposure such as would follow discovery of his slave-oracle.
As Ixtli truly said, such discovery would end in the paba's being
slain by his befooled people.
Their patience was sorely tried, even then, though a goodly
portion of the blame belonged to their fears for the Sun
Children, rather than to the actual length of waiting. But then,
amidst the solemn invocations led by the high priest, the
body-guard marched into the Hall of Sacrifice, and Bruno caught
his breath sharply as he beheld--Gladys! Not her mother, just
then. For the first minute, only,--Gladys!
Then came the bitter denunciation by Tlacopa, followed by the
coldly dignified words of Victo, after which the innocent lamb
yielded up its life in order that the future might be predicted
through the still quivering heart.
With a fiercely exultant cry Tlacopa hurled the vital organ
towards the accused, it striking the mother upon an arm, then
glancing further to leave an ugly smear upon the daughter's
shoulder ere falling among the eager multitude, who fought and
struggled to secure at least a morsel of the hideous thing.
"Behold! the gods hath marked their own!" cried the high priest,
his harsh tones fairly filling the Hall of Sacrifice. "They are
guilty of all crimes laid at their door. They merit death, a
thousandfold. The Mother of Gods hath spoken!"
"To whom but thou, Tlacopa?" sternly cried the captain of the
guards, as he stood firm in spite of the ominous sounds which
were rising from the rear, as well as from either side.
"She hath spoken unto me, as her worthy representative on earth."
"And there are those who say much religion hath turned thy brain,
good Tlacopa," retorted Aztotl, holding his temper fairly well
under control, yet with blazing eyes and stiffening sinews. "Are
thy ears alone to receive such important communications as--"
"Silence, thou scoffer!" fiercely cried the high priest, lifting
quivering hands on high as though about to call down the thunders
of an outraged deity upon that impious head. "She who hath
spoken once may deign to speak again. Harken,--hear the oracle!"
Doubtless this was cue for the slave of the temple to repeat the
words placed within its mouth, but that slave was literally
unable to speak a word for himself, let alone others. Yet,--the
oracle was not wholly silenced!
"Talk out, or I will!" fiercely muttered Bruno, giving Ixtli a
violent punch in the side. "talk out for the Sun Children!"
The young Aztec needed no further prompting, loving Victo and
Glady as he did, hating and despising the high priest. And in
shrill, clear tones came the wondrous oracle:
"Tlacopa lies! Tlacopa is an evil dog! The Mother of the Gods
loves and will defend her friends, the Children of the great and
How much more Ixtli might have said, had he been granted further
grace, will never be known. Tlacopa shrank away from the
speaking statue as from a living death, but then he rallied,
" 'Tis a lying oracle! 'Tis an evil impostor who has--An omen!
A true omen, my children! The evil ones hath been branded for
the knife! Seize them! To the sacrifice!"
That vicious cry was swiftly taken up, but the body-guard closed
in around the menaced women, presenting arms to all that maddened
horde, while their captain sternly warned all good people to fall
aside and make way for the Children of the Sun.
Then that secret entrance was flung wide, permitting two excited
young men to issue, Tlacopa reeling aside from a blow dealt him
by Bruno's clenched fist, as that worthy hastened to join forces
with the body-guard.
AGAINST OVERWHELMING ODDS.
This double appearance--for Ixtli kept fair pace with his
hot-headed white brother--caused no little stir, and added
considerable to the partial bewilderment which had fallen over
Prince Hua shouted forth savage threats, but he, as well as the
paba, was fairly demoralised for the moment by the totally
unexpected failure of their carefully laid schemes.
Seeing his chance, Aztotl bade his men escort the Sun Children
from the Hall of Sacrifice back to their own abiding-place,
barely noticing his son, and paying no heed at all to the
With spears ready for stroke or parry as occasion might demand,
the guard faced about and slowly moved away from the great stone
of sacrifice, rigid of face, cool of nerve, ready to die if must
be, yet never once thinking of disobedience to orders, or of
playing cur to save life.
Almost involuntarily the crowd parted before that measured
advance, giving way until a fair pathway lay open, along which
the body-guard moved with neither haste nor hesitation, outwardly
ignorant of the fact that ugly cries and dangerous gestures were
coming thicker and faster their way.
Scores of other voices caught up the fierce cry given by the head
priest, and now the temple was ringing throughout with demands
that the false Sun Children should pay full penalty, should be
haled to the sacrificial stone, there to purge themselves without
Others showed an inclination to favour the descendants of
Quetzal', and thus the widely conflicting shouts and cries formed
a medley which was fairly deafening.
For one of his fierce temper the Red Heron showed a marvellous
coolness throughout that perilous retreat, and never more than
during the first few seconds. Then a single injudicious word or
too hasty movement might easily have precipitated a fight, where
the vast audience would surely have brought disaster, whether the
majority so willed or not.
Holding his men well in hand, moving only as rapidly as prudence
justified, yet losing neither time nor ground, where both were of
such vital importance; Aztotl forced a passage from the great
Hall of Sacrifice down to the level, then out into the open air,
where one could see and fight if needs be.
Through all this, Bruno Gillespie held the position he had taken,
one hand gripping tightly his maquahuitl, but placing his main
dependence upon the revolver which nestled conveniently within
the folds of his sash, one nervous forefinger touching the curved
He could not help seeing that the danger was great. He felt
certain that they could not retreat much farther without coming
to blows, when the odds would be overwhelmingly against them.
Yet never for an instant did he regret having taken such a
decided step; not for one moment did he give thought to himself.
Almost within reach of his hand, if extended at the length of his
arm, moved the fair maiden whose face and form had made so deep
an impression upon his mind and his heart. She was in peril.
She needed aid. That was enough!
Then the briefly stunned Tlacopa rushed forth from his desecrated
temple, wildly flourishing his arms, furiously denouncing both
the Sun Children and their body-guard, thundering forth the
curses of all the gods upon the heads of those who refrained from
arresting the evil ones.
"The mighty Mother of Gods calls for her own! Seize them!
Strike down the impious dogs who dare attempt to defraud our
Mother! Seize them! To the sacrifice--to the sacrifice!"
Equally loud of voice, the Prince Hua came leaping down to the
sandy level, urging his people to the assault, offering almost
fabulous sums as reward for the brave Aztec whose arm should lay
yonder traitorous Red Heron prone in the dust.
The crisis came, and the dogs of war were let loose.
An arrow whizzed narrowly past the feathered helmet worn by the
captain of the guards. A stone came humming out of sling, to be
deftly dashed aside by Aztotl's shield ere it could fairly smite
that gold-crowned head as, outwardly calm and composed, Victo
aided her trembling daughter on towards the Temple of the Sun
God, where alone they might look for safety.
But would it be found even there?
No! For, at savage howl from lips of the high priest, a strong
force of armed redskins took up position at the teocalli,
blocking each one of the four flights of stone steps in order to
intercept the body-guard, while still closer pressed the yelling,
screeching, frantic heathen of both sexes and all ages.
Aztotl saw how he had been flanked, but made no sign, even while
slightly turning course for another temple at less distance, a
single word being sufficient to post his true-hearts.
So far not a single blow had been struck by the retreating party,
although great provocation had been given them. More than one of
their number was bleeding, yet all were afoot, and still capable
of holding ranks. Then--
Bravest of the brave, a man among men in spite of his tender
years, Ixtli laid down his life in defence of his idolised Victo.
From one of that maddened rabble came a heavy stone, flung with
all the power of a sinewy arm and great sling. Smitten fairly
between the eyes, the poor lad's skull was crushed, as a giant
hand might mash an eggshell.
One gasping sigh, then the lad sunk to earth, dead ere he could
fairly measure his length thereupon.
For a single instant Aztotl seemed as one stupefied, but then an
awful uproar burst from his labouring lungs, and he hurled his
heavy javelin full at yonder murderer, winging it with a father's
Swift flew the dart, but fully as quickly sank that varlet, the
head of the spear scraping his skull, to pass on and smite with
death one even more evil, if that might be.
Full in the throat Tlacopa was stricken, the broad blade of
copper tearing a passage through, and the shaft following after
for the greater portion of its length. Unable to scream, though
his visage was hideously distorted by mingled fear and agony, the
high priest caught the wood in both hands, even as he reeled to
partly turn, then fall upon his face, dead,--thrice dead!
With a wild thrill of grief and horror, Bruno Gillespie saw his
red brother reel in cruel death, and, for the moment heedless of
his own peril, which surely was doubled thereby, he sprang that
way, to stoop and catch that quivering shape in his eager hands.
Too late, save to show his comradeship. That heavy stone had
only too surely performed its grim mission. Dead! Poor lad:
dead, while seeking to save another!
With a fierce cry of angry mourning, Bruno lifted the mutilated
corpse in his arms, trying to toss it over a shoulder, to bear
away from risk of trampling under the heedless feet of the
yelling heathen; but it was not to be. Another stone smote his
arm near the elbow, breaking no bone, yet so benumbing the member
as to temporarily disable it, causing that precious burden to
drop to earth once more.
Then came an awful outcry from the people, whom the sight of
their high-priest reeling in death had, for a few fleeting
seconds, fairly stupefied. Cries which meant much to the living,
and before which even that band of true-hearts receded with
slightly quickened pace.
With the others fell back Bruno, leaving his hand-wood lying
beside the lifeless corpse of his redskinned brother-at-heart,
but drawing forth the weapon which he knew so much better how to
The fierce lust of vengeance now seized upon him, heart and
brain. He shouted forth grim defiance to that howling crew, and
as the deadly missiles came in thickening clouds, carrying death
and wounds to the bodyguard of the Sun Children, he opened fire,
shooting to kill.
Entirely without firearms themselves, and in all probability
ignorant of such an instrument of destruction, this might have
produced a far more beneficial result under other circumstances.
As it was now, few, if any, took heed of what they could not hear
above that awful tumult, and those who felt the boring lead never
rose up to give their testimony.
Closer crowded the superstition-ridden heathen, showering
missiles of all descriptions upon the body-guard, confounding all
with the one to whose javelin their head priest owed his
death,--only to recoil once more, in fierce awe, as another
victim of high rank paid forfeit his life for the death of Ixtli,
sole offspring of Aztotl, the Red Heron.
DEFENDING THE SUN CHILDREN.
Louder than ever rose the voice of Lord Hua, after witnessing the
fall of his ally, the high priest. In spite of the great odds
against the body-guards, he began to fear lest his intended prey
should even yet slip through his evil clutches.
Fiercer than ever rang forth his curses and imprecations upon the
head of the Aztec who thus dared the vengeance of all the gods by
lifting hand in arms against the anointed.
And then, his own nerve strung by those very efforts to inspire
others, Lord Hua forged nearer the front, eager to behold all his
hated enemies crushed to earth as by a single stroke. And then--
With vicious force he hurled his javelin straight for the white
throat of the Sun Child who had scorned his fawning advances, and
only the ever ready eye, the true hand, the strong arm of Aztotl
again warded off grim death from the Fair God's Child.
Caught upon that trusty shield one instant, the next turned
towards its original owner, to quiver for the barest fraction of
time in that vengeful grip, then, gloriously true to the hero's
will and intent, sped that javelin home.
Home to the false heart of false prince; grinding through skin
and flesh and bones, cleaving that hot organ with broad blade of
tempered copper, forcing one vicious screech from those tortured
lungs, then causing that bulk to measure its length upon the
Once again the heathen involuntarily recoiled, as death claimed a
high victim. Once more the band of true-hearts slightly
quickened their pace towards the temple, now nigh at hand. Yet
those lessened numbers never once betrayed fear, or doubt, or
faltering. Grimly true to their trust, they fell back in the best
of order, fighting as they moved, beating back the heathen hosts,
as though each man was a god, and their strong arms a wall of
Here and there a true-heart sank to earth with the hand of death
veiling his eyes, but he died in silence; no cry of fear, no moan
of pain, no pitiful appeal for mercy at the hands of his maddened
people. They knew their sworn duty, and like true hearts they
trod that narrow path unto the very end.
Although with gradually lessening numbers, the body-guard
remained practically the same. Still in a hollow square, with
the Children of the Sun God in the centre, they slowly, doggedly
fell back, ever facing the ravening foe, ever moving shoulder to
shoulder as a single man.
Then, just as Bruno Gillespie was refilling his emptied revolver,
the base of the tall pyramidal temple was won, and still
protecting their fair-haired charge, the body-guard ascended to
the second terrace, beating back such of the wild rabble as
pressed them too closely.
Again that wonderful barking-death came into play, and Bruno felt
a strangely savage joy gnawing at his heart as he saw more than
one stalwart warrior reel dizzily back from his hot hail.
"For Ixtli, you curs! That for Ixtli! Down,--and eat dirt,
Scarcely could his own ears catch those sounds, although he
shouted with the full power of his strong young lungs, so
indescribably horrid was the din and tumult.
Up another flight of steps, then yet another, although the crazed
rabble was not pressing them so very hard, just now. Still,
their number forbade a fourfold division as yet, and Aztotl
feared lest the blood-ravening mob attempt to head off their
flight by taking possession of the other stairs, thus being first
to occupy yonder flat arena high above the earth, whereupon he
hoped to still protect the Sun Children, even though he must lay
down his life to maintain their lease.
Lacking an acknowledged leader, the furious mass thought only of
crushing the faithful band by mere weight of numbers, taking no
thought in advance, else the end might well have been
Arrows, spears, javelins, stones from slings, poured upon the
body-guard in almost countless numbers, now and then claiming a
true-heart as victim, whereupon the rabble howled afresh in
drunken triumph; but where a single man died in the performance
of his oath-bound duty, half a score heathen bit the dust and
grovelled out his remnant of life yonder where most viciously
trampled the feet of his fellow brutes.
Pausing barely long enough to beat back the crazed rush which
came so close upon their retreat, the band of brothers would then
slowly, doggedly fall back another of those mighty steps, with
bared teeth and blazing eyes, longing to end all by one joyous
plunge into the thick of their assailants, dying with their
Five separate times that upward flight, and five times the grim
pause to give death another portion of his red feast. Five times
the blood-lapping mob dashed against the band of brothers. Five
times they were hurled back, leaving more dead and dying there to
mark the savage struggle.
And then, sadly decimated at each halt, less in numbers as they
passed farther from earth to climb nearer the blue sky, the
survivors won the crest of the teocalli, still fighting, still
beating back such as followed their steps more closely.
Ere that brilliant retreat began, 'twould have taken close ranks
for the body-guard to find standing-room upon the temple-top; but
now--Aztotl called for a division of his force, since there were
four separate avenues of approach, of which the enemy was prompt
to avail itself.
"For the Sun Children, my brothers!" he cried, his voice rising
even above that awful tumult and turmoil. "Guard them with your
Little need to waste breath in so adjuring. Of all thus
enlisted, not one of the true-hearts but proved worthy the trust.
Not one brave who took care for his own life. Not one but was
ready to die in order to save; and thus far not a single wound
had won so far as either Child of the Fair God.
Even now while the heathen were raging more viciously than ever,
crowding each terrace and jamming each flight of steps to the
verge of suffocation, strong arms were shielding them, true
hearts were thinking how best they might be served.
Time and again Aztotl warded away winged death as it sought to
claim Victo for its prey. And Bruno Gillespie, no whit less
brave if somewhat lacking in warlike experience, made Gladys his
especial care, sending shot or dealing knife-thrust in her
defence, barely giving thought to his own safety as a side issue.
Those broad terraces bore ugly pools and irregular patches of red
blood. The various flights of stone steps grew slippery and
uncertain as they likewise began to steam. Yet forward and
upward pressed the howling mob, and desperately fought the doomed
Faster fly the deadly missiles, too many by far for even the
keenest eye to guard against them all. One and another of those
gallant defenders drop away; only because death had claimed them,
not because of fear or of bodily anguish.
Aztotl staggers,--an arrow is quivering in his broad bosom,--but
still he fights on, dealing death with each blow of his
blood-dripping hand-wood. A stone lays open his brow,--but
heavier and faster plays his terrible weapon. A javelin flashes
briefly, then the red copper vanishes from sight, while the ashen
shaft slowly dyes crimson, as the hot life-blood issues.
A last, dying stroke, and the Red Heron sinks at the feet of his
adoration, faithful unto the last, his brave soul going forth to
join with that of Ixtli; the last of a gallant family.
Victo gives a wild cry of vengeance, then snatches up bow and
quiver where let fall by a death-smitten warrior, and wings swift
death to the slayer of her captain of the guard.
An awful melee, where the odds were momentarily increasing; where
one man was forced to do the work of a score; where death
inevitable awaited all, unless a miracle should intervene. And
Shrilly rang forth the voice of Victoria Edgecombe as, amidst the
fury of battle, she caught sight of the air-ship swiftly darting
that way through the clear atmosphere, bent on saving, if saving
The peculiar sound which attended the exploding of a dynamite
cartridge heralded the death of more than one Aztec, and, as the
swift rattle of revolvers added to the uproar, there was an
involuntary recoiling, a terrified shrinking, which was employed
to the best advantage by the air-voyagers.
The aerostat barely landed upon the top of the temple, before
Cooper Edgecombe, with a wild scream of ecstatic joy, caught his
wife in his arms and hurried her into the car, while Waldo and
uncle Phaeton aided Bruno.
ADIEU TO THE LOST CITY.
And Bruno clung fast to the half-swooning maiden, so that two in
place of one had to be assisted by uncle and nephew!
Barely a score of seconds thus employed, then the gallant
air-ship responded to the touch of master-hand, and floated away
from the bloody temple-top with its increased burden, even as the
last survivor of the Sun Children's body-guard sank down in
A brief stupor came over the amazed heathen at sight of this
awful air-devil from whose sides spat forth invisible death; but
then, as they divined at least a portion of the truth, as they
saw their longed-for victims thus borne bodily away, a revulsion
came, and, amid the most hideous howls and screeches, missiles
flew towards the air-ship, menacing sudden death to all therein.
But fate would not have it thus, and, under the guidance of that
master-hand, the aeromotor flew higher and farther, quickly
leaving behind all peril from javelins, darts, arrows, or stones
from slings. And but one of their number had suffered aught:
Bruno lay as one dead, blood flowing from a stone-gash over an
eye, but with one hand still gripping the butt of an empty
pistol; his other arm was--around the Sun Daughter's waist!
And Gladys? First she shrunk back with a gasping cry of mingled
fear and grief; only to quickly recover and--did she kiss that
curiously spotted, streaked face?
Waldo afterwards declared she certainly did, for that a moment
later he saw some of that moistened stain upon her quivering
lips; but Waldo was ever extravagantly fond of a jest, and it may
Not until the air-ship was safely past peril from yonder howling,
raving lunatics in bronze did Professor Featherwit give heed to
aught else, and by that time Victoria had left the ardent embrace
of her husband, to care for the elder Gillespie, whose
single-hearted devotion all through that bloody retreat and
bloodier struggle upon the temple had not wholly escaped her
Under such tender ministrations, Bruno quickly revived, and,
after assuring himself that the Children of the Sun were alive
and unharmed, while the Lost City was now left far behind them,
he huskily begged uncle Phaeton to descend to earth, where he
might find water enough to remove what remained of that loathsome
But Professor Featherwit was far too shrewd a general to take any
unnecessary risks. His last glimpse of yonder valley showed him
hundreds of armed redskins rushing at top speed for the various
passes by which that circle of hills could be over-passed, and he
knew that chase would be made as long as the faintest ray of hope
lured the Aztecs on.
Thus it came that no halt was made until the inland reservoir was
reached, where there could be no possible danger in making a
temporary landing. And then Bruno stole away in hot haste, both
to wash his person and to reclothe it in garments not quite so
ridiculous as he now felt that savage rig must appear.
"Just as though the little woman wasn't used to see fit-outs like
that, old man," mocked Waldo, the irrepressible. "She'll go
scare at you in this rig; see if she doesn't, now!"
Whether or no Gladys was actually frightened as Bruno made his
appearance, need not be decided here; but one fact remains: she
acted a vast deal shyer than when she saw her gallant defender
lying as if dead, with the red blood flowing over his face.
Naturally enough, Cooper Edgecombe seemed fairly crazed by his
joy. After so many long years of hopeless grief and wistful
longing, to find his loved ones, safe and sound, far more
beautiful than of yore! Surely enough to turn the gravest of men
into a laughing, jesting, voluble lad!
But throughout it all ran a vein of sadness and of mourning.
Neither Aztotl the noble, nor Ixtli the gallant, could so soon be
forgotten. And more than one pair of eyes grew dim, more than
one voice turned husky, as mention was made of both life and
death,--peace to their ashes!
Heavily burdened as the air-ship now was, it would be unwise to
add more, and so but a few minor articles were removed from the
cavern, which had for so long sheltered the exiled aeronaut, then
the lever was touched, and the vessel rose slowly into air,
making one leisurely circuit of the lake, in order to show the
Children of the Sun where their husband and father came so
perilously nigh to entering upon a subterranean voyage to the
far-away Pacific. And, luckily as it appeared, they were just
in time to see that "big suck" drag another huge tree down into
its ever hungry maw.
Not until the shades of night again began to settle over the
earth did the professor permit another halt, but then many miles
lay between that Lost City of the Aztecs and their present
position, and, after selecting a pleasant spot for alighting,
preparations for their first al-fresco meal in company were
That proved to be a pleasant meal, and yet a more pleasant
evening there in the wilderness,--the first, but by no means the
last, partaken of,--for, now they need no longer fear the
heathen, Professor Featherwit was eager to more thoroughly
explore that strange land.
Still, the air-ship was inconveniently crowded, and that helped
to cut explorations short. Then, too, Cooper Edgecombe was
naturally eager to return to civilisation once more, especially
as he now had his heart's dearest desire, wife and daughter, each
peerless in her peculiar way.
Thus it came to pass that the terra incognita was abandoned for
the time being, Professor Featherwit striking that wide path of
ruin which marked the course of the tornado, then sailing
leisurely towards the point of their initial departure, improving
the opportunity by giving a neat little lecture concerning
tornadoes in general, and that one in particular.
"Which totally exploded so many absurd theories held up to date,"
was his proud assertion; and then he went on to explain just how,
and why, and wherefore--
Why dwell longer? The tale I set out to narrate is finished.
The unknown land has been penetrated, and at least a portion of
its marvels has been inspected; imperfectly, no doubt, but that
may be attributed to circumstances which were past control.
And should the still curious reader ask, "Is it all true? Is
there actually such a place as the Lost City? And are the people
who live in that town really and truly the same race as once
inhabited Old Mexico?"--to all such, I can hardly do better than
this: there was a Territory of Washington. There is now a State
of Washington. Within that State may be found a range, or system
of mountains, known to the world as the Olympics. And within the
wide scope of country which lies nestling inside of that mountain
system may to this day be found--
But, after all, a little parable which Waldo Gillespie read to a
certain doubting Thomas, on the very evening of the day which
changed Gladys Edgecombe, spinster, into Mrs. Bruno Gillespie,
may better serve in this connection.
"After all, I don't believe there is any such place or people,"
declared Doubting Thomas, nodding his head vigorously.
"Is that so?" mildly queried our good friend, Waldo. "Let me
give you a little pointer, old man. Once upon a time, a man by
the name of John Smith was being tried for stealing a fat hog.
The State brought three reputable witnesses to swear that they
actually saw the theft committed, while the best the defence
could offer was to declare that they could produce at least a
dozen honest citizens who would make oath to the fact that they
did not witness the crime. So--moral:
"We six fairly honest people saw both the Lost City and its
inhabitants. Scores of equally reliable persons never saw
either. Which sort of evidence weighs the most, my good fellow?"
Gentlemen of the jury, the verdict rests with you!