The Lost City

Contents:
Author: Joseph E. Badger

Chapter XVI. Can It Be True?

That announcement came with all the force of a bolt from the blue, and even the professor dropped his glasses with a gasp of amazement, while Bruno would have leaped to his feet, only for the hasty grab which his brother made at the tail of his coat.

"White—where? Surely it cannot be that—Edgecombe—"

"Augh, take a tumble, boy!" ejaculated Waldo, giving a jerk that rendered compliance nearly literal, though scarcely full of grace. "Want to have the whole gang make a howling break this way? Want to—They’re white all right, though!"

"Where? Which direction? Point them out, and—I fail to see anything which would bear out your—"

The professor was sweeping yonder field with his glass, searching for the primal cause of that latest excitement, but without success. No sign of a white face, male or female, rewarded his efforts, and he turned an inquiring gaze upon the youngster.

Waldo was peering from beneath the shade of his hand, but now drew back with a long breath, to slowly shake his head.

"They’ve gone now, but I did see them, and they were white, just as white as—as anything!"

Bruno frowned a bit at that unsatisfactory conclusion, but the professor was of more equable temper, for a wonder. He smilingly shook his head, while gazing kindly, then spoke:

"I myself might have made the same error, Waldo, but you surely were in error, for once."

"What! You mean I never saw those white women, uncle Phaeton?"

"No, no, I am not so seriously faulting your eyesight, my dear boy," came the swift assurance. "But even the best of us are open to errors, and there were in olden times not a few Aztecs with fair skins; not exactly white, yet comparatively fair when their race was considered. And, no doubt, Waldo, you saw just such another a bit ago."

But the youngster was not so easily shaken in his own opinion.

"There were a couple of ’em, not just such another, uncle. And they were white,—pure white as ever the Lord made a woman! And—why, didn’t I see their hair, long and floating loose? And wasn’t that yellow as—as gold, or the sunshine itself?"

"Yellow hair?"

"Yes, indeedy! Yellow hair, white skins,—faces, anyway. Blondes, the couple of ’em; and to that I’ll make my davy!"

And so the youngster maintained with even more than usual sturdiness, when questioned more closely, pointing out the very spot upon which the strange beings were standing, the top of a large, tall building, clearly one of the series of temples.

In vain the field-glass was fixed upon that particular point. The partly roofed azotea was wholly devoid of human life, and though watch was maintained in that direction for many minutes thereafter, by one or other of the air-voyagers, naught was seen to confirm the assertion made by the younger Gillespie.

For the moment that fact or fancy dominated all other interests, for, granting that Waldo had not been misled by a naturally fair Indian face, there was room for a truly startling inference.

"Could it actually be they?" muttered Bruno, face pale and eyes glittering with intense interest. "Could they have escaped with life from the balloon, and been here ever since?"

"You mean—"

"The wife and child of Cooper Edgecombe,—yes! Who else could they be, unless—I’d give a pretty penny for one fair squint at them, right now! If there was only some method of—It would hardly do to venture down yonder, uncle Phaeton?"

The professor gave a stern gesture of denial, frowning as though he anticipated an actual break for yonder town, in spite of the odds against them.

"That would be madness, Bruno! Worse than madness, by far! Look at yonder warriors, all thoroughly armed, and eager to drink blood as ever they were in centuries gone by! They are hundreds, if not thousands, while we are but three! Madness, my boy!"

"Four, with Mr. Edgecombe, uncle."

"And that means a complete host so long as we are backed up by the air-ship," declared Waldo, in his turn. "Those fellows!" with a sniff of true boyish scorn for aught that was not fully up to date. "What could they do, if we were to open fire on them just once?"

"Prove our equals, man for man, armed as they assuredly are," just as vigorously affirmed the professor, inclined rather to magnify than diminish the importance of these, his so recently discovered people. "You forget how the Aztecans fought Cortez and his mailed hosts. Yet these are one and identical, so far as valour and training and blood can go."

"Huh! Scared of a runty horse so badly that they prayed to ’em as they did to their own gods!" sniffed Waldo, betraying a lore for which he did not ordinarily receive fair credit. "Why, uncle Phaeton, let you just slam one o’ those dynamite shells inside a chief—"

"Nay, Waldo, must I repeat, we are not here for the purpose of conquest, unless by purely amicable methods. There must be no fighting, for or against. Savages though most people would be inclined to pronounce yonder race, they are human, with souls and—"

"But I always thought they were heathens, uncle Phaeton?"

The professor subsided at that, giving over as worse than useless the attempt to enlighten the irrepressible youngster, at least for the time being.

Silence ruled for some little time, during which each one of the trio kept keen watch over the valley, the field-glass changing hands at intervals in order to put all upon an equal footing.

One thing was clear enough unto all: the Indians had been greatly wrought up by the brief appearance of some queerly shaped monster of the air, and while a goodly number of their best warriors had hastened out of the valley and up the difficult passes, in hopes of learning more, still others were astir, weapons in hand, evidently determined to defend their lives or their property from any assault, should such be made, whether by known or foreign adversaries.

This busy stir and bustle, combined with the novel architecture and so many varying points of interest, would have been a mental and visual feast for the trio of air-voyagers, only for that one doubt: were white captives actually in yonder temple? And, if white, were they the long-lost relatives of the aeronaut, Cooper Edgecombe?

Quite naturally the interest displayed by the Indians centred in the quarter of the heavens where that air-demon had been sighted, hence our friends saw very little cause for apprehension on their own parts.

Thus they were given a better opportunity for thinking of and then discussing the new marvel.

Again did Waldo vow that his eyes had not befooled him. Again he positively asserted that he had seen two white women, wearing blonde hair in loose waves far adown their backs. And once again Bruno, in half-awed tones, wondered whether or no they were the mother and child borne away upon the wings of a mighty storm, fifteen long years gone by.

"It is possible, though scarcely credible," admitted uncle Phaeton, in grave tones, as he wrinkled his brows after his peculiar fashion when ill at ease in his mind. "Edgecombe lived through just such another experience; though, to be sure, he was a man of iron constitution, while they were far more delicate, as a matter of course."

"Still, it may have happened so?" persisted Bruno, taking a strong interest in the matter. "You would not call it too far-fetched, uncle?"

"No. It may have happened. I would rather call it marvellous, yet still possible. And if so—"

"There is but a single answer to that supposition, uncle; they must be rescued from captivity!" forcibly declared Bruno.

"That’s right," confirmed Waldo. "Of course all women and girls—I mean other people’s kin—are a tremendous sight of bother and worry, and all that; but we’re white, and so are they."

"We must rescue them; there’s nothing else to do," again emphasised the elder Gillespie.

"That is no doubt the proper caper, speaking from your boyish point of view, my generous-hearted nephews; but—just how?" dryly queried the professor. "Have you arranged all that, as well, Bruno?"

"You surely would not abandon them, uncle Phaeton?" asked the young man, something abashed by that veiled reproof. "To such a horrible fate, too?"

"A fate which they must have endured for fifteen years, provided your theory is correct, Bruno," with a fleeting smile. "Don’t mistake me, lads. I am ready and willing to do all that a man of my powers may, provided I see just and sufficient cause for taking decisive action. That is yet lacking. We are not certain that there are white women yonder. Or, if white women, that they are captives. Or, if captives, that they would thank us for aiding them to escape."

"Why, uncle Phaeton! Think of Mr. Edgecombe, and how—"

"I am thinking of him, and I wish to think yet a little longer," quietly spoke the professor. "keep a lookout, lads, and if you see aught of Waldo’s fair women, pray notify me."

For the better part of an hour comparative silence reigned, the boys feasting eyes upon yonder spectacle, their uncle deeply in reverie; but then he roused up, his final decision arrived at.

"I will do it!" were his first words. "Yes, I will do it!"

"Do what, uncle Phaeton?" asked Waldo, with poorly suppressed eagerness, as he turned towards his relative.

"Go after Cooper Edgecombe,—bringing him here in order that he may, sooner or later, solve this perplexing enigma. Come, boys, we may as well start back towards the aerostat."

But both youngsters objected in a decided manner, Waldo saying:

"No, no, uncle Phaeton! Why should we go along? You’ll be coming right back, and will be less crowded in the ship if we don’t go."

"And we can better wait right here; don’t you see, uncle?"

"To keep the Lost City safely found, don’t you know? What if it should take a sudden notion to lose itself again?" added Waldo, innocently.

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Chicago: Joseph E. Badger Jr, "Chapter XVI. Can It Be True?," The Lost City, ed. Altemus, Henry in The Lost City Original Sources, accessed February 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8NYNVHBI78LF86Y.

MLA: Badger, Joseph E., Jr. "Chapter XVI. Can It Be True?." The Lost City, edited by Altemus, Henry, in The Lost City, Original Sources. 4 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8NYNVHBI78LF86Y.

Harvard: Badger, JE, 'Chapter XVI. Can It Be True?' in The Lost City, ed. . cited in , The Lost City. Original Sources, retrieved 4 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8NYNVHBI78LF86Y.