The motor rangers cloud.., p.17
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       The Motor Rangers' Cloud Cruiser, p.17

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  With the wood gathered by the young Motor Rangers, Mr. Tubbs soon had aroaring fire going. By sundown it was so cold that they were glad tohuddle close to the cheerful blaze, which was for purposes of warmthonly, the cooking being done on the denatured alcohol stove belongingto the galley of the _Discoverer_.

  It was an odd meal, but one the boys enjoyed thoroughly. Mr. Tubbs wasas good a hand at cooking as he was at anything else, and as a supplyof fresh meat had been brought along, they had a capital meal, helpedout with choice canned vegetables and even, to celebrate their firstnight in the land of their search, a generous portion each of plumpudding. It was canned, of course, but quite palatable, or so the boysappeared to find it.

  After supper the professor gave the lads an interesting sketch of thecountry they were in, and finished up with an account of the old Incas,one of whose lost cities they had come to find.

  Among other things of interest he told them concerning the lost race,was that they are believed to have been sun worshippers. At any rate,in one of the ruined cities which has been located in Peru, circulartemples with the walls embellished with pictures of the sun have beenfound. Other facts concerning the vanished civilization of the Incasmust ever remain a mystery, said the man of science.

  For instance, at the remains discovered in Peru, a huge rock, shapedlike a gigantic dome, was found. Traces of gold were discernible on itssurface, and it is believed that at one time the whole great,monolithic mass was completely plated with this costly metal.

  “Other strange features of these ruins,” went on the professor, “aredungeon-like chambers which are believed to have been used incereomonies of initiation, and great baths fed by subterranean rivers,which are still flowing as they did in the days of the Incas.”

  “Do you think we shall find such things?” asked Nat, his eyes aglow atthe prospect.

  “You mean, do I think we shall find the lost city?” corrected theprofessor, with a smile. “Well, Master Nat, I don’t doubt that if wefind the city we shall also find such things. It is rumored that thelost city we are in search of is in even better preservation than thefamous ruins of Peru itself.”

  “I wish you would tell us some more about that sacred dome with all thegold on it,” said Joe.

  “I’ll tell you all I know,” said the professor. “It is believed then,that the sacred dome was the place where Manco Capac, an Inca deity,descended to the earth. To this day the natives approach the spot withthe utmost awe and reverence.

  “According to their ideas, no bird would alight up, or animal approachit. All but priests were forbidden to come even within sight of therock, although it is hard to know how this could be prevented, as it isof immense size. At ordinary times its gold plating was covered by aveil of the finest and most costly materials, and this was neverremoved, except on great religious festivals.”

  “It must have been a fine sight to see that great golden rockglittering in the sun,” said Nat thoughtfully.

  “It must, indeed,” agreed the professor. “There was also a Temple ofthe Moon, and a vast Temple of the Sun, as well as other buildingswhose purposes are veiled in mystery, and must ever be. One thing iscertain, though, human life must have been as cheap as water, for it isestimated that many thousands of slaves’ lives were sacrificed inbuilding the city of which only ruins now remain.”

  “It reminds one of Egypt,” said Nat.

  “So travelers have observed,” rejoined the professor; “after all, thehistory of civilization repeats itself.”

  “Has much treasure been discovered there?” inquired the practical Joe.

  “Quite a good deal, yes,” was the reply; “but the Spaniards took animmense quantity of it, and to-day there is little left. However, fromtime to time a valuable find is made, I am informed.”

  “And the city we are in search of—do the same conditions exist there?”inquired Nat.

  “Very probably. According to tradition, the fierce and warlike Indianskept the Spaniards away from the spot,” was the reply.

  “I hope so,” spoke Joe, in whose mind visions of vast treasures andstrange, massive buildings were already rising. As for the others,perhaps they, too, even the professor, were also weaving castles incloudland. At any rate, they were silent for a time, brooding over thegreat mystery to whose heart they hoped to penetrate ere long.

  But the period of silence was not of lengthy duration. Mr. Tubbs, whopossessed a good tenor voice, volunteered to sing a song.

  “Is there anything he can’t do?” thought Nat.

  The song he chose was “Old Kentucky Home.” When he came to the chorusthe boys’ voices blended with his in the plaintive cadences of themusic. It was a strange sound to be ringing out in that primeval place,where perchance the foot of civilized man had never trod before.

  But the singing was due to terminate abruptly. Nat, who had been gazingoutside the circle of firelight, caused the breaking off of the concert.

  He sprang to his feet and seized up a rifle, calling on the others todo the same.

  “What is it, my boy?” asked the professor, “a wild beast?”

  “No—that is, I don’t think so,” rejoined the boy, whose face was ratherpale. “I’m almost certain that what I saw was the figure of a mancrouching over yonder and watching us.”

  Exclamations of consternation filled the air.

  “Indians!” gasped Ding-dong Bell.

  “It may have been nothing but a jaguar or a prowling puma,” said theprofessor. “Are you sure your eyes didn’t deceive you?” he inquired ofNat.

  “As I said, there’s a bare chance I might have been mistaken,” rejoinedthe lad, “but I don’t think so. However, the instant that I looked, thefigure vanished.”

  “It’s very strange,” mused the professor, “and yet it may have been anIndian, little as I like to think of such a contingency. However, wewill keep a sharp watch to-night, and be prepared to ‘slip ourmoorings’ at an instant’s notice.”

  All agreed that this would be an excellent plan, and forthwith theknots on the mooring ropes were retied, so that one tug from those onboard the _Discoverer_ would release the craft and allow her to shootupwards. Preparations for what all felt was not likely to prove arestful night, were then begun.

  The first watch was assigned to Mr. Tubbs and Joe, and would last tillmidnight. The next one would be assumed by Nat and the professor.Ding-dong Bell, who was still nervous and rather pale from hisexperience of the afternoon, was to be allowed to slumber all throughthe night.

  He protested loudly against this, demanding to take his share with therest; but was obliged to be content with the promise that if anytrouble occurred he would be routed out to assume charge of the engine.In spite of their apprehensions, Nat and the professor slept as soundlyas Ding-dong. In fact, it did not seem to Nat that he had been asleepmore than a few minutes when Mr. Tubbs aroused him to take his watch.

  “All quiet,” was the rubicund-headed one’s response to the professor’sinquiry.

  Hardly were the words out of his mouth before the silence of the nightwas broken by an almost unearthly yell.

  “What’s that?” cried Nat, considerably startled.

  “Nothing but a screaming monkey,” said Mr. Tubbs. “I’ve heard them inBrazil often.”

  “But they don’t cry out at night unless they are disturbed,” said theprofessor decidedly.

  “You think some one is in the woods?” asked Nat.

  “I don’t know about a human being. But the fact that you are almostcertain that you saw a man prowling about last night, makes it looksuspicious.”

  “It may be only a panther,” said Mr. Tubbs.

  “Possibly. Let us hope that is the case, but in the meantime preparefor trouble; then, if it comes, we can meet it. Master Joe, rouse outMaster Bell. Nat, I wish you’d bring me that peculiar-looking gun youwere asking me about yesterday when you saw m
e place it on board.”

  The gun referred to was a queer-looking weapon, with a mouth shapedlike an old-fashioned blunderbuss. It had an immense barrel, andaltogether was a very odd-looking weapon. Nat knew where it stood inthe gun-rack and soon fetched it. The professor examined the lock andappeared to find everything satisfactory.

  “What kind of a gun is that?” asked Nat, full of interest.

  “I don’t want to say much about it till I see how it works,” said theprofessor. “It is the invention of a friend of mine. If we are attackedit will be a fine opportunity to test it.”

  Nat would like to have asked more questions, but at that instant achorus of cries and shrieks arose from the woods on every side. Thecries were uttered by roosting birds and monkeys, which had beendisturbed by some cause. What that cause was, the professor soonguessed.

  “It’s the Caripunas,” he whispered; “almost beyond a doubt. MasterBell, stand by your engines. Tubbs, take up your position at the wheeland be ready to manipulate the searchlight. Master Nat and Master Joewill stand ready to slip the tie-ropes when the word is given.”

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