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Title: In the Wonderful Land of Hez - or, The Mystery of the Fountain of Youth
Author: Shea, Cornelius
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Wonderful Land of Hez - or, The Mystery of the Fountain of Youth" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



available by Villanova University Digital Library
(http://digital.library.villanova.edu)



      Images of the original pages are available through
      the Villanova University Digital Library. See
      http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:293263


Transcriber’s note:

      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

      An additional transcriber’s notes is at the end.



[Illustration: Something snapped above them, and down came the girl,
bringing the skeleton with her, knocking the daring boy flat upon his
back.]

       *       *       *       *       *

BRAVE & BOLD

_A Different Complete Story Every Week_

_Issued Weekly. By Subscription $2.50 per year. Entered according to
Act of Congress in the year 1905, in the Office of the Librarian of
Congress, Washington, D. C., by_ STREET & SMITH, _79-89 Seventh Avenue,
New York, N. Y._

No. 127. NEW YORK, May 27, 1905. Price Five Cents.

       *       *       *       *       *


IN THE WONDERFUL LAND OF HEZ; OR, The Mystery of the Fountain of Youth.

By the author of “The Wreck of the ‘Glaucus.’”



CHAPTER I. AN ECCENTRIC COUPLE.


One fine October afternoon, in the year 1880, a sailboat might have
been seen gliding serenely over the waters of Lake Okechobee, in the
southern part of Florida.

The boat had but two occupants, and these were so different in
appearance that a little description of them will not be out of order.

The elder of the two was attired in a very loose-fitting suit of blue
flannel, and wore a Panama hat.

He was probably fifty years of age, and one look at his round,
smooth-shaven face would have told the casual observer that he was a
good-hearted individual.

His eyes were hidden by a pair of blue goggles of extraordinary
proportions, which made the man look as though he had donned a diver’s
helmet.

In stature this remarkable personage was short and very stout.

Prof. Remington Easy was his name, and now, as he has been introduced,
we will turn our attention to his companion--a tall, lanky individual,
attired in corduroy knee breeches, heavy top-boots, red flannel shirt,
linen coat and a broad-brimmed hat--a typical Yankee, for all the world.

This was Martin Haypole, the professor’s right-hand man.

The Yankee was not over thirty years of age, and had it not been for
the thin bunch of yellow hair he wore on his chin, he would have been a
fair-looking man.

Martin was about six feet two inches in height, and weighed probably
one hundred and thirty-five pounds; thus it will be seen that he
possessed not an ounce of superfluous flesh.

He had often remarked that what he lacked the professor amply made up
for, and vice versa.

But what are these two curious individuals doing in this wild part of
Florida? the reader may ask.

The question is answered in a very few words.

Prof. Remington Easy was of an exploring turn of mind.

About a month before the opening of our story he became deeply
interested in that vast, unexplored region in the southern part of
Florida known as the Everglades.

The more he studied over the matter the more he became desirous of
penetrating the heart of the swamp and discovering something wonderful.

The professor possessed an unlimited supply of cash, and he spared no
expense in fitting himself out for his trip.

Thus we now find them in their boat upon the lower part of Lake
Okechobee, within about five miles of the beginning of the Everglades.

The sun was yet about three hours high, and the professor hoped to
reach a good place to land before the shades of night gathered around
them.

It was now the second day since they had entered the upper portion of
the lake, by way of the stream beyond it, and the professor judged that
the marshes must be close at hand.

Owing to the fact that their boat did not possess one of those useful
things known as a centerboard, and that the winds had been contrary
ever since they entered Lake Okechobee, they had made but a scant
twenty miles in nearly two days.

While Prof. Easy was satisfied with this slow mode of progress, Martin
Haypole was not.

The boat, which was christened _Maid of the Marsh_, appeared to be a
very insignificant thing in the eyes of the Yankee.

He had laughed at it, swore at it and nearly cried over it.

And now, just as Prof. Easy made a prodigious effort and rose to his
feet, he began again.

“I tell you, professor, this is the dod-rottedest boat that ever sot
in water. Them trees there to the south’ard are ther Everglades; but
d’yer think we’ll ever git thar at this rate? Mought better started in
a rowboat. _Maid of ther Marsh!_ A cussed fine name, ain’t it? I hope
she gits stuck in some marsh afore long, an’ never gits out again. But
I’m ’fraid we’ll both be gray-headed afore she gits to a marsh. Twenty
miles in two days! Well, I swan ter Guinea! If that ain’t travelin’ in
ther nineteenth century, I’m a downright fule!”

“Tut, tut, Martin,” replied the professor; “take things easy. I took
notice that you were very glad to get in the boat day before yesterday,
when that big alligator gave chase after you.”

“Oh! she were good enough then, professor. I don’t want a ’gator nosin’
aroun’ me; an’ this tub is good enough when that kind of work is goin’
on. But when you come right down ter sailin’, whar in blazes does this
dod-rotted thing come in?”

“Have patience, Martin. We will reach those trees yonder in less than
an hour. See! a favorable breeze is even now springing up.”

The professor was right. For the first time during their voyage upon
the lake the wind was blowing in a direction suited to their course.

The hitherto flapping mainsail now bellied out, and the little craft
went skipping through the water like a thing of life.

Even Martin Haypole was temporarily satisfied, and with his hand upon
the tiller he watched the rapidly nearing forest in the swamp district.

The breeze kept up, and, sure enough, in a little while they arrived at
the end of the lake proper.

As soon as they got among the trees, the breeze ceased to exist, and
once more the sail flapped idly about the mast.

“I’ll be gosh-dinged if we won’t eat supper on land to-night, anyhow!”
exclaimed the Yankee, as he pushed the boat, by means of a long pole,
into a narrow creek, and made for a little island that was several feet
above the level of the marsh.

“Good enough, Martin--good enough!” returned his companion, rubbing his
hands. “I am agreeable, I assure you.”

At that moment the prow of the boat struck the bank and caused the fat
professor to lose his balance and tumble overboard.

“Ha! ha! ha!” laughed the Yankee, as he observed his employer
floundering about in the muddy water. “How d’ye like it, professor? You
laughed at me when I fell overboard--now it is your turn, by gosh! I
told you laughin’ was catchin’. Now, if one of them ugly ’gators was
ter come along there would be fun. Thunder and lightnin’! if there
ain’t one, now, I’m a rank sinner!”

A floundering was heard a few feet from the struggling professor, and a
half-grown alligator was seen making for him with all his might.

The luckless man had now assumed an upright position, with the dirty,
black water even with his chin, and as he observed his peril he
bellowed lustily for help.

He strove in vain to reach the gunwale of the boat, but the distance
was too far for his short arms.

Haypole, with an amused smile upon his face, allowed the alligator
to get within a few feet of his intended prey, and then reached over
suddenly and seized his employer by the arms.

He then saw that he would not be able to get him out as quickly as he
had anticipated, and his gleeful look turned to one of alarm.

The professor was a heavyweight of the first water, and had it not
been for the fact that Haypole was a very strong man, the ferocious
alligator would certainly have had a good supper that night.

But by an almost superhuman effort he jerked him from the muddy water
just as the ferocious monster made a vicious snap with its huge jaws.

“Murder!” yelled the professor, as he fell in a heap at the feet of the
Yankee; “the thing has bitten off my foot!”

“I guess not, professor; he only nipped off ther heel of yer shoe.
Great haystacks! but that was a narrar escape, though! I didn’t know
you was so ’tarnal heavy.”

As soon as the half-drowned man found that he was not injured, he got
mad, and shaking his fist under Haypole’s nose, said:

“Martin, if you ever let such a thing as that occur again, I’ll
discharge you on the spot!”

“Now, don’t git mad, old man; you won’t discharge me, you know you
won’t. Why, thunderation! You couldn’t git along without me.”

“It makes no difference; the whole thing was your fault. If you had not
made such an ass of yourself by pushing the boat so hard against the
bank, I would not have fallen overboard at all. Then the idea of your
standing here laughing at me when the alligator was coming after me
with all his might. You think you are very funny, Martin Haypole; and
I’ll tell you what I have a great notion of doing.”

“What?” asked the Yankee, showing just a slight tinge of passion.

“I have a great mind of thrashing you.”

“You had better not try it, professor. I never seen that man yet as
could do that in a square rough and tumble.”

Whack!

The enraged professor struck his employee a smart blow on the face with
his open hand.

“Thunder and lightning!” howled the Yankee; “I can’t stand that, even
if you do be my boss.”

He made a sudden dive forward and seized Prof. Remington Easy by the
collar, and prepared to stand him on his head.

But the fat man was still mad, and he ducked down and seized his
opponent by his long legs.

Then each strove to force the other to the bottom of the boat.

“Drat your tarnal hide! I’ll wallop you, anyhow, now,” exclaimed
Haypole.

He let out his full strength, and down went the fat professor, with him
on top.

But as they struck the boat gave a lurch, and overboard went both of
them.

And the alligator, who was still hovering about the place, opened
wide his jaws and swam toward the two struggling forms, who were each
striving to see who could shout “Murder!” the loudest.



CHAPTER II. AN ACCEPTED PROPOSITION.


“Dick this is a pretty wild spot, isn’t it?”

“Well, I should say so, Leo; and not only wild, but dangerous, as well.”

“Dangerous? Why, you are not afraid of the ’gators, are you?”

“Not exactly; but then there are other things besides alligators to
look out for in this region.”

The two speakers were young men, eighteen or nineteen years of age.

They were seated upon the trunk of a fallen tree, on a small island,
situated at the lower end of Lake Okechobee, Florida.

A few feet from them a negro lad was busily engaged in cooking a haunch
of meat over a brightly burning fire.

The first speaker was Leo Malvern, the son of a wealthy St. Augustine
merchant, and his companion was his cousin, Dick Vincey, of New York
City.

Dick had come to the South to spend the fall and winter with his
relatives, and his cousin had proposed that the two should make a trip
as far as the Everglades.

Both liked adventure, and the idea of penetrating into that unexplored
region pleased them to a great extent.

They procured all necessary supplies needful for such an undertaking,
and set out for their destination, after traveling as far as they could
by rail.

The young negro who was engaged in preparing their evening meal--for it
was near sunset--was a comical-looking personage, to say the least.

He was not as black as some of his race, but the spread of his nose and
mouth, and the habitual grin on his face gave him a decidedly humorous
appearance.

He had lived at the home of Leo Malvern’s folks since his earliest
infancy, and was a faithful servant.

This interesting young coon, who is to figure as one of the characters
in our story, was known as Lucky.

He never knew any other name, and, consequently, was satisfied.

Like the majority of his people, he loved a banjo, and had brought
one along on the trip for the amusement of himself and his two young
masters, as he chose to call the boys.

“Is supper ready?” asked Dick, as he noticed that the darky was looking
at them.

“Yes, sah; it am all done. Ready for ter dive in, you bet,” was the
reply, accompanied by a broad grin.

“All right,” said Leo Malvern; “we may as well eat, then.”

The two boys now made their way to the white cloth spread upon the
ground, and prepared to do justice to the tempting meal before them.

The odor of coffee and roasted possum made them hungry, although their
appetites were not lacking, by any means.

But just as they were about to attack the tempting morsels, the sounds
of an angry discussion were heard in the near vicinity.

Leo and Dick sprang to their feet at a bound and seized their rifles.

Their canoe was but a few feet distant, and it was but the work of a
minute to spring into it and push off in the direction the sounds came
from.

Up to this moment they had judged they were the only human beings in
this out-of-the-way place.

But now it seemed that they were not. The voices were those of two
men in a dispute, and the boys determined to catch a glimpse of their
owners.

Dick paddled with all his might, while Leo held his rifle ready for
instant use, in case those they heard might be enemies.

Rounding a bend, they suddenly came in sight of a small sailboat and
two struggling men.

It was the _Maid of the Marsh_, and the two men were Prof. Remington
Easy and the Yankee.

While the canoe containing the boys was yet a hundred feet away from
the boat, the two men suddenly fell overboard.

Then it was that they first observed the alligator making for them.

As the professor and Martin Haypole arose to the surface and began
shouting lustily for help, Leo raised his rifle to his shoulder.

Crack!

As the report rang out the hungry alligator ceased his forward progress
and began floundering about in the muddy water.

The bullet had pierced his right eye, and in less than half a minute it
expired.

Meanwhile the Yankee succeeded in grasping the gunwale of the _Maid of
the Marsh_, and at length drew himself safely on board.

Then he hastily lifted his employer from the water, after which he
gazed pantingly in the direction of the approaching canoe.

“Much obliged to yer, boys,” said he, addressing our two young friends.
“Whichever of ye it was that plugged that ugly critter are a good shot,
swan if he ain’t!”

Leo and Dick at once perceived that the men were not likely to prove
enemies, so they lost no time in urging their canoe to the side of the
sailboat.

“Glad to meet you, young gentlemen!” exclaimed the professor, rubbing
his hands. “I thought us two were the only ones in this wild place. I
am glad that such is not the case, though, I assure you. For had it not
been for you, both Haypole and myself would surely have been devoured
by that ferocious monster. All on account of his pig-headedness, too.”

“Now, see here, professor,” put in the Yankee, “I ain’t a-goin’ ter
quarrel with you ag’in under no consideration. This oughter be a lesson
for us both. Why, I swan ter Guinea! that little foolishness nearly
cost us both our nat’ral lives! Come aboard, boys; I’ve got some fine,
old Medford rum here, an’ gosh! if I don’t stand treat.”

The smell of the blood from the dead alligator was drawing others to
the spot, and both Leo and Dick deemed it advisable to board the boat.

They at once clambered over the gunwale of the _Maid of the Marsh_,
and then, tying their canoe to the stern, questioned the professor and
Haypole as to where they had come from, and what they were doing there.

In a very matter-of-fact way Prof. Easy related his whole story, word
for word, and in conclusion said:

“Now, then, young gentlemen, tell us how we came to find you in this
dangerous and unhealthy place.”

It did not take Dick Vincey long to do this, and when he had finished
all four seemed glad that the meeting had taken place.

“Leo Malvern and Dick Vincey, eh?” said Prof. Easy. “Well, I’ll tell
you both bluntly that I like you. I am now going to make a proposition
to you, which you can accept or decline as you see fit.”

“What is it?” asked Leo.

“I would like to have you accompany me on my exploring trip. You are
both made of the right sort of material for such an undertaking; and,
if my theory proves correct, you will assist me in making one of the
greatest discoveries the world has ever known.”

“Before we give you an answer I would suggest that you move your boat
over to our island, just beyond the bend. We have a darky there who has
supper waiting for us, and we are both hungry. Besides, we have a fire
burning there, and it is getting dark. I think it will be pleasanter
for all hands,” observed Leo.

“A good idee,” said Haypole. “Here, boys, is ther Medford rum I spoke
about; have some?”

His offer was declined, greatly to his astonishment.

“Great haystacks!” he exclaimed, swallowing a big mouthful of the
liquor; “this stuff won’t hurt ye any more’n apple cider.”

The longer Leo and Dick remained in the company of the two men, the
better they liked them.

There was something about Prof. Easy that was bound to make him friends
wherever he went, and Martin Haypole--well, he was one of those
comical, unsophisticated people whom almost everybody likes.

Dick grasped a pole and assisted to shove the boat out into the stream,
and thence to the little island, where Lucky, the darky, was anxiously
awaiting the return of the two boys.

When he saw the sailboat approaching through the gathering darkness,
he uttered a cry of alarm and hastily seized his rifle, which stood
against a tree.

“Hold on, Lucky! it is all right,” shouted Leo.

“Fo’ de Lor’ sakes! Whar did youse done git de boat, Massa Leo?” asked
the darky.

“We found her out here with two men in her,” returned Dick, as the prow
of the craft struck the little island.

A line was thrown out, which Lucky quickly tied to a tree, and then the
four sprang out upon the ground.

The darky still had the possum and coffee warm, and, as there was
enough to go around, all hands did ample justice to the meal.

When supper was finished, Leo and Dick thought over the professor’s
proposition, and, after a while, concluded to accept it.

The five sat about the fire for a long while, chatting over the
matter, and finally, when they began to get drowsy, Leo suggested that
they should turn in upon the bottom of the boat, leaving one man on
guard for the first part of the night, and when his time was up, to
make a change.

“I think it advisable to do this,” said he, “for we can’t tell what
might happen while we slept.”

“A good idea,” promptly returned the professor. “Martin will take the
first watch.”

“I will, sartin,” said the Yankee.

“And I’ll take second,” put in Dick. “To-morrow night some one else can
have a show.”

This seemed to be satisfactory, so all turned in save Haypole, who,
rifle in hand, sat down upon the ground near the boat, with his back to
a tree.

He kept the fire burning brightly to keep prowling animals away, and
listened to the regular breathing of his companions, who were soon fast
asleep.

The hours flitted by.

Martin Haypole’s time was nearly up, and he was still seated in the
position he had taken on commencing his watch.

Up to this time he had remained wide awake, but now he began dozing.

Suddenly he was brought to his full senses by hearing the crackling of
a twig at his elbow.

The Yankee glanced hastily up, and was surprised to see the figure of a
man within two feet of him.

Before he could make a move the stranger seized the rifle from his
hands, and bounded from the spot with the speed of an antelope.

“Hey!” exclaimed Haypole, springing to his feet and firing his revolver
at the retreating form. “Who in thunderation be you, anyhow?”

But a splash told him that the man had taken to the water.



CHAPTER III. THE STONE CUBE AND THE OBELISK.


Three weeks later we find Prof. Remington Easy and his exploring party
in the very heart of the great Everglades.

Had they not been possessed of a vast amount of pluck and endurance
they would never have reached this far.

But to turn back was strictly out of the question to them, and this,
coupled with the fact that they were completely fitted out for such an
undertaking, was the secret of their success.

As Prof. Easy had expected, they found the central position of the
swamp less dangerous to traverse. It seemed to be upon higher and
more solid ground, and there was less water, and, consequently, less
alligators to look out for.

It is a beautiful morning upon which we find them camped in a very
picturesque spot.

The air seems purer than at any time since they entered the recesses of
the unexplored region, and all appear happy and contented.

The stranger and his dog have not been seen during all this time, nor
has any other human being, outside of their own party.

Each one of the swamp explorers has lost more or less flesh, though it
cannot be said that Martin Haypole’s loss, in that respect, amounts to
much.

Though a native of the Southern clime, Lucky has suffered the most.

He is worn down to a mere shadow, and had it not been for the
professor’s store of medicines he would certainly have found a grave in
the swamp.

As it is, he has just about pulled through by the “skin of his teeth,”
as the saying goes.

Leo Malvern has just shot a swamp deer, and they are busily engaged in
preparing some of the meat for their breakfast.

“Well, professor,” said the young fellow, looking up from his task, “I
can’t say that we have made any great discovery yet, and I guess we are
pretty near the heart of the Everglades.”

“I haven’t given up yet,” was the reply. “Here, examine this and tell
me what you think of it.”

He produced a block of stone about two or three inches square from his
pocket as he spoke.

Leo laid down the knife with which he was skinning the animal he had
slain, and took the object in question in his hand.

“I found that lying upon the ground a few minutes ago,” went on the
professor. “Have any of you lost it?”

He was promptly answered in the negative by all hands.

“Nature certainly never formed that,” said Leo. “Ah! there are marks
upon it!”

The boy was right. Upon one side of the stone were several cuts,
resembling, for all the world, Chinese hieroglyphics.

“That’s very strange,” remarked Dick.

“We are on the eve of a great discovery--mark my words, gentlemen,”
said the professor, in a manner of excitement.

“I don’t see why,” ventured the Yankee.

“You don’t? How do you suppose this thing came here, then?”

“Somebody has been here afore, most likely.”

“That’s it, exactly; somebody has been here before, and those who have
must certainly live in this neighborhood. Let us look about and see if
we can find anything more.”

“Humph!” retorted Haypole; “suppose we do find something. What’ll it
amount to, anyhow?”

No one vouchsafed a reply, and leaving Lucky to get the morning meal
ready, Leo, Dick and the professor began carefully searching about the
ground.

At length the Yankee became interested, and joined them.

But they looked about the spot where the professor had found the little
cube for full half an hour, and not another thing could they find that
seemed out of the way in the place.

“Well,” observed Dick, as they were called to breakfast, “I would keep
the cube, professor, if I were you, and be very careful not to lose it.”

“Oh! you may rest assured that I will,” was the reply.

After the remains of the breakfast were cleared away, Leo arose to his
feet and signified his intention of climbing a tree to see how the land
lay.

Selecting a good, tall one, which was at the same time easy to climb,
he went up.

The tree was nearly a hundred feet high, and the boy did not pause
until he reached the top.

Then he prepared to take in the surrounding country.

The sun, which seldom found its way to the ground in the swamp, was
shining brightly all around him, and Leo felt his spirits rise as if by
magic.

“This is fine,” he muttered to himself; “but I can’t see much besides
tree tops and cane brakes, after all. But it is worth ten dollars to
have the sun shine on you five minutes like this. Ah, by George!”

He had just turned his gaze in a southerly direction as the words left
his lips.

No wonder he uttered the exclamation.

Leo Malvern was looking upon something besides trees, cane brakes and
pools of muddy water now.

About a mile from the tree in which he was perched he plainly saw a
stone obelisk, which looked to be in the neighborhood of forty feet
high.

Now, Leo knew this could not have grown there; so, locating the exact
direction, he began descending the tree to notify his companions of the
important discovery he had made.

“Hurrah!” he shouted, when he reached the ground. “I’ve made the
greatest discovery yet!”

“What is it?” exclaimed the professor, excitedly.

“There is a stone pillar, or something, about a mile south of us.”

“What!”

“Exactly what I say. Come on; we will go to it.”

Even Haypole became very much excited, and he hurried along after Leo
as fast as any of his companions.

“I shan’t be astonished at anything we may find,” said Prof. Easy.
“Hundreds of years ago it was supposed that a fountain of youth existed
somewhere in these parts; and if that does not, I am sure something
else equally as wonderful does.”

They had probably made half the distance to the obelisk, when the
baying of a dog suddenly came to their ears.

“What in thunderation is that?” exclaimed the Yankee.

“It is a dog, if I am not mistaken,” replied Leo. “Be cautious, all
hands, there is no use in our running headlong into danger.”

With their weapons ready for instant use, they hurried cautiously ahead
through the tangled mazes of the swamp.

They did not hear the dog bark again, though they listened attentively
for it.

In a few minutes they came in sight of the obelisk that had attracted
Leo’s attention from the top of the tree.

It seemed to be very ancient in appearance, for in many places pieces
were chipped from it.

Yet it stood as erect as it had when placed there.

A tangled mass of vines clung to it, half hiding the lower part of it.

After peering carefully about, to make sure that there was no one
around, our friends advanced toward the huge monument of stone.

It was a difficult matter to reach its base, for so dense was the
undergrowth that the Yankee had to unsling the ax from his back and cut
their way through.

At frequent intervals they came to a halt and listened, but not the
least sound could they hear, save the noise they made themselves.

“It is rather queer where that dog went to,” said Dick.

“That’s so,” replied his cousin, shaking his head.

“Somethin’ funny’ll happen putty soon--see if it don’t,” put in
Haypole. “I wouldn’t be much surprised to see ther ‘old boy’ jump
outer that big gravestone, an’ put for us. I’ll be ding-wizzened! if I
don’t begin ter feel squeamish.”

“Come; let us force our way through these vines and get at the base of
the obelisk,” spoke up the professor, pushing his way forward.

A few minutes later all five stood at the foot of the immense shaft,
panting and sweating from their exertions.

As they tore the vines aside, they saw it was covered, at regular
intervals, with square bits of stone, exactly like the one found by
Prof. Easy.

“Ah!” exclaimed the learned man, as he saw this; “this cube I found
evidently came from here. Let us see if we can find where it belongs.”

Leo and Dick quickly produced their knives and began cutting away the
vines, while the professor put on his glasses, preparatory to making
the examination.

They cleared away all around the base, which was about eighteen feet
square, and just as they finished, Dick’s eye lit upon one of the
places where a cube was missing.

“Here is the spot,” said he. “Now, professor, let’s see if the one you
have fits here.”

The professor stepped forward and produced the cube from his pocket.

He was just about to place it in the opening when a rifle shot rang out
close at hand, followed by the baying of a dog.

This so startled the man of science that he made an involuntary move
forward, thrusting the cube, as he did so, squarely into the hole.

Almost instantly a hidden door flew noiselessly open, revealing a
flight of stone steps, leading downward into the bowels of the earth.

A simultaneous cry of surprise left the lips of the swamp explorers as
this remarkable occurrence took place.

They gazed into the opening for the space of a minute and no one spoke
a word.

But suddenly they were called to their senses by hearing a wild cry at
their very elbow.

The next moment a man and a dog rushed through their midst and sprang
down the stairway in the base of the obelisk.



CHAPTER IV. WHERE THE STAIRS LED TO.


Leo Malvern caught but a fleeting glance at the man and dog as they
rushed down the stairs in the base of the obelisk.

But what was the stranger fleeing from?

The swamp explorers glanced around them to find out.

The next moment they learned to their full satisfaction.

In the little clearing, a few yards beyond them, a balloon suddenly
settled.

There was but one occupant of the basket, or car, and he was a
stern-visaged man of perhaps forty-two.

It was evident that he had not yet seen our friends, for, as the
balloon, which was now about half collapsed, settled upon the earth, he
sprang from the basket and rushed in the direction taken by the man and
dog.

A sudden thought came in Dick Vincey’s head.

“Hide--quick!” he whispered to his companions. “He will most likely
enter the opening and go on down.”

In the twinkling of an eye all hands sprang to the other side of the
obelisk and concealed themselves in a thicket.

They were not a moment too soon. The next instant the man who had so
strangely landed in that wild spot rushed up to the base of the obelisk
and came to an abrupt halt.

An exclamation of surprise left his lips as he beheld the opening in
the stone shaft.

“By heavens!” he exclaimed, loud enough for the swamp explorers to
hear; “Reginald Lacy, you shall not escape me, even if I have to follow
you into the very center of the earth!”

Then he boldly entered the doorway and began descending the stone steps.

Five minutes later our friends made their way to the entrance again and
listened for some sound.

But they could hear nothing.

“I am going to make a suggestion,” suddenly said Leo.

“What is it?” asked his cousin.

“Let us go down the steps and see what has become of those who have
already gone down.”

“Agreed!” exclaimed the professor, who was ready for anything.

“Oh! for de good Lor’ sakes! don’t go down dere. De debbil am dere,
suah!” whined Lucky, in a frightened manner.

“Keep still, coon, and don’t git skeered. We may as well go as far and
see as much as we kin, since we have got ter this dod-rotted country.
I, for one, are satisfied to go down them steps.”

The Yankee gave a contemptuous glance at the darky as he spoke, and
then nodded for Leo to lead on.

Dick had not passed his opinion on the question yet, but that he was
perfectly willing need scarcely be said.

But at the same time it occurred to him that they ought to take some
sort of a light with them.

They had left their supplies at the point where they had been compelled
to use the ax in the thicket.

Dick hastened to the spot and got a small lantern, which was all that
was left of three that they had brought along with them.

When he reached the obelisk again his companions had already entered
the doorway, and were waiting for him on the steps.

It was but the work of a moment to strike a match and light the
lantern; and then the boy followed them down into the place beyond.

Down they went, for at least a hundred steps, and the end of the flight
was not reached yet.

Another hundred, and still it appeared the same.

“I wonder how many miles we have got ter go afore we git ter ther
bottom?” said the Yankee.

“Have patience, Martin,” replied Prof. Easy. “We are on the eve of a
great discovery--mark my word for it!”

“Humph! I heerd ye say that same thing a good many times before. But,
by the great boots in ther haymow, I stepped on somethin’ alive jist
then!”

“A ground hog!” exclaimed Dick, holding up the lantern. “How in thunder
did it ever get there, I wonder?”

“If it can live in here, I am sure we can a little longer. Let us
proceed,” returned the professor, quietly.

Once more they began descending the steps.

During all this time they had not heard the least sound from those who
had preceded them.

Probably one hundred and fifty steps more were descended, and then they
reached a wide passage.

“Come,” said Leo, leading the way. “We have struck level traveling at
last.”

The swamp explorers had not proceeded over three hundred yards, before
they saw daylight ahead.

It seemed rather strange that it should be daylight, but it was,
nevertheless.

With all possible speed they hastened along the passage.

Two hundred yards more and a wonderful sight met their gaze.

They were emerging into a vast tract of country many feet below the
earth’s crust.

In front of them was the beginning of a long crack, which extended a
couple of miles or more, and all along the edges of this the water
streamed down in the form of a cascade of unlimited extent.

The sunlight came in through the crack, which was probably a quarter of
a mile in width, and lighted up the place.

All sorts of vegetation flourished on the place beneath the opening
above; but beyond this our friends could perceive nothing on account
of the falling water and the mist arising from the streams in which it
fell.

“Wonderful!” exclaimed the professor.

“Darned if it ain’t wonderful,” assented Haypole.

“Who ever imagined that such a place as this existed?” said Leo.

“We are now under the great Everglades of Florida. It remains for us to
find out what sort of place it is,” spoke up Dick Vincey.

“I agree with you there,” returned Prof. Easy. “Come, let us be moving.
It is strange what has become of the man and dog and their pursuer.”

They stepped off to the left, and kept walking until they emerged from
the mist, which seemed to settle back on either side of the opening.

As they left it behind them they saw that only a sort of twilight
prevailed in and about the underground place.

Then a startling thing occurred.

A body of men suddenly appeared from the numerous galleries, to be seen
on their left, and rushed toward them.

There must have been fully a hundred of them, and all were attired
in long gowns of some dark-colored material, and were barefooted and
without any head covering.

The strange horde had the appearance of Turks, both in manner and looks.

The moment Leo and Dick beheld them, they placed their rifles to their
shoulders.

Their action was quickly followed by their companions, and then Leo
exclaimed:

“Halt! We mean you no harm!”

But the command was entirely disregarded. The crowd of men rushed at
them with a quicker pace, if possible, brandishing spears and bows and
arrows.

When within about fifty feet of the intruders, they came to a sudden
halt and sent a flight of arrows at them.

One of these found lodgment in the fleshy part of Martin Haypole’s leg,
and another went through the crown of the professor’s hat.

Leo and Dick thought it high time for them to act.

Dropping to their knees, they began firing into the ranks of the
queerly attired strangers.

Crack! crack!

The reports rang out in rapid succession, and at almost every shot a
man fell.

At first they seemed to be staggered and amazed, but they soon rallied
and answered the rifle shots, by another flight of arrows.

It now behooved our friends to look for a place of cover.

A few yards distant was the mouth of a gallery or passage, and at the
command of Leo Malvern they rushed for this with all possible speed.

The inhabitants of the underground place came after them with all their
might, uttering, for the first time, loud yells of triumph.

“Hurry up!” cried Dick; “if we can reach the mouth of that passage
we’ll give ’em fits.”

The arrows kept flying all around them, and Lucky, the darky, was
wounded in the arm.

A minute more and the spot was reached in safety.

“Now!” exclaimed Leo, “give it to them! Everybody fire as fast as he
can.”

The next instant five rifles began sending a veritable hailstorm of
bullets.

Down went seven or eight of the savage barbarians, as the professor
chose to term them, and several more began hopping about like mad from
the wounds they had received.

Leo expected to see them turn and flee now, since he and his companions
had reached a place where they could most likely hold their own.

But no! They kept on shooting their arrows, which, by the way, did our
friends not the least bit of harm, as they had crouched behind a huge
bowlder.

But in spite of the determined stand our friends made, they were doomed
to defeat.

Suddenly they heard a pattering of feet behind them, and, on turning,
beheld a crowd of the savages coming through the passage.

They were between two fires!



CHAPTER V. THE DANCE OF DEATH.


“God help us!” exclaimed Prof. Easy, as he saw the strange inhabitants
of the underground place rushing for them from both front and rear.

But “God helps those who help themselves,” and both Leo Malvern and
Dick Vincey were fully aware of this. They made up their minds that
they would not be killed or captured until they had used every effort
to drive away their enemies.

Brave, young fellows! But what could they hope to accomplish against
such fearful odds?

Martin Haypole was the only man they had to stick to them now, as both
the professor and Lucky at once threw down their weapons when they
observed the horde approaching through the passage.

“Keep on firing!” shouted Leo, “and when they close on us use your
revolvers.”

“No--no!” replied the professor; “let us surrender. It is the best
thing to do, I think.”

“Never!” exclaimed Dick, and his reply was echoed by his cousin and the
intrepid Yankee.

Nearer approached the swarming savages, and presently our friends were
hemmed in from all possible means of escape.

It seemed that every man that fell had two or three to take his place.

At length there was a combined rush from all quarters, and the swamp
explorers were forced to the ground and made prisoners.

This caused their hopes to rise a trifle.

They were not to be killed at present, and that was one consoling
thought.

Their captors seemed to be very gleeful over the fact of having made
them prisoners, and at once proceeded to bind their arms behind them,
after having first divested them of their weapons.

Then the five swamp explorers were lifted to their feet in their
deplorable condition.

“I wonder what in thunderation the scamps are a-goin’ ter do with us,”
observed the Yankee.

“The Lord only knows,” groaned Prof. Easy, who now was thoroughly
frightened.

“We will have to trust to luck,” said Leo.

“We is done gwine ter be killed--’deed we is!” exclaimed Lucky, in a
despondent tone.

“Wait until you are sure of that before you say it again,” replied Dick.

Then turning to the crowd surrounding them, he continued:

“Come! what are you standing there for? Why don’t you take us to the
place you intend to, and have done with it?”

It seemed that he was understood, for without any further ado two men
seized each of the captives, and the whole crowd started off down the
passage.

It was rather dark in the tunnel-like place, and when they had
traversed about three hundred yards, our friends were unable to see any
of their surroundings.

But in a very few minutes they saw light ahead of them, and objects
again became distinguishable.

A cry of wonder broke from the lips of the five as they were marched
out into the light. If they had been surprised when they first entered
the underground place, they were even more than surprised now.

They found themselves in a natural cave of many acres in extent, in
which was a small village of stone huts.

The queerest thing about the place was that the top of the cave--if
cave it could really be called--was entirely open in a circle of six or
seven hundred yards in diameter. This admitted both light and rain, and
hence it was that an unlimited supply of vegetation could be seen about.

The opening above was many feet from the ground upon which the stone
huts were built, and there was no possible means of getting to the
level ground above without the aid of an immense ladder.

“Well, this jist beats the Jews!” ejaculated Haypole. “This place looks
like a big watermelon hollered out and one of ther ends cut off. I
think if I knowed that song called ‘Down in a Coal Mine,’ I’d sing it.”

The prisoners were led along until they came to the largest building
visible to them, and there a halt was called.

There were no doors to any of the huts, which showed that the
inhabitants were not afraid of being robbed by their neighbors. The
crowd who had charge of our friends faced the main doorway of the
building they had halted in front of, and then clapped their hands.

Almost immediately a rustle was heard, and the figure of a female came
out.

As soon as she appeared every person in sight, save the five captives,
dropped to their knees and turned their faces to the ground.

With a look of wonderment upon their faces the swamp explorers eyed
the girl--for she did not look to be over eighteen at the most--and
marveled at her rare beauty.

She was attired in a trailing, white gown of some gauzy material, and
her face was partly concealed by a fold of the same, which was thrown
around her shoulders and across her mouth.

The look from her dazzling bright eyes showed that she was surprised at
seeing the strangers.

But only for an instant did her gaze rest upon them.

Turning quickly to those who had brought them there, she clapped her
hands three times.

All arose to their feet and saluted her.

Then, to the surprise of Prof. Easy, one of the men stepped forward and
began addressing the girl in Spanish.

“Oh, queen,” said he, “here are five more people who have dared find
their way into the land of Hez. What shall be their doom? Shall they be
confined in the magic chamber with the other prisoner to witness the
dance of death, or shall they be slaughtered at once?”

“Conduct them to the magic chamber,” said the queen, with an imperious
wave of her hand.

She turned to enter the building, when the professor, who could speak
Spanish fluently, exclaimed:

“Most gracious queen, listen a moment, please!”

At this the girl turned as if she had been stung, and the fold of her
garment, becoming loosened, fell from her face, revealing the most
beautiful countenance our friends had ever looked upon, or even dreamed
of.

“Heavens!” thought Dick Vincey, “what a beautiful creature.”

The queen had fixed her eyes upon the face of the professor.

“Were you addressing me, sir?” she demanded.

“I was, oh, queen,” he returned. “I would like to say, in behalf of my
companions and myself, that if we did wrong in coming to this place,
we were not aware of it. Surely you will not condemn us to death for
making such a mistake.”

“Enough! Away with them to the magic chamber, and let them witness the
dance of death.”

With these words she swept gracefully into the house, and the Hezzians,
as we shall now call the natives, seized the prisoners and led them
from the spot.

None of the party, save Prof. Easy, could understand any other language
than their own, and they were all very curious as to what was going to
be done with them.

“What did she say when you spoke to her, professor?” asked Leo.

“She has sentenced us to be shut up in a place called the magic
chamber, where there is now a captive already, and witness the dance of
death. What will follow I am not prepared to say. That beautiful but
hard-hearted creature is the queen of this strange country, and what
she says seems to be law.”

“She don’t look as though she would have us killed,” observed Haypole.
“I seen her castin’ sheep’s-eyes at Dick while we was a-standin’ there.
Ther only thing that’ll save us is for him ter make love to her.”

“I’d do that willingly enough, if I thought it would save our lives,”
said Dick.

Leo and the Yankee laughed in spite of their situation.

It struck them that Dick would be glad to pay his attentions to the
beautiful queen, even if it would not benefit them.

But there was no time for further conversation now. The Hezzians had
halted at what appeared to be the extreme end of the cave.

Half a dozen of them used their combined efforts to roll a rock aside,
which revealed a small opening.

Into this they filed, taking our friends with them.

It was dark as pitch inside, but at a word from one of the men a light
suddenly appeared.

How it came so quickly our friends were at first at a loss to
understand, but in a few seconds it was made plain to them.

As their eyes became accustomed to the ghostly glare the light made,
they began looking around them.

They found that the place into which they had been conducted was a cave
of about one hundred feet square.

In the center, upon the floor, a man attired in the habiliments of
civilization sat, with his arms bound behind him.

A single glance sufficed to show the swamp explorers that it was the
man who had left the balloon and started down the stairs in quest of
the one with the dog.

He looked up when he saw men of his own appearance approaching, and a
smile lit up his countenance.

The five prisoners were at once placed at the side of this man, and
then those who had brought them thither immediately left the cave.

Then it was that they first saw what caused the light.

A girl, who was almost as beautiful as the queen herself, had entered
through a passage at the other side of the cave at about the same time
they had.

She carried a blazing torch, which she waved to and fro in a weird sort
of fashion.

A heavy band of metal was about her neck, and upon her wrists bracelets
glittered and flashed in the rays of light.

She began walking in a circle about the six prisoners.

When she had made the circuit five times, a low, grinding music struck
up from some unseen place near by.

Almost instantly a slight commotion was heard, and fully forty girls,
attired the same as the first, entered the cave.

Each one carried a lighted torch, and the flame of each shed forth a
light of different hue.

As soon as they had placed themselves in position, the hidden music
changed to a quick air, and they began to dance in a wild, graceful
sort of way.

For five minutes the girls kept up the dance, and then a change
occurred.

An ominous, rattling sound was heard, and a score of human skeletons
dropped from above and stood upright upon the ground.

Then the dance began in earnest, the skeletons joining in, it seemed.

The girls struck up a chant in time with the music, which had again
changed, and began gliding about, right and left, with their grewsome
partners.

Lucky, the darky, whose nerves were not overstrong, fainted away, while
the rest of the party felt an icy chill gliding down their backs.

Probably the least interested one in the party was the man who had been
in the cave when our friends entered.

He gazed at the scene with a look of indifference on his face, and even
smiled when the girls grasped the hideous relics of humanity about
their fleshless waists and whirled them around.

Round and round spun the dancers, oftentimes nearly stumbling over the
captives upon the floor.

Suddenly one of the fair dancers got tangled up with her “partner,” and
stumbled headlong over Leo.

As she did so, the boy heard a metallic ring close beside him.

As soon as she arose to her feet and glided away, he saw a knife lying
upon the ground.

Moving slightly, he kicked Dick gently.

“What’s up?” asked his cousin, taking his eyes from the curious scene
for a moment.

“I have found a knife,” was the whispered reply. “I am going to get
hold of it with my teeth and cut your hands loose.”

Rolling over on his stomach, he seized the knife by the handle in a
strong grip between his teeth.

Dick turned so his back was toward Leo, and then the boy began sawing
away at the bonds which held his hands together.

It was a difficult job, but Leo was plucky, and presently he was
rewarded by seeing his cousin’s hands free.

Then it was but the work of a moment for Dick to liberate him.

“Now,” said Leo, “cut the rest free.”

Just as he was about to do so, a crowd of hideous-appearing men,
attired in the skins of various animals, rushed in the cave, and
seizing about half of the dancing girls, carried them screaming from
the spot.

Then the dance ceased as if by magic.

There was now but one girl left to each skeleton, and these placed
their fair, white arms about the necks of the horrible objects.

The music now clashed into a sound like the shriek of a doomed soul,
and then both girls and skeletons began to rise slowly in the air.

“By heavens!” exclaimed Leo, springing to his feet; “I am going to know
the cause of some of this humbug.”

Springing forward, he seized one of the girls about the waist and gave
a tug downward.

Then something snapped above them, and down came the girl, bringing the
skeleton with her, knocking the daring boy flat upon his back.



CHAPTER VI. “ESTO PERPETUA.”


Leo Malvern sprang to his feet, and seized the girl by the shoulders.

“Utter a single cry and I will kill you!” he exclaimed.

She seemed to understand him, for she did not make the least effort to
cry out.

“Do you understand what I say?” he asked.

“I do!” was the reply, in fair English.

“Then arise to your feet and lead us from this place.”

“Will you protect me if I get into trouble?”

“I will--with my life!”

“Then be it so. Come!”

The torch which the girl had possessed was still smoldering upon the
floor, and quickly stamping this out, she seized Leo by the arm, and
directed the rest to catch hold of him for a guide.

Then she started swiftly across the cave and entered the mouth of a
passage.

Along a dark, narrow passage they made their way, until a large,
vaultlike chamber was reached.

Here the girl came to a halt, and, placing her hand upon the shoulder
of Leo, said:

“I have brought you to the burial place of our people. You will be safe
here, for there are hundreds of nooks and niches to conceal yourselves
in. I will go back and endeavor to find your weapons for you.”

“But,” said Leo, “I promised to protect you if you got into trouble.
How am I to do so if you leave us?”

“It matters not; come a few paces this way; I would say something that
is for your ears alone.”

The boy allowed her to lead him a few yards from his companions.

Then the beautiful girl seized him by the hands, and exclaimed:

“Let me tell you what caused me to break the laws of Hez and lead you
from the magic chamber. I saw your face pictured in a dream a few
nights ago, and the dream led me to believe that I was looking upon
the face of my future lord and master. It was so real, that when I saw
you, when you bade me rise to my feet after pulling me down with the
skeleton, that I could not refuse to aid you. I believe in dreams, do
you not?”

“Well--er--sometimes,” replied Leo, completely staggered at the girl’s
speech.

“I knew you did. Then listen: I swear to protect you and your friends
as long as you remain in the land of Hez. Now, tell me your name, my
future lord and master.”

“Leo Malvern.”

“’Tis well. I shall ever remember it. Mine is Azurma. I am a member of
the royal family.”

The girl kissed his hand fervently and then left the spot, while Leo
groped his way to the side of his companions, to whom he related what
had occurred.

Prof. Easy then informed Philander Owens as to who he and his
companions were, and why they had chosen to brave the dangers of the
great swamp, after which all hands lapsed into silence.

Finally Dick broke it by exclaiming:

“I don’t see any use of our remaining in this dark place until that
girl comes back. I, for one, am going back into the place called the
magic chamber and light a torch and see what it is like in there.”

“Hold on!” exclaimed the professor. “Haven’t you already seen that it
does not pay to be rash? Just have a little patience and sit down and
wait.”

“I am sorry, but I can’t comply with your request,” returned the
adventurous boy. “I am deeply interested in the cave where the dance of
death took place. Come on; who is going with me?”

“Gosh hang it!” exclaimed Haypole; “I’ll go.”

“Better wait, Dick,” said Leo, who was anxious to be there when Azurma
came back.

“Oh, that’s all right, old fellow. We won’t run into any danger. We’ll
see you later.”

With these words, Dick and the Yankee felt their way along until they
came to the passage leading from the vault.

Having once found it, they boldly entered and walked softly along.

They kept on for fully five minutes, and then it occurred to Dick that
they ought to have entered the magic chamber by this time.

He produced a match from his pocket and struck it.

To his astonishment he found himself in a small, open square, with
four passages branching off in different directions.

By the flickering light of the match in his companion’s hand the Yankee
saw a torch lying upon the floor.

Stooping down, he picked it up and lighted it.

“Now, I guess we will be able ter find ther way,” said he.

“I guess so. Ah! what have we here?” exclaimed Dick, pointing to a
smooth rock, upon which were several inscriptions.

Haypole held the torch nearer, and they saw a long column of names
engraved upon the rock.

But they were Spanish, and they failed to make them out.

Beneath them was a hand with the index finger pointing to a passage at
their right.

“This must be the way out, Martin,” said Dick. “Come on; we will follow
this passage.”

“Good enough!” returned the Yankee, and they at once set out.

But they soon found that the passage went downward instead of on a
level, as the one they had before traversed.

However, they did not turn back; the hand upon the rock pointed that
way, and both were anxious to see what it meant.

Down they went for fully fifteen minutes, and then they observed a
bright light ahead of them.

But it was not the light of day that they saw; it was a sort of pale,
greenish tint.

In a few minutes they emerged into a vast chamber of a conical shape,
which seemed to be lighted by electricity, though where the seat of the
light was located they could not tell.

In the center of the conical-shaped cavern was a pool of crystal water,
from which a sparkling fountain shot upward, sending a myriad of
glistening drops scatteringly through space.

In the curious light that prevailed the fountain resembled a monster
Roman candle, and the two who gazed upon the scene for the first time
were entranced at the wonderful spectacle.

The pool of water rested in a natural basin of rock, and a slanting
floor of white stone stretched out from its edges.

After gazing at the fountain for a while, Dick led the way to the edge
of the pool.

Here, for the first time, he noticed a tablet of stone which leaned
against a bowlder.

The boy gave a start and pointed to it, at the same time calling his
companion’s attention.

Upon the tablet was engraved a hand, like the one they had seen at
the point where the four passages met, and the index finger pointed
directly into the pool of sparkling water.

Beneath the hand was the rough delineation of a rose in full bloom, and
under all were the words:

  “ESTO PERPETUA.”

Dick’s small acquaintance with Latin told him that _esto perpetua_
meant: “Let it be perpetual,” and he wondered what it could all mean.

While he was studying over the subject, a slight noise was heard in the
direction they came from.

Instinctively he clutched the Yankee by the sleeve, and both dropped to
the ground behind the bowlder against which the tablet rested.



CHAPTER VII. THE LEGEND OF HEZ.


Dick and the Yankee had no sooner sought seclusion behind the bowlder
than a man of ragged and unkempt appearance came from the mouth of the
passage with a dog at his side.

Both gave a violent start of surprise.

It was the man and dog who had entered the base of the obelisk before
them.

The stranger still carried a rifle, and as Haypole saw this he clutched
his companion by the shoulder and exclaimed, in a low tone:

“Ther infernal skunk has got my rifle! It sartainly is he who stole it
that night in th’ swamp.”

“Never mind,” whispered Dick. “Let’s watch him and see what he is up
to.”

The man, who has been spoken of as Reginald Lacy, paused near the edge
of the pool and looked at his surroundings with an air of extreme
surprise.

He patted the dog upon the head in an affectionate way and said:

“Well, Jupiter, we have struck a wonderful country. But we are not
safe, old fellow--not by any means. Owens is still upon our track, and
he evidently means business. But he shall never kill me, Jupiter; I may
deserve it, but I will never die at his hands.”

The dog wagged his tail and crouched at his master’s feet, who,
surveying the clear water before him, went on:

“That water looks cool and tempting; I believe I will take a bath.”

With that Reginald Lacy began removing his tattered garments,
preparatory to taking a plunge in the crystal pool.

In a very short time he was ready, and, walking down to the edge of the
pool, he placed his hand in the water to test its temperature.

It must have been perfectly satisfactory, for without further
hesitation he plunged in.

The dog gazed at his master for a moment and then followed suit.

The effect upon the man and dog seemed to be startling.

They sported about in the crystal water, apparently imbued with new
life and strength.

“This is glorious!” Dick and the Yankee heard the man say, as he stood
neck deep in the water under the spray of the fountain.

The dog answered with yelps of delight as he swam swiftly about and
sported to his heart’s content.

“By Jove!” whispered Dick, to his companion, “the water does look
inviting; it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to take a swim.”

“I guess I don’t want any of it,” returned the Yankee. “That dod-rotted
water don’t look nat’ral to my eyes. Look at that feller; he seems ter
be gittin’ crazy--gosh! if he don’t!”

Reginald Lacy was acting rather queer for a man! He was cutting up all
sorts of boyish antics and laughing like mad.

Presently he waded ashore, and, after washing the rags he had worn, put
them on wet, as they were, and entered the passage again, calling the
dog after him.

As soon as they had disappeared from view, Dick and Haypole came from
behind the bowlder.

“Let’s follow him, Martin,” said Dick; “maybe he knows the way out of
this place.”

“All right,” returned the Yankee. “It are about time we went back to
ther place whar we left the professor an’ ther rest, anyhow.”

Picking up the torch, which they had thrown upon the ground when they
first entered the wonderful cavern, Dick lighted it, and they started
up the passage after Reginald Lacy and his dog.

But they could neither see nor hear any signs of them as they trudged
along, and at length, when they reached the spot where the four
passages met, they were forced to acknowledge that he had eluded them
in some unexplained manner.

“Well, what in thunder will we do now?” asked the Yankee, as he took a
seat upon the ground.

“Do?” replied the boy. “Why, go on through one of the passages until we
find our companions. Let’s make a bee line through the one to our left.”

“All right; I’m with you.”

With Dick in the lead, they started swiftly along the passage.

Presently they heard the sounds of approaching footsteps.

“Somebody coming ter look fer us, I’ll bet a dollar,” remarked Haypole.

“I shouldn’t wonder. What shall we do--go on and meet whoever it is, or
wait till they come up?”

“Let’s wait.”

“All right,” and leaning against the rocky wall, Dick listened to the
sounds which were coming nearer every second.

They soon perceived a light, and the next minute saw a number of the
men of Hez approaching, carrying torches.

That our two friends were perceived at the same time was plainly
evident, for the strangely attired men uttered exclamations of
pleasure, and motioned the pair not to be afraid.

At the same time one of their number called out, in good English:

“Fear not, my friends. No harm shall befall you. We have come in search
of you, at the queen’s order. Your friends and companions are safe and
sound, and await you.”

“Who in thunder are you?” asked Haypole, stepping forward.

“I am an American, like yourself. But, come! There is no time for
parleying now. Follow us, and you will be safe.”

“Lead on!” exclaimed Dick Vincey. “I am glad the queen wants us; I can
have another look at her handsome face.”

Away went the men with Dick and Haypole in their midst, through various
passages and caves, until finally they came in sight of the village of
stone buildings.

It did not take the two returned wanderers long to observe Leo and the
professor standing in front of one of the houses, and they were now
satisfied that no harm would befall them.

Leo and Prof. Easy rushed forward to meet them, and while they were
talking together the man in charge of the searching party went to
report to Queen Olive.

“Where have you fellows been?” asked Leo, shaking his cousin’s hand.

“To the queerest and most beautiful spot mortal eyes ever rested upon,”
replied Dick.

And then he proceeded to relate where he and the Yankee had been, and
what they had seen.

“Wonderful!” exclaimed the professor; and then turning to the man who
spoke English in the crowd of Hezzians who had brought the two lost
ones back, he said:

“Do you know anything of this pool and fountain, my man?”

“I do,” was the reply; “it is the identical fountain Ponce de Leon was
in search of so many years ago. If you want to learn all about it,
converse with Roderique de Amilo, the one who discovered it. There he
is over there in front of his dwelling.”

“Is that Roderique de Amilo?” asked Leo. “Why, he is crazy, is he not?”

“No; anything but crazy, as you will find when you become better
acquainted with him. He is the discoverer of the magic fountain and the
founder of this race.

“Yes,” went on the man, seating himself upon a rock; “I may as well
tell you all about it now as any other time, since you are all to be
citizens of Hez in the future. It is a queer story, and I have not said
that I believe it.

“To begin, my name is Andrew Jones; I am from Kentucky, and have no
relatives living save my wife, who is a native of this place. I came
here a little over a year ago, and expect to stay here as long as I
live.

“Roderique de Amilo is the founder of this race, though he seldom
admits it. He discovered this underground country in the year 1509, by
being washed over the falls into the river you passed on entering here.

“While here he discovered the fountain you speak of, and feeling
satisfied that it was the one he was in search of, he bathed in it, the
result being that he attained perpetual youth.

“Then it dawned upon him that he should have a helpmate; so one day
he went to the edge of the pool and prayed for a wife, and lo! before
his prayer was finished there arose from the crystal water the most
beautiful woman man had ever seen!

“Well, to make a long story short, De Amilo took her for his wife, and
from them came these people, who number about three hundred, outside of
those who came here after.

“You have the legend just as everybody who comes here gets it. You may
draw your own conclusions from it, as I have done.”

“Well, I don’t believe it,” said Haypole, bluntly.

Andrew Jones laughed.

“Few do,” said he; “and none seem to care much.”

“But how about the beautiful woman who came from the pool in such a
mysterious manner?” said Dick. “Surely that was not Queen Olive?”

“Oh, no!” replied Jones; “I forgot to tell you about her. She visited
the pool one day after she had lived here in the neighborhood of a
hundred years, and concluded to bathe in its clear waters. The moment
she entered it she disappeared, and has never been heard of since.”

“That yarn would make a first-class fairy story for little children,”
said Leo, laughing. “But, anyhow, I shan’t dispute it. Ah! here comes
the queen’s messenger after Dick and Martin, I suppose. Go on, fellows,
and take the iron-clad oath of allegiance to Hez.”

Sure enough, Dick and the Yankee were led to the queen’s house, and
while they were gone Leo and the rest busied themselves in cleaning
their weapons, which Roderique de Amilo had so kindly returned to them.



CHAPTER VIII. DICK VINCEY AND THE QUEEN.


Queen Olive stood in the doorway of the handsomely furnished stone
building, called the palace, when Dick and the Yankee were brought up.

With a wave of her hand she ordered the Hezzians to retire, and then
motioned the two to follow her inside.

Dick noticed that the beautiful queen eyed him with a more than
ordinary look, and he was not a little puzzled over it.

But he was destined to know what it meant ere long. Martin Haypole had
mentioned in a joke that the queen of Hez had fallen in love with the
good-looking Dick Vincey, and this was indeed the case.

The graceful creature led them to the table on which rested the strip
of parchment containing the signatures of those who had signed the
agreement to stay in the land of Hez forever.

Dick glanced over these, and saw the names of Leo and the rest of his
companions, and, consequently, he had little hesitation in taking the
oath.

“Now, then,” observed Queen Olive, “you may retire to the company of
your friends; I would speak a few words in private to this young man.”

The Yankee at once took his departure, and the fair ruler of Hez led
Dick into a handsomely furnished apartment.

She motioned him to a seat on a divan of dyed skins, and then blew a
tiny whistle attached to one of her bracelets.

Almost immediately a servant appeared and bowed to the floor.

The queen addressed her in Spanish for a moment, and she retired, only
to return five minutes later with a stone tray containing a choice
repast, the sight of which made Dick’s mouth water.

“You are hungry, I know--appease your appetite.”

He did not wait for a second invitation, but at once proceeded to eat,
all the while wondering why it was that he was treated in such a royal
manner.

When he had satisfied his appetite the queen again blew her whistle,
and the servant returned, bringing in a decanter and a couple of
drinking vessels.

She then took the tray and retired.

“Now, then,” said her majesty, as she poured some amber-colored liquid
from the decanter, “to begin with, I want you to tell me your name.”

This Dick promptly did, and then, following the example of his fair
hostess, placed the beverage she had poured from the decanter to his
lips.

It had such a peculiar, exhilarating taste that he drained the cup at a
single gulp.

Of all the wines he had ever drunk, that certainly was the best.

That it was intoxicating, he knew, for the moment he had swallowed it
a sort of dreamy feeling of the deepest content came over him, and
he settled back upon the divan and gazed into the face of the lovely
creature before him with a listless smile upon his countenance.

“Do you think you will ever want to leave this land?” asked Queen
Olive, as she took a seat before him.

“No,” returned Dick; “never--as long as you remain here.”

Instead of becoming offended at this speech, a look of pleasure came
over her face.

“Why? Am I more beautiful than the ladies of your own country?” she
asked.

“Yes--a thousand times yes!”

“Do you like me?”

This question staggered the boy, and he involuntarily half arose to his
feet.

Did he like her! What a question for such a beautiful creature to ask
him! And she a queen, too!

“Why, what do you mean?” he stammered, in reply.

“I mean just this: I have selected you as the man to be my future
husband. It was decreed long ago that no queen who ruled the land of
Hez should ever marry, unless her husband be a man who was not a native
of the place. Thus far such has happened regularly, there always being
a stranger to arrive here at about the right time. But this time more
than one came, and out of the number I have chosen you.”

“But,” interposed Dick, who had settled back upon the divan again, and
returned to his half-listless condition, “why should you choose me--a
complete stranger, and entirely unknown to you?”

“Because I love you!”

“Well, you see, oh, queen, while you have long considered the question
of marriage, I have never given the subject a thought until now. You
must give me time to study over the question.”

“You may have as much time as you desire,” she said; “that is, if you
answer one question to my satisfaction.”

“What is that question, oh, queen?”

“Don’t address me by that title--call me Olive,” she exclaimed, rising
and laying her hand upon his shoulder. “The question I would ask is, Do
you love me?”

For the space of a minute a deep silence reigned, and then Dick Vincey
spoke:

“I do, Olive.”

He stretched forth his arms as if to fold her to his bosom, but she
waved him back with a pleased laugh.

“I am glad,” was all she said. And then she motioned him to retire to
the companionship of his friends.

Much mystified, Dick obeyed.

He was half angry at being turned aside just as he had made his
declaration of love; but then he did not know that the queen was but
putting him to the test to see if he was sincere.

“What’s the matter, old fellow?” asked Leo, as Dick approached the
house that had been given to the swamp explorers. “You look as though
you were worried over something.”

“Oh, I am all right,” was the reply; and then he took the weapons
belonging to him, strapping the belt about his waist and thrusting the
pair of revolvers and hunting knife into it.

“How did you make out with ther gal--queen?” said Haypole, who stood in
the doorway perfectly contented, now that he had had a good meal, and
was in the company of Prof. Easy and the rest.

“That reminds me,” exclaimed Dick, suddenly. “I left something in the
palace; I’ll go and get it, I guess.”

Then, before he could be questioned any further, he started back to the
house of Queen Olive.

Arriving there, he did not hesitate, but boldly walked in.

The handsome queen was waiting for him, it seemed, for she met him in
the hallway, and conducted him again to the room he had before been led
into.

“I knew you would come back,” said she, quietly.

“Why?” he asked, in a petulant manner.

“Because you really love me.”

“I told you I did before you dismissed me a few moments ago.”

“Ah! but this proves it. And now, let me say, I shall consider myself
engaged to you. But our marriage cannot take place under two years from
the time of our first meeting--that is one of the laws of this country.”

“Laws be blowed!” exclaimed Dick. “If I was willing to marry you now I
might change my mind before that time.”

“But you will not, though. Two years hence we will be man and wife,
and you will be the happiest man in the Land of Hez, and I will be the
happiest woman!”

Then there was a pause, after which Olive, as she desired Dick to call
her, poured out some more of the wine and handed it to her lover.

As soon as the boy had drunk it, the same feeling of content, as on
former occasions, came over him, and he grew talkative.

“Tell me about this wonderful country, Olive,” said he, taking her by
the hand.

“That I will gladly do, Dick,” replied she, with equal familiarity, and
she proceeded to relate the same legend as told by Andrew Jones a short
time before.

“Do you believe that story, Olive?” he asked.

“I hardly know whether I do or not. It seems so strange and unnatural.
Yet Roderique de Amilo was as he is now as long ago as the oldest of
our people can remember.”

“How is it that he does not rule the Land of Hez himself?”

“Because, the legend states, that he agreed with his beautiful wife
that it should forever be ruled by woman. It was for that reason that
she plunged into the pool, thinking it would prove a perpetual life to
her.”

“Has anybody else ever bathed in the pool?”

“Oh, yes; a dozen or more. But not until a few years ago; none of our
people would ever believe the story before.”

“Then some do believe it now?”

“Yes, a few, and there must be something wonderful about the crystal
waters of the fountain, for those who have bathed in it have never
visibly grown older.”

“I think I shall have to take a bath in it some day myself,” said Dick,
with a smile.

“And I, too,” replied Olive, thinking he meant it. “It would be so
nice, when we are married, to go on living and never grow old, with
no fear of dying, unless through some accident. Could anyone ask for
anything more than that?”

Dick was about to make a reply, when the report of a rifle rang out
close by.

Hastily excusing himself, he dashed from the room outside.

He beheld the man known as Reginald Lacy fleeing across the level
country beneath the opening in the roof, and after him, in hot
pursuit, was Philander Owens, a still smoking rifle in his hands.



CHAPTER IX. THE DEVIL’S KINGDOM.


Dick at once made his way to the side of Leo, who was just coming from
the house, followed by Haypole and the professor.

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Dick. “Owens seems to be very savage against
that ragged stranger. What shall we do--help him catch him?”

“No,” returned his cousin. “It is no affair of ours; let them settle
their own difficulty.”

“That’s right,” nodded Prof. Easy. “We do not understand their case,
and should, therefore, let them alone.”

“Ter tell ther truth, I don’t like either one of them fellers,”
observed the Yankee. “They be too blamed mysterious for me.”

But if our friends did not attempt to assist Philander Owens in
catching Reginald Lacy, the men of Hez were not going to allow him to
roam about their haunts without first taking the oath of allegiance to
the tribe.

Roderique de Amilo quickly called a score of men together and started
in pursuit after Owens, who was doing his best to overtake his enemy.

All soon disappeared, and then our friends set about to fix up their
home to suit their tastes.

They arose soon after daylight, and after they had eaten a light
breakfast, prepared to look around a bit.

Then it struck Leo that it was about time he saw something of Azurma,
the girl who had conducted them from the magic cave. From the strain
in which she had conversed to him, he thought she would again seek his
presence long before this.

Prof. Easy was bent on seeing what kind of place Hez was, and, at his
request, a party was formed to make a tour of the place.

The party was formed of but seven--Leo, Dick, Prof. Easy, Martin
Haypole, Lucky, the darky, and the American known as Andrew Jones, and
Roderique de Amilo.

They set out in the direction taken by Reginald Lacy and his persistent
pursuer.

“A wonderful land is this,” remarked De Amilo, as they walked along.
“I have never fully explored it myself in all the years I have lived
here. Nearly everything you will meet and see that interests you will
be found to be mysterious. In fact, this whole country is a land of
mystery.”

“It was a dod-rotted mystery how we ever come ter git in here, anyhow,”
said the Yankee.

“That reminds me,” put in Andrew Jones, suddenly. “How did you get the
door in the obelisk open, anyway?”

The professor quickly explained how they had found the stone cube, and
the use they had put it to.

“By Jove!” exclaimed Jones. “The very identical way that I got in
myself. How can it be that the cube was missing from the hole in which
it fitted, and found so many yards from the obelisk?”

“That’s where the mystery comes in,” said Leo.

“Yes, that’s so. I forgot what kind of place I was in. Talking to my
own countrymen made me think I was back in civilization again.”

They had by this time entered one of the many passages, and torches
were put in use.

At the suggestion of Dick, Roderique de Amilo led them to the fountain
and pool, and Leo and the professor were surprised beyond measure at
what they saw.

The Spaniard pointed to what was inscribed upon the stone tablet, and
said:

“I did that; and I am the living proof that what it means is true.”

Then he again went over the legend of Hez, and wound up by pointing
to the identical spot in the pool where the beautiful woman, whom he
afterward made his wife, arose so mysteriously.

De Amilo told his story in such a solemn way that his hearers were more
or less impressed with it.

“I believe that in some manner that man has become satisfied that yarn
is true himself,” said Leo, in a whisper to his cousin.

“Yes,” assented Dick; “either that or else the legend is true, after
all.”

Leo smiled.

“Why, you don’t believe it, do you, old fellow? Has the beautiful queen
told you the same thing?”

“She did tell me the same story, and I am not prepared to say whether I
believe it or not.”

At this juncture their conductors signified that they were going to
leave the pool in the strangely lighted cavern, and the conversation
ended for the time.

“We will now show you the devil’s kingdom, which is one of the most
wonderful sights to be seen in this land,” observed Jones, as they
entered the passage again.

It was here that De Amilo came to a halt. Turning to those who were
following him, he said:

“Is there anybody among you who desires to live forever? If so, bathe
in the pool beneath the spray of the fountain.”

But all hands, even to Jones, shook their heads, and they went on their
way, the Spaniard leading them in silence.

When they arrived at the point where the four passages met, they again
came to a halt.

A moment later they started through the mouth of one of these, and
presently found themselves going down a sort of winding stairs.

Down, down they went for many feet, and then they came to a vast,
shell-like cavern of what appeared to be almost unlimited size.

It was illumined by a strange, flickering, red light, and a purple mist
pervaded the atmosphere.

Full of curiosity, our friends followed their conductors until they
came to a broad roadway, that certainly looked as though it had been
built with human hands.

Along this, for perhaps a quarter of a mile, they went, and then they
saw that it suddenly shot downward at an angle of forty-five degrees.

As they rounded a cleft of rock, Andrew Jones came to a halt, and,
pointing downward, exclaimed:

“Look there! Did you ever see anything to beat that?”

The swamp explorers followed the direction his finger pointed, and
beheld a truly marvelous sight.

Beneath them was a rift of many feet in length, and in the sides, at
irregular intervals, were small apertures resembling the portholes of a
war ship, through which, ever and anon, came puffs of flame and smoke.

To look at the scene in a certain way, one could almost imagine that a
pair of immense ironclads were engaged in battle.

But no noise, beyond a fizzing sound, could be heard when the puffs
came.

Through the center of the rift, or ravine, as it might properly be
called, a stream of water flowed, and this glittered and flashed in all
the colors of the rainbow as the lurid streaks of flame belched over it.

On either side the walls sloped down in the form of a very steep hill,
passing directly over the portholes from which the puffs of flame came.

“So that’s what you call the Devil’s Kingdom, is it?” remarked the
professor, addressing Jones.

“Yes; that is the name Señor de Amilo gave it,” was the reply.

“Well, I’ll be ding-wizzened, if it ain’t a good name for it!”
exclaimed Haypole, shrugging his shoulders. “Now, if ther old boy was
ter come out of one of them streams of fire, an’ walk up an’ down ther
middle of that stream, with a pitchfork over his shoulder, ther scene
would be complete.”

“Great Scott!” cried Dick and Leo in a breath; “there he is, now!”

Ejaculations of surprise went up from all hands, as with distended eyes
they saw a log go shooting down the stream with a figure clinging to it.

“That’s Philander Owens, or I’m a sinner!” exclaimed the Yankee.

“That’s so,” said Leo, taking a step forward to get a better view of
the startling scene.

As he did so he stepped upon a small stone, which, rolling under his
foot, caused him to slip and lose his balance.

The next instant he went shooting down the smooth decline with the
velocity of the wind!



CHAPTER X. IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH.


When Leo Malvern felt himself sliding down the slippery wall of rock he
closed his eyes and uttered a silent prayer, thinking that all was up
with him.

In vain he strove to seize upon something to stay his progress; there
was naught but the smooth surface, and his speed kept on increasing.

Luckily he was sliding feet foremost, and had it not been for the fact
that death stared him in the face, he would almost have imagined that
he was coasting down an icy hill without a sled.

He had a recollection of hearing a cry of horror escape the lips of his
friends, and then nothing save the roaring sound of the belching flames
below him reached his ears.

Leo was but a few seconds in making the descent, and yet it seemed to
be as many hours to him.

Just as he slid over the edge of the decline there came a puff of smoke
and flame which completely enveloped his form and screened him from the
view of his companions above. Blinded and scorching from the heat, he
fell, with a splash, into the cooling waters of the rushing stream.

When he found that he was not dead, nor yet materially injured, he made
a mighty effort and struggled to the surface.

He found he could keep his head above the water with little or no
difficulty, and with a feeling of relief he endeavored to look ahead
and see whither he was being carried by the rushing stream.

Puff! puff! The terrible cross fire of flame and smoke kept shooting
over him a few feet above his head, making it one of the most fearful
experiences he had ever undergone.

“My God!” thought the boy, “will I ever get out of this alive?”

But on swept the rushing current, and on went Leo, while the fire and
flame roared over his head, ever and anon scorching his defenseless
face.

But suddenly the flashes of fire ceased as if by magic, and all was in
darkness.

The stream flowed through a tunnel, and it was this that the boy had
reached.

Whizz! whirr! Away he sped, expecting every moment to strike upon a
sharp rock and be dashed to pieces.

But no such thing occurred. Scarcely more than a minute had elapsed
before he again suddenly whirled into the light.

Leo was now nearly exhausted from his frantic efforts to reach the
shore, and it was fast telling upon him now.

The continual splashing of the water upon his face made it difficult
for him to breathe, and he felt soon that he must give up.

But he made one more mighty effort and half arose in the water to see
what sort of a place he had entered.

He noticed that the stream had widened considerably, and that there
were no more signs of any fire.

A few seconds later he heard a dull, roaring sound, which caused him to
turn a shade paler.

A rapids was close at hand!

Of this Leo felt certain. He had often before heard the noise made by
the falling of a large body of water.

Although the stream was quite wide at this point it was running like a
mill race.

Nearer and nearer the sound of the roaring waters came to the helpless
boy, and his last hopes sunk.

What chance of life had he in being washed over a falls, at the bottom
of which, in all probability, was an endless amount of sharp, jagged
rocks, as is invariably the case?

Folding his arms, Leo threw himself upon his back, and allowed himself
to float along at the mercy of the powerful current.

The roaring sound now became deafening, and he felt that the end was
near.

But stay! The sharp bark of a dog is heard, and there is a splash close
at hand.

Half a minute later a pair of jaws close upon the collar of Leo’s coat,
and he comes to a standstill with a sudden jerk.

What had happened now? was the thought that entered his brain as he
opened his eyes.

A dog had him gripped firmly by the collar, and both were being towed
slowly toward the left bank of the stream.

As soon as Leo became aware of this he threw himself over, and caught
hold of the rope, which was secured about the intelligent animal’s
neck, thus lessening the strain upon him.

A cry of satisfaction went up from some one on the shore as this action
was perceived, and both boy and dog were towed faster through the
rushing water.

Two minutes more, and Leo felt his feet strike the bottom.

It was then but the work of a moment for his preserver to pull him
ashore.

Leo was so exhausted that he fell to the ground in a semi-unconscious
state.

It was several minutes before he recovered himself, and when he did so
his first thought was to see who it was that had thus saved him in the
nick of time.

A man stood before him, patting a huge mastiff on the head, and the
young fellow could but give a start of surprise when he saw that it was
Reginald Lacy, the man whose life was sought by Philander Owens.

“So you have recovered, young fellow?” said Lacy, as he coiled the rope
which had been attached to the dog’s neck.

“Yes,” returned Leo, rising to his feet, “and I thank you a thousand
times for saving my life!”

“Don’t mention it. I could not stand by and see a man whom I had
nothing against go over the falls, and be dashed to pieces on the rocks
below. Had you been my enemy, I would not have raised a hand to help
you.”

Then the thought struck the young swamp explorer that Philander Owens,
clinging to a log, had preceded him down the turbulent stream but a
minute before. Had Reginald Lacy stood upon the shore and watched him
go whirling to his death?

As he looked at the man and saw the satisfied expression that gleamed
from his eyes, he made up his mind that such indeed was the case.

“That is a splendid dog you have,” remarked Leo. “Had it not been for
him all would have been up with me.”

“Yes,” assented Lacy. “There are few better dogs than Jupiter. He is
the best friend I have got in the whole world.”

As he spoke a far-away look came into his eyes, and his lips twitched
nervously.

“How did you get away down here, anyhow?” asked Leo.

“Through a network of passages. I was pursued, as you know, by a man
who desired to take my life; but he will never do it now.”

“Why, is he dead?”

Lacy gave a start.

“Who said he was dead?” he asked.

“Oh! no one. I only thought as much. I saw him go rushing down the
stream a few minutes ago. That was the cause of my falling into it.”

“Well, if he is dead I didn’t kill him,” was the vague reply.

“Let us find our way back to the village,” suggested Leo.

“Do you think I will not be harmed if I go there?”

“I am sure you will not.”

“All right; I’ll go, that is, if I can find the way.”

“Why, don’t you think you can lead the way back over the same route you
came?”

An anxious expression came over the boy’s face as he asked the question.

“I don’t know for sure. I came in such a hurry, being pursued by a
human sleuthhound as I was. But I ought to be able to find the way
without much trouble. Anyhow, we will try. If I can’t, probably Jupiter
can. Come--we may as well start at once.”

But here an unforeseen obstacle presented itself.

The opening of this passage, which ran upward in a steep ascent, was
very small--not over four feet in diameter.

They had not gone into this more than a dozen feet before they came to
a halt, and saw that they could go no further.

A monster bowlder of iron stone had slipped or been pushed into the
passage from above, and it would have taken at least a score of men to
remove it.

“Some of my hated enemy’s work,” said Lacy, as he played with his beard
nervously. “This is as far as he followed me. He must have pushed this
bowlder from above and then went back and fallen into the stream. Well,
we must find some other way of getting out, or else we can stay here in
this wonderful underground place and starve!”



CHAPTER XI. AZURMA’S SEARCH.


Dick Vincey gave an agonizing cry as he saw his cousin disappear in the
flame and smoke below them.

“He’s lost--he’s lost!” he almost wailed. “What will his parents say
when I return without him?”

“It’s too bad,” said Martin Haypole, consolingly, “but I wouldn’t take
on so much, if I was you. You know none of us won’t ever git back ter
home, anyway--we have took our oaths that we won’t never leave this
dod-rotted country.”

“Come,” remarked the professor, “let us get away from this place. Leo
is dead long before this--no earthly power could save him.”

“You are right,” assented Andrew Jones. “I am sorry, but it can’t be
helped.”

“There is a possibility of his having passed through the flame and
smoke alive,” said De Amilo, the Spaniard; “but the rushing stream--if
he is not drowned in that, he will be carried over a falls a few
hunderd yards further down, and be dashed to pieces on the rocks.”

No one in the party had the least doubt but that Leo Malvern was dead,
and with a feeling of sorrow they turned from the spot and started for
the village.

“May de good Lor’ save him!” whined Lucky, the darky, wringing his
hands. “Massa Leo was de bestest friend dis poor darky eber had, an’
now him done gone an’ got killed. Oh, why did us eber come to de
Eberglades, anyhow?”

“It is my fault,” said Prof. Easy; “I had no business to induce him to
accompany me on my exploring tour. We have made many discoveries, but
this fearful accident spoils all the pleasure there is in it.”

“I don’t blame you, professor,” returned Dick. “It was our own free
wills that brought both Leo and myself to the Land of Hez. Say no more
about it, please.”

As soon as the village was reached, Dick at once apprised Queen Olive
of what had happened.

She sympathized with him, and tried to comfort him, at the same time
saying:

“There is a possibility that your cousin is not dead. If that is the
case, there is but one who could seek him out in the earth’s bowels and
find him.”

“Who is that one?” asked Dick, his hopes arising.

“Azurma,” was the reply. “She has claimed him for her husband, and if
sent to look for him, she would never come back without him.”

“Send her, then.”

“There will be no need of me sending her. When she hears what has
happened she will start at once on her own hook. She has been unable to
see Leo since she left him in the dark cavern, the reason being that
I ordered her not to do so, in punishment for leading you and your
companions from the magic chamber.”

The queen blew a tiny whistle, and a servant appeared.

“Send Azurma here,” said she, in Spanish.

The servant bowed and retired, and a few minutes later the beautiful
Hez girl appeared.

“What is it, O queen?” she asked. “Can I now be permitted to see my
future lord and master?”

“You can; but you must first seek him out. He is lost, having fallen
into the stream that flows through the Devil’s Kingdom. You are at
liberty to go where you please in the Land of Hez.”

An expression of gratefulness, intermingled with fear, came over the
girl’s face, and then, without noticing Dick in the least, she bowed
and retired.

The brave girl plodded on her way until she came to the point where the
four passages met, and here she came to a pause.

“He went down the stream that flows through the Devil’s Kingdom,” she
murmured, “and so must I, if I would find him. If he perished, then so
shall I! I have said it, and my word shall not be broken!”

Then with an expression of determination upon her face, she started
down the passage.

She only stopped for a moment to view the scene that had seemed such a
wonder to our friends, and then started off at right angles, with an
idea of picking her way to the shores of the stream below, beyond the
smoke and fire.

That Azurma knew what she was doing was plainly evident, for after a
tedious descent of probably a mile, she came to the point she desired
to reach.

The roaring of the flames was behind her, and the swiftly rushing tide
was within a few feet of her on the right.

Eagerly she scanned the shores on either side of the subterranean
stream for a sign of Leo Malvern.

But not the least trace of him could she see.

But Azurma had not given up all hope yet.

With a resolute air she started along the shore in the direction the
water flowed.

She now could hear the roaring of the water as it dashed over the
falls, and her face paled.

Had the one she loved been swept over this?

The thought was a sickening one to her, and for a moment she tottered
and almost fell to the ground.

Just then the girl caught sight of a number of footprints in the sand.

In a moment she was kneeling upon the ground examining them.

As soon as she saw that they were not made by her own people, a cry of
joy escaped her lips.

As the reader has already surmised, they were the footprints of Leo
Malvern and Reginald Lacy.

Full of hope now, that her mission would prove successful, Azurma
followed the tracks.

She reached the mouth of the passage and was just about to enter it
when a warning hiss told her that there was danger ahead.

The girl drew back with a half-smothered cry of alarm.

“The picuasus!” she cried, in her own tongue. “Oh! what shall I do now?”

She hastily withdrew from the mouth of the passage and looked about for
a safe place of retreat.

As she did so an immense turtle appeared through the opening, and
thrusting a horrible-looking head from its shell, peered around to find
the one who had disturbed it.

The moment the creature’s beadlike eyes rested upon Azurma a
transformation took place.

From the appearance of a huge turtle, it suddenly changed to a spider
of the most gigantic proportions.

Long legs stretched out in every direction, and it began walking toward
the poor girl, with its body at least two feet from the ground.

Azurma stood as though petrified, her face the color of ashes.

With rapid strides the many-legged creature neared her.

When it had approached to within ten feet of her she seemed to regain
her senses.

Uttering a wild shriek, she started to flee from the spot with all her
might.

An ominous hiss came from the picuasus, as Azurma called it, and the
horrible thing increased its speed.

Straight for the river the girl ran, and it was evident that rather
than be torn to pieces by the underground denizen she would throw
herself into the rushing water.

When within ten yards of the water’s edge Azurma stumbled and fell, and
the next instant the picuasus stretched forth its long tentacles to
seize her.

But they did not reach. At that moment the report of a rifle rang out,
and it tumbled to the ground in a heap.

Azurma was saved!



CHAPTER XII. AZURMA FINDS LEO.


Reginald Lacy sank to the ground in a dejected manner when he found
that the mouth of the passage was blocked.

“We can’t get out,” he said, hoarsely. “We may as well make up our
minds that we have got to starve to death!”

“Brace up!” exclaimed Leo. “Never give up until you are sure that you
are lost. It was only a short time ago that I was certain that I was
rushing to my death. But I was saved, and that has taught me a lesson.
I will not give up now until I feel the last breath leaving my body.”

The boy’s words seemed to imbue the man with a new hope.

He struggled to his feet again and patted his faithful dog on the head.

“If I only had something to eat,” he said, “there might be a chance. I
am very hungry, and so is Jupiter.”

“Let us find something to eat.”

“Where?”

“Around here, somewhere. There might be living creatures about; we have
not searched, you know.”

“That’s so; I never gave it a thought before. Lead on and take my
rifle; maybe you will be able to shoot something.”

Leo took the weapon and saw that it was loaded with but four cartridges.

That was the only firearm between the two, Leo having lost his when he
tumbled down the rocky decline in the Devil’s Kingdom.

“We have only got four shots to depend on,” said the boy, motioning
Lacy to follow him; “but if I have occasion to use them I’ll make every
one tell.”

His companion nodded, and the two started back toward the place they
had come from.

In a few minutes they reached the shore and began looking about them
for some signs of a creature that might do to eat.

A couple of hundred yards to the right was a group of rocks, which
looked as though it might possibly contain the lair of a wild beast of
some sort.

Toward this Leo directed his steps, Lacy following.

They searched about the place for over half an hour, but not a living
thing could they come across.

Again they sat down, Lacy being very dejected.

The dog, who had been nosing about considerably, suddenly started off
at a quick bound, at the same time uttering a short bark.

“He has struck the trail of something!” exclaimed Reginald Lacy,
springing to his feet as quickly as his feeble condition would allow
him.

“Let us follow him,” says Leo.

Away they went after Jupiter, in the hopes that he was about to start
up some game.

They had no sooner entered a small passage between two clefts of rock
than they were startled by hearing a wild scream.

“Great God!” exclaimed Lacy. “What is that?”

“It sounds to me like the cry of a female in distress,” replied his
young companion, turning about and starting hurriedly in the direction
the scream came from.

In a few seconds Leo came in sight of Azurma, with the horrible
picuasus pursuing her.

Again a wild scream left the girl’s lips, and though the distance was
rather great, the boy instantly concluded to risk a shot.

He knew full well if he missed the girl was lost, and that nerved him
to do his best.

He placed his rifle to his shoulder, and, taking a quick aim, pulled
the trigger.

Crack!

As the report rung out the picuasus fell, the bullet having pierced one
of its eyes.

As brave as she was, Azurma had swooned, and as soon as he reached the
spot, Leo set about to bring her to.

He soon accomplished this, and by the time Reginald Lacy reached the
spot she was sitting up clasping her preserver by the hands and gazing
into his eyes in a mute expression of joy.

“I have found you, O my future lord and master!” she said, and then she
did not speak again for fully a minute.

Reginald Lacy stood staring at her like one in a dream. At length he
spoke.

“How did you get here, miss?” he asked. “Can you lead us to a place
where we can get something to eat?”

“Are you hungry?” said Azurma, rising to her feet and unslinging the
bag from her shoulder. “If you are, eat.”

Lacy needed no second invitation.

He seized the food with a cry of joy and began devouring it ravenously.

“God bless you, my girl!” he exclaimed, hoarsely; “you have saved my
life. But my dog must have something, too. I will call him, and share
with him.”

He gave a long whistle, and in a few moments Jupiter came rushing from
a pile of rocks with the speed of an antelope.

The scent he had taken had proved but a myth, after all, and the dog,
like his master, being very hungry, soon forgot all about it.

He scarcely noticed the dead picuasus, but at once eagerly swallowed
the food Lacy gave him.

“Now, Azurma,” said Leo, “can you take us back to the village?”

“I can, and will at once, O my----”

“Hold on,” interrupted the boy. “Call me Leo; don’t use any more
high-fangled titles--I don’t like it.”

“Be it as you say, then, Leo. Whenever you are ready, I will conduct
you safely to your friends and mine.”

Then, acting on Azurma’s advice, he seized her by the hand and started
with all speed for the stream, Lacy and the dog following close behind.

Once there, Leo turned to look for Reginald Lacy and the dog.

A startling scene met his gaze.

Lacy had ventured too far out and the current had carried him off his
feet.

Jupiter had seized him by the collar and was endeavoring to swim ashore
with him.

“Help!” exclaimed Lacy, doing his best to stem the tide.

“Let the dog swim ashore with the rope--that is your only hope!”
exclaimed the boy, rushing into the water as far as he dared.

But this Jupiter could not be made to do. He was bent on saving the
life of his master, but he was going to do it in his own way.

Further and further the man and dog were sucked from the shore, in
spite of the superhuman efforts they made.

Leo was completely dismayed. The very ones who had saved his life were
now going to their own death over the falls.

He had no rope to throw to them, and could but stand upon the bank and
witness it.

Faster and faster the struggling man and dog were carried, and nearer
and nearer they were whirled to the falls.

Azurma had turned her back upon the scene, but a strange fascination
seemed to hold Leo’s eyes upon the doomed man and his faithful dog.

The next moment they went whirling over the cataract with a mighty rush.



CHAPTER XIII. BALLOTING FOR HUSBANDS.


Completely unnerved at the sight, Leo turned from the spot.

“Come, Azurma,” said he, “we will go back to the village.”

“Yes, Leo,” was the reply; “nothing could save the man and dog from
death. Their lifeless bodies are floating in the pool at the foot of
the falls by this time.”

For fear that another picuasus might show up, they hurriedly left the
spot.

Azurma led the way back over the same route by which they had come, and
in due time they arrived at the village, without further accidents.

The girl clasped Leo lovingly by the arm when they neared the palace,
and Dick and Martin Haypole, who saw them coming, flung their caps in
the air and uttered a cheer that brought out almost every soul in the
village.

“Well, I’ll be everlasting ding-wizzened if ther boy isn’t alive an’
well as any of us! An’ ter think that he passed through both fire
an’ water without gettin’ a scratch! ’Tain’t fer him to die in this
country--that’s certain.”

And Dick! The boy could hardly express his joy at finding his cousin
alive.

Queen Olive, who could not help hearing the commotion, came outside and
nodded when she saw what caused it, as though she was well satisfied
with Azurma’s success.

“I knew that if he was alive she would find him,” said she to Dick.

“All that I can say is that I am glad of it,” was the reply.

“Azurma is a very brave girl,” said Leo. “Had it not been for her I
would never have found my way to this place again. I don’t know how I
shall ever repay her.”

“Oh, that is easy,” returned Azurma; “promise to become my lord and
master when the proper time arrives.”

The queen then spoke, informing Leo what the custom of Hez was,
concluding with:

“I have just been visited by a committee of unmarried ladies, who
demand that they shall have an opportunity of drawing lots for each
of you. It is the custom, and we must adhere to it. I have appointed
to-morrow morning for the drawing to take place. You will all remember
this, and be at the palace an hour after sunrise.”

With these words she left our friends, taking Azurma with her.

The next morning, at the appointed time, Leo, Dick, Prof. Easy, Martin
Haypole and Lucky made their way to the abode of the queen.

At least half a hundred girls and middle-aged women were there, and it
was with great difficulty that our friends managed to squeeze their way
in.

More than one pair of eyes cast a bewitching glance at them as they
passed, and Lucky and the Yankee grinned in a wholesale manner.

Queen Olive was at the further end of the long hall through the center
of the building, and Dick noticed that her face wore an anxious look.

When all had assembled and the utmost quiet reigned, she arose and
addressed the audience in Spanish.

“Women of Hez,” said she, “we have assembled here this morning,
according to our ancient custom, to choose five husbands. Our law is
that no woman shall ever marry, unless her husband be a stranger from
the outside world. That is the way our race was founded, and is the
reason why we are so few in number. But the custom must be kept up.
There are fifty-one of us here, and there are but five strangers.
Forty-six must be disappointed. As Queen of Hez, I shall choose one of
the five without going into the form of drawing lots.”

A slight murmur of disapproval arose from the assemblage as these words
rang out.

Queen Olive evidently expected this, for, with flashing eyes, she
exclaimed:

“Silence! I am the ruler of this land, and my word is law.”

Then motioning to Dick to step forward, she went on:

“This is the man I have chosen for my husband; he loves me and I love
him.”

Nothing abashed, Dick took his place beside the beautiful creature.

But that the girls were anything but satisfied was plainly apparent.
They thought that in a case of this kind the queen should place herself
upon an equal footing with them, and take her chances.

But Queen Olive thought differently, and that settled it, for the time
being, anyhow.

As soon as her majesty ceased speaking, Azurma pushed her way through
the crowd and made an eloquent address, relating how she had saved Leo
from a death of starvation, winding up with a strong argument that he
should be given to her.

But the Hez beauties would not listen to this, and so Azurma’s appeal
was ruled down.

At Queen Olive’s order, a small, square box was brought forth, which
contained a number of small pieces of coal-like substance, and one
small bit of crystal of the same size and weight.

Then every female present was securely blindfolded and directed to step
forward, one at a time, and pick out one of the pieces.

The one who was fortunate enough to get hold of the bit of crystal was
the one to have the husband.

In case that no one got hold of the crystal, the queen had the power to
give him to whoever she saw fit.

Leo fervently desired that this might be the case, for he felt that if
he was compelled to become engaged to any of the females present he
would rather it would be Azurma, for the simple reason that she wanted
him, and he owed her a debt of gratitude for coming to hunt him up.

When everything was in readiness, the women stepped forward to draw the
pieces from the box.

It was quite interesting, and our friends watched the result with bated
breath.

As fast as one selected, the bandage was removed from her eyes and she
retired to the other end of the hall.

Azurma was the fifth one to draw, and when a black ballot was disclosed
to her view, she uttered a cry of dismay, and staggered blindly from
the spot.

The next to step forward was a girl as young and fully as beautiful as
she.

As she lifted the ballot from the box a murmur went up from the
assemblage.

She held the piece of crystal in her hand!

With an expression of triumph upon her beautiful face, she held out her
arms and approached Leo.

But she never reached him. A figure bounded forward with the swiftness
of an enraged panther; a blade flashed in the air, and the would-be
bride fell to the stone floor, the blood spurting from a wound in her
left side.

It was Azurma who had committed the deed, and with flashing eyes and
heaving breast she drew herself to her full height.

“Thus I have broken the laws of Hez!” she exclaimed, in a dramatic
tone. “Do with me what you will, O queen!”

It had all happened so quickly that our friends were utterly astounded,
and before they could fully comprehend what had taken place, Azurma was
seized and bound, and conducted from the building.

And the girl who had proven so unfortunate in picking out the
crystal--she never spoke again. The blade had severed her heart in
twain, and the beautiful Azurma was a murderess!

Leo turned sick at heart when he realized that he was the cause of the
tragedy, and he leaned against the wall in a dazed condition.

“Remove the body!”

It was Queen Olive who spoke.

Her command was instantly obeyed, and then, as though nothing had
happened, the ballots were shaken about in the box, and it was
announced that it would be decided who should have Martin Haypole.

“Gosh!” exclaimed the Yankee; “I hope no one don’t git killed on my
account! I’ll be satisfied with any of ther younger gals!”

This time nearly everyone had a chance at the box before the crystal
was drawn, and then it resulted in favor of a buxom Hez maiden of fair
appearance and uncertain age.

“Well, I rather guess you’ll do,” observed Haypole, as he shook hands
with her, “though I’ll be ding-wizzened if I don’t wish it had been one
of ther younger ones. Howsumever, beggars mustn’t be choosers, an’,
though I ain’t exactly been a-beggin’ for a wife, I’ll take yer when
ther times comes, an’ try an’ be satisfied.”

The next victim was the professor, and, with his face wreathed in
smiles, he waited the result.

Almost the first one to draw was the fortunate one, and she being one
of the beauties of the country, the professor nearly swallowed his
false teeth, so broad was his smile of satisfaction.

“Golly!” said Lucky, when he was ordered to step forth for inspection;
“I declar’ ter goodness, if dey ain’t treatin’ dis chile well in dis
yer country! Furst dey make him all white, wif de excepshun of his
face, which am a yaller color, an den dey present him wif a wife! Well,
I’s’ll be satisfied wif any ob dem.”

In a few minutes it was all settled, and the winner of the prize,
who was old enough to be the darky’s mother, seemed to be perfectly
satisfied.

“Now,” said the queen, “all who have been chosen as husbands will
leave, except the one who lost his bride at the hand of Azurma. Another
ballot must be taken for him.”

Even Dick was forced to retire with the others, and that left Leo the
only male in the crowd.

The more the young fellow thought over what had just occurred the
stronger became his determination that he would allow the farce, as he
considered it, to go no further.

The part he had already played had been quite enough for him, and he
made up his mind that if Azurma could not have him, no one else should.

Just as the queen was getting the box ready, he stepped forward and
exclaimed:

“Stop! I have had enough of this. I will allow no further drawing for
me, as I have made up my mind not to marry at all!”



CHAPTER XIV. AZURMA SUFFERS THE PENALTY OF HER CRIME.


The next morning the swamp explorers were up bright and early.

They had been invited to be present at the execution of the murderess,
Azurma, and though none of them were bloodthirsty enough to long for
such sights, the novelty of the thing caused them to make up their
minds to see it out.

That Leo was very much put out about the affair was certain. He
considered that he was the direct cause of the whole trouble, and while
the fair girl deserved punishment for her rash and bloody act, he made
up his mind that a jury in any civilized portion of the world would
hardly find her guilty of murder in the first degree. She might receive
a sentence of imprisonment for life, and probably not as bad as that.

He concluded to speak to the queen about it, and got Dick to accompany
him to the palace just before the procession was ready to start for the
place of execution.

She granted him an audience readily enough, but would not listen to
his appeal that she might be a little more lenient with Azurma.

“No,” said she, with a decided shake of her head; “she must die as
I have ordered. I cannot; nor would not if I could, countermand my
orders. We are ready to start now, tell the rest of your companions to
fall in line, and be sure to go with us to see the vile murderess take
her death ride into the Devil’s Kingdom!”

There was no getting over it, so our friends promptly fell into line
with nearly the entire population of Hez.

Azurma was then brought forth by two men, and she cast a look of
defiance at Queen Olive and the rest of the women.

The word was given, and the procession filed away, the swamp explorers
keeping near the doomed girl, and marveling at the fortitude she
possessed.

Torches were lighted, and they passed through the dark passage into the
magic chamber.

Here Azurma turned her gaze upon Leo, and said:

“It was in this place that I first met you, my Leo. Then I thought you
would be mine, but they robbed me of you. But I promise, that though
they kill me, I will meet you in another world, and then we will be
happy. This I swear!”

At this point the girl was hustled on, and deeply impressed by her
words, Leo and his companions followed with the crowd.

In a short time the spot that overlooked the place dubbed the Devil’s
Kingdom was reached, and the party came to a halt.

A shudder came over Azurma as she surveyed the horrible place below,
but in an instant she had regained her composure and was as calm as
ever.

The puffs of fire and smoke roared and hissed below them, and the
stream which flowed through the place seemed to rush along with unusual
speed.

“I am ready to suffer the penalty of my crime, O queen! It is sweet to
die for those we love!”

It was the doomed girl that spoke, and as she turned her eyes upon the
assemblage her face looked more beautiful than ever.

“If you have anything to say, out with it at once,” said the queen.
“According to our ancient laws you must die, and our laws must not be
broken.”

“I will say this much,” replied Azurma, advancing to the very edge of
the steep, rocky slant: “The women of Hez have robbed me of the one I
love, and now, as I stand upon the very brink of death, I set my curse
upon all who took part in it. And, furthermore, I do swear that I will
return from the undiscovered country into which I am now to be hurled,
and heap destruction upon all Hez. This I promise you; and if I do
leave this country to find a haven of rest in another more beautiful
one--as I firmly believe I shall--I will do my best to get the people
of that country to follow me to Hez and aid me in accomplishing my
revenge.”

She paused for a moment and looked keenly around to see the effect of
her words.

She was evidently satisfied, for a smile broke over her beautiful face.

Then, directing her gaze upon Leo, her lips parted.

“Farewell, my Leo; forget not what I said in the magic chamber.”

The next instant, to the astonishment of all hands, she turned and
sprang over the verge of the awful place and went gliding toward the
flame and smoke below!

She had cheated the executioners from throwing her into the Devil’s
Kingdom by committing the deed herself.

Down--down the horrible descent she glided until the lurid flames hid
her from view, and then, with a mighty splash, the beautiful murderess
plunged into the rushing stream.

A shudder crept over everyone in the party, and one and all they turned
their heads.

For fully a minute a deep silence reigned.

At length it was broken by Queen Olive.

“Come,” said she, in a strange, unnatural tone, “let’s go back.”

Everybody seemed to be willing, so they started at once.

As soon as they arrived at the village, our friends sought the
seclusion of their own dwelling to talk over the startling events that
had so recently occurred.

About an hour after darkness set in the younger population of Hez
began moving toward the magic chamber, and among them were Dick, the
professor, Haypole and Lucky.

Each of these escorted the fair one to whom he had been engaged, and
the Yankee and the transformed darky presented an amusing spectacle as
they made their way along in the procession.

Dick was more or less elated at being at the head of the line with the
beautiful queen at his side, and for the time being he forgot all about
Leo.

When they reached the magic chamber, he found it was lighted by a
number of brightly burning torches, stuck in niches in the rocky walls.

Almost as soon as he and Queen Olive entered a strain of music struck
up, he knew not from where, and he found his partner and himself
leading a fantastic, weird march.

Back and forth, through the roomy cavern, they made their way, the boy
doing as the queen directed him.

At length, after about ten minutes of this sort of thing, the music
suddenly ceased and everybody came to a halt.

Then it again struck up, and the opening dance began.

It was very similar to the old-fashioned Virginia reel, and our friends
had little or no difficulty in going through the figures.

Prof. Easy seemed to be in his seventh heaven.

He danced about like a wild man of the woods, and laughed like a child
in possession of a new toy.

And Martin Haypole. He swung his long legs around regardless of any
mischief he might do, and forgot all the cares and troubles of his life.

Lucky was probably the most nimble-footed male on the floor, and he
soon laid all the rest in the shade.

When the first dance came to an end, Queen Olive informed Dick that a
number of the girls would give the dance of death--the same that our
friends had witnessed on their arrival in Hez.

This, she informed him, was always indulged in by those who were not
fortunate enough to have a partner for life, or a chance of soon having
one, at every occasion like this.

Now that they knew what was coming, the four were anxious to see it,
and they took seats with those who were not to participate in it on the
stone floor of the cavern.

It was but a repetition of what they had seen before, but it was
entrancing, for all that.

The graceful, undulating movements of the gaudily bedecked creatures
seemed to move as if by a strange mechanism, and when their skeleton
partners dropped down from above, the scene was complete.

As before, when the thing wound up, a crowd of figures resembling
animals rushed in and seized the girls, and the skeletons disappeared.

At the same instant the lights went out and all was in total darkness.

This was evidently not on the program, for the audience gave a cry of
alarm, and a number hastened to light up the scene again. When they
had done so it was found that both Dick and the queen had mysteriously
disappeared.



CHAPTER XV. THE NAZTECS AND THEIR PRISONERS.


Reginald Lacy and his faithful dog were swept over the falls with
frightful velocity.

Jupiter still gripped his master by the collar, and it was evident that
he meant to hang on until death parted them.

Down the foaming cataract they were carried, and the terror of his
dreadful situation caused Lacy to lose possession of his faculties.

When he came to again he found himself lying upon a strip of sand with
his feet in the water.

Jupiter sat before him, patiently waiting for his master to come to
life and speak to him.

At first the man thought that he must certainly be injured in some way,
but a single effort on his part showed him that he was not.

He rose to his feet but very little the worse for his journey over the
rapids, and patted the dog’s head.

A slight noise behind him caused him to turn. The next instant a dozen
men sprang upon him and bore him to the ground.

Jupiter, the dog, endeavored to render his master some assistance, but
a blow from a heavy club stretched the animal senseless on a slab of
rock.

Then Lacy’s hands were securely bound behind him, and his captors, who
were a queer-looking set, raised him to his feet.

They began talking rapidly in some unknown tongue, and at length
decided to take their prisoner down the decline to the cave below.

Lacy did not offer the least resistance, but with a strange, hunted
look in his eyes he walked along with his captors.

They took him to a cavern where there were a number of strange men
already assembled, and where Lacy observed another prisoner lying on
the ground, bound hand and foot.

After a short consultation, a couple of men walked over to the
prostrate man and liberated him, save untying his hands.

Even then the man did not look up, but kept his eyes fixed on the
ground in a sullen manner.

But Reginald Lacy was gazing at him with a look of fear upon his face.

It was his enemy, Philander Owens!

An order was given, and both prisoners were marched to the other end of
the cave, where an opening was visible.

Through this went the inhabitants of the underground world, leading
their prisoners with them.

The strange inhabitants of the place kept on with their prisoners until
they reached a massive building of a purple color, which was situated
at the end of the single street contained in the city--if city it could
be called.

Here they came to a halt.

Then, for the first time, the eyes of Owens rested upon his fellow
captive, and such a look of hate darted from them!

Lacy quailed before him, and in a husky voice said:

“Aren’t you satisfied yet? Or do you still hate me as much as ever?”

“Just as much!” was the reply, in a bitter voice. “Why shouldn’t I? But
never mind--my hour of vengeance will yet come!”

“Death stares us both in the face,” said Lacy, in a calmer tone. “Why
not let bygones be bygones?”

“What! after I went to the expense to purchase a balloon to hunt you
down after you had taken to the Everglades? Why, you vile hound! I have
spent a fortune, almost, for the purpose of hunting you down. Never! If
I ever hated you, I do now!”

“As you will,” returned Lacy, becoming more cool every moment. “But
remember, we are both on an equal footing now.”

“I would soon show you if we were both free!” exclaimed Owens, hotly.

As if he were understood, a richly decked personage suddenly appeared
in the doorway of the purple-hued building and spoke a few words.

To the surprise and joy of Owens, his hands were untied.

Then Lacy was treated in a like manner. The man, who was evidently the
king, was just about to make an address to his people in regard to the
two strangers from an unknown land, when a startling thing occurred.

Owens made a sudden leap and seized Lacy by the throat.

The men were about of one size and build, and were evenly matched as
far as appearances were.

Owens was boiling over with rage, while on the contrary his opponent
was perfectly cool and collected.

Lacy had gripped his foe about the neck, and he strove to throw him
with all his might.

At the commencement of the sudden encounter between the two men,
the inhabitants of the place were thrown into a state of dumfounded
amazement.

But at length the king shouted the one word:

“_Naztec!_”

“Naztec, Naztec!” came the response from all hands.

And in the twinkling of an eye the combatants were separated and led
away in different directions.

Lacy was conducted to a building on the right and placed in a small
room, where two men promptly placed themselves to guard against his
leaving the place.

“Naztec!” repeated one of the men, and then motioned to Lacy that if he
would remain passive he would not be harmed.

One of the men pointed to a soft couch in a corner of the room and
motioned him to lie down.

Then it struck Lacy that he was very tired and sleepy, so he promptly
obeyed.

In a very short time he was fast asleep.

It must have been ten or twelve hours before he awakened, and when he
did so he felt greatly refreshed.

As soon as he arose half a dozen men appeared and conducted him from
the room to the street outside.

He was walked up and down this for about ten minutes and then returned
to the place whence he came.

A substantial meal was now set before him, and Lacy ate it in a hearty
manner, all the while wondering why it was that he was receiving such
excellent attention.

But he was destined to soon learn.

Philander Owens was used exactly the same in another building not far
away, and he, too, wondered why it was thus and so.

About twenty-four hours later both ceased to wonder.

Lacy had risen but an hour before, when he heard the beating of a
tom-tom, or some other outlandish instrument.

The sum and substance of it was, that the ruler of the place had
arranged for a contest of strength to take place between the two
prisoners.

He had noticed the savageness with which the men had come together
when they had been brought before him, and he concluded that if they
were fed up a little, and taken care of, they would be able to give a
first-class entertainment to the populace.

Owens had been captured a few hours before Lacy showed up and attempted
to roll the bowlder down, but he had not been taken before the king
until they both were together.

At the beating of the tom-tom the people of the place began to gather
at the end of the wide street in front of the purple-hued building, and
Lacy and Owens were each led from the house they had been kept in.

Owens was clad in a red tunic, while, as has already been stated, Lacy
wore a blue one.

Both men seemed glad when the king motioned them to settle what
differences they had then and there. One, because he hated the man who
stood before him beyond the depth of conception; and the other, because
he thought it about time that the thing was settled.

Instead of grappling with each other, the two men began sparring for an
opening.

At length Lacy planted a stinging blow on his adversary’s nose, causing
the blood to flow freely.

“Naztec!” yelled the crowd, applauding wildly.

Stung to madness, Owens made a sudden dive to the left and seized a
knife from the belt of a man standing near.

With a look of fury in his eyes, he sprang upon Lacy, and raised the
weapon to plunge it in his heart.



CHAPTER XVI. DICK AND THE QUEEN IN PERIL.


It is now about time that the mysterious disappearance of Dick Vincey
and the Queen of Hez was explained.

The very instant the torches were extinguished in the magic chamber the
two were seized and borne to the earth.

Before they could cry out, gags were thrust in their mouths, and then
in the confusion that prevailed they were carried rapidly from the spot.

Dick strove manfully to free himself, but it was useless; a heavy cloth
had been wound tightly around his body, rendering him powerless to use
his arms.

The pair were carried swiftly along for about half an hour, through
innumerable passages and tunnels, until at length they reached a spot
where it was light.

But it was not the light made by burning torches--it looked more, to
Dick, as though he was being carried through a street with a plentiful
supply of electric lights in it.

However, his eyes were gladdened by the light but for a minute or
so. The next instant their captors entered a cave, where all was in
darkness, and came to a halt.

The two prisoners were deposited upon the hard ground as though they
had been mere bundles of rags, and then those who had brought them
thence took their departure.

For fully an hour the utmost silence reigned, and then it was suddenly
broken by the sound of approaching footsteps.

Both Dick and his fair companion were beginning to suffer from their
cramped positions, and they breathed a sigh of relief when they heard
some one coming.

A moment later a lighted torch came in view, and a dozen Hez maidens
appeared on the scene.

They were those who had balloted for husbands and who had been
disappointed.

Dick saw it all now. They were evidently dissatisfied with the queen
choosing him without allowing them a voice in the matter, and they had
now taken the law in their own hands.

The boy was right. Such was really the case. The twelve maidens who now
stood before them had conspired together and broken the laws of the
Land of Hez.

They had caused the couple to be brought to this out-of-the-way place
to force Queen Olive to give Dick over to them, and then swear to let
the matter drop forever.

In case she refused, the two were to be left in the cave to perish,
while the conspirators would go back to the village and circulate the
rumor that their queen, being unable to wait until the two years had
passed, had fled to the outside world with her lover.

That this story would be believed by the simple Hez people there was
not the least particle of doubt.

The leader of the twelve maidens was Queen Olive’s younger sister--heir
to the throne!

It was she who acted as speaker for her companions, and after having
removed the gags from the mouths of the two prisoners, so they would be
able to answer her, she proceeded to inform them of the reason they had
been abducted from the magic chamber.

“Our plan was well carried out,” said she, “and the twelve here
assembled are the ones that did it. We have rebelled against the
throne, and unless you agree to our terms, you must lie in this cave,
bound as you are, to furnish food for the dreaded picuasus. What is
your answer, my sister?”

The eyes of the queen flashed with rage that was intense, and for a
moment she could not find words to make a reply.

But finally she calmed herself and said:

“My answer is this, base conspirators! I will not agree to your terms,
even though you do leave me here to die, which you dare not do.”

“Dare not? We will show you. I will give you just five minutes to
consider your reply, and if in that time you do not agree, we will
certainly leave you both here--unless the young man whom you have
chosen for your husband desires to accept one of us, and will take an
oath not to reveal what has happened.”

“I will not do that!” said Dick, hotly. “Do your worst, you she-fiends;
we will triumph in the end.”

“Nobly spoken, my brave young lover!” spoke up the queen. “It will be
as you say--we will triumph in the end.”

There was no reply to this until the five minutes had elapsed, and
then the queen’s sister, with a perfectly immovable face, spoke up.

“What is your decision?” she asked, coolly.

“You have it already. Free us immediately, or I give you my word that
every one of you shall suffer the fate of Azurma.”

There was a ripple of mocking laughter at this, and the leader of the
conspirators went on:

“Is that your final answer?”

“It is.”

“Be it so, then. From this time forward I am the queen of the Land of
Hez. Farewell, my sister. May you and your lover enjoy the agonies of
death you have so freely chosen!”

This nerved Dick to a feeling of desperation, and he strove to free
himself with all his might.

But it was utterly useless; the heavy cloth that bound his hands to his
sides was too firmly wound about him.

Then, too, his legs were secured in the same manner, and he soon found
that he could scarcely even turn over.

“It is useless,” he said, panting from his exertions. “We have got to
die!”

“Oh, say not so,” wailed the queen, and she fell back in a faint.

And Dick! He relaxed his muscles and fell into as comfortable a
position as was possible, and set to thinking over their situation.

What worried him most was what the queen’s sister had said about them
furnishing a meal for the dreaded picuasus.

He had heard about those monsters from Leo, and that he and his
beautiful companion were in the limits of the domain of the horrible
turtle spiders he felt certain.

What if one of them should come prowling that way now?

The thought was maddening to Dick, and he again strove to free himself.

But after five minutes of fruitless endeavor he fell back exhausted.

Soon after this he fell into a troubled sleep, from which he did not
awaken until some hours had elapsed.

He felt cramped and sore, and soon as the full sense of his situation
came to him, he listened intently.

But not a sound could be heard, save the regular breathing of the girl
at his side, who was now sleeping peacefully.

He determined not to disturb her slumber, and so did not attempt to
burst his bonds again.

The seconds flitted into minutes, and the minutes into hours, and still
there was no change.

Had it not been for Queen Olive’s regular breathing, Dick would have
thought her dead.

“Let her sleep,” he thought. “She is now entirely oblivious to our
horrible situation, and if I wake her up, she will only rave and go on
at a great rate.”

About five minutes later the boy heard a sound which sent a thrill
through his body.

A faint pit-pat could be heard, which told him that some living
creature was approaching.

“The picuasus!” he muttered to himself. “Well, it will soon be over.”

Nearer and nearer the sounds came, and presently the boy’s instinct
told him that the animal, or whatever it was, had halted within a few
feet of him.

The next moment he felt the cold nose of the creature touching his
face!



CHAPTER XVII. AZURMA AND THE NAZTECS.


Azurma, the beautiful murderess, had jumped upon the rocky slide with
the firm conviction that she was going to her death.

She held her breath and closed her eyes during the fearful descent.

When she had passed through the flames and found herself comparatively
uninjured, a sudden hope arose in her breast that she might come out
all right yet.

This thought no sooner entered her mind than she struck the water with
a splash and sank below its surface.

Down, down, the girl went, for many feet.

When she struggled to the surface again she was at least two hundred
yards from the place where she had fallen in.

Blinded and half choked, she kept her head above the water, and in a
few seconds she was beyond the limits of the roaring fire and smoke.

The girl did not offer to struggle in the least, but allowed the
merciless current to carry her along at its will.

This was the wisest thing she could do, for it left her what strength
she possessed to be used later on.

On she whirled, the current running so strong that she kept on top of
the water without the least effort on her part.

In a few more seconds the falls will be reached.

Azurma hears the angry roar of the tide in her ears, and prepares
herself for the worst.

She lifts her head for a single instant, and sees the foaming crest but
a few yards distant.

The next minute, with a rush and a roar, she is carried over.

Contrary to her expectations, she is not dashed to a shapeless mass
upon a bed of jagged rocks, but finds herself struggling in a lake of
comparatively still water.

Azurma knew how to swim, and, after brushing her long tresses from her
eyes, she drew a long breath and started for the shore, close at hand.

Faint and exhausted, she reached it, and sank upon the ground in a
semi-unconscious condition.

She was aroused to her full senses presently by hearing the pattering
made by some animal running toward her.

In an instant she sprang to her feet.

A cry of joy escaped her lips.

Coming toward her was Jupiter, the dog she had seen go over the falls
with his master the day before.

The animal came directly to her feet and lay down, acting in a very
strange manner. His head was covered plentifully with clotted blood,
showing the girl that he was suffering from a severe wound.

Lying upon the ground, he looked her in the face and whined in a
piteous manner.

“Poor dog,” said Azurma. “What has become of your master? Is he dead?
If not, take me to him.”

She waved her hand for the dog to get up and lead the way.

He seemed to comprehend her meaning, but acted in a dazed sort of way.

Running away from her for about fifty yards, he suddenly turned and
made a circle, and then rolled over and over upon the ground.

Instead of being frightened at these strange actions, Azurma became
interested.

Instinct told her that something unusual ailed the dog.

She made up her mind to find out what it was, if possible.

Quickly making her way to his side, she talked to him in a soothing
manner, and then proceeded to examine the wound on his head.

A moment’s inspection sufficed to show her that the animal’s skull had
received a fracture, and that a part of the bone was depressed.

Something told her that if she could lift the piece of bone back to its
place, Jupiter would be all right.

A needle-like instrument was pinned to the white, gauzy sash about her
waist, and with this she endeavored to do the job.

Though she knew little or nothing about surgery, she was successful.

The dog howled piteously during the operation, but did not offer to
prevent her from doing it.

When it was finished he rolled over on his side and appeared to
fall into a deep sleep. The girl bathed the dog’s wound with her
water-soaked garments, and then seated herself by his side to await
developments.

It must have been an hour before the dog began to show signs of
awakening, and as soon as he did, Azurma, who had heard Reginald Lacy
call him by name, arose to her feet.

“Come, Jupiter; show me where your master is.”

The animal seemed to have fully recovered; he began springing about her
feet, uttering his quick, sharp barks in a joyful manner.

Then, catching Azurma by the dress, he attempted to pull her along
after him in the direction of the opening where the light came from.

“I’ll go with you willingly,” said the girl, catching on to the idea
that Lacy was somewhere in that direction.

Away they went, the faithful dog leading, and ever and anon turning
around to see if Azurma was still following.

In this manner they soon reached the identical place Lacy had entered
several hours previously.

Azurma was very much puzzled at her surroundings. She, nor none of
her people, had ever been in that portion of the underground country
before, but she could plainly see the tracks made by Lacy, and
concluded to follow as far as Jupiter chose to lead her.

Along through the lighted passage they went until they arrived at the
point where Lacy had been pounced upon and captured by the Naztecs when
in the act of hurling the bowlder down upon the defenseless form of his
enemy.

Azurma’s quick eye told her that a struggle had taken place here, for
she found the shred of a garment, evidently a piece of the shirt Lacy
wore, while upon the ground was a clot of blood.

But as she could find no more of the latter, she rightly judged that it
had come from the dog.

A strange light shone in the girl’s eyes as she surveyed her
surroundings.

“Is it possible that the last words I addressed to the women of Hez
will come true?” she asked herself. “I have escaped death, and am now
in the limits of another country, where people must certainly live, for
they were not animals who carried off the dog’s master and left the
poor creature lying here for dead. I will go down there where it is so
light; Jupiter seems anxious to go, and I will follow.”

Without any further hesitation she started down the descent, and at
length stood in the cave in which Owens had been lying bound hand and
foot.

But the place was deserted now, and Azurma followed the dog through the
opening at the other side, and stepped into the single street of the
strange, little city.

The scene that met the girl’s eyes was so entirely different to what
she had anticipated that for a moment she was completely bewildered.

But not so with the dog.

He gave a single bark and dashed away with the speed of the wind toward
the further end of the street, where a large number of people were
congregated.

It was at this identical moment that the contest of strength between
Reginald Lacy and Philander Owens was about to take place.

Jupiter reached the spot just as the enraged Owens was about to plunge
the gleaming blade into his master’s heart.

With a mighty bound the animal sprang upon the would-be assassin and
bore him to the ground.

Then, but for the interposition of a number of the Naztecs, he would
have literally torn him to pieces.

As it was, Owens’ shoulder was so badly lacerated by the dog’s teeth
that he had to be carried from the place in a semi-conscious condition.

Lacy staggered to the side of Jupiter and hugged him as a mother would
her child.

The Naztecs gazed upon the scene with a look of wonderment in their
eyes.

True, they had such things as dogs in their country, but none like the
faithful animal who was now before them, and who had saved his master’s
life!

At a signal from the king, or ruler, of the place, the crowd clapped
their hands in a burst of applause, and then began singing a sort of
chant.

At this moment Azurma, who had hitherto been unobserved, came upon them.

Reginald Lacy was one of the first to notice her, and when he did so he
gave a start of surprise.

She had joined the Naztecs in singing the chant, and appeared to be
perfectly acquainted with it.

The moment the king laid his eyes upon the newcomer, he made a sudden
signal, and everybody, save Lacy and the girl herself, dropped upon
their knees.

Azurma seemed as much astonished as Lacy at the proceedings, but she
did not hesitate to shake hands with the man who had preceded her to
the queer country.

“Do you know these people?” asked Lacy, quickly.

“No; I never saw nor heard of them before.”

“Do you understand their language?”

“I know the chant they were singing. It was learned to the people of
Hez by Roderique de Amilo, the founder of the race.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the man, brightening up; “if that is the case, you can,
most likely, make yourself understood to them. Are you acquainted with
the language in which the chant is sung?”

“I am.”

“Then advance to that man over there and ask him who and what they are,
and what they are going to do with us.”

He pointed to the king, who stood with bowed head, as he spoke.

Azurma at once obeyed, and when she began talking the king lifted his
head and nodded in a pleased manner.

He replied to all the girls’ questions, who, in turn, translated the
conversation to Lacy.

The substance of it was that the people were really called Naztecs, and
that their race had been in existence for hundreds of years.

For the past century the population had gradually dwindled, from some
unknown cause, and they now numbered scarcely seven hundred, all told.

Many, many years before, the king said, one of their beautiful maidens
had disappeared, leaving word that she would surely come back, or else
send some one in her place, who was as beautiful as her, in some future
generation.

This had been recorded by the forefathers of the Naztecs, and,
consequently, they were always on the lookout for the girl to turn up.

When they saw Azurma they took it for granted that she was the one sent
in place of the lost maiden of ages before.

With this brief explanation we will proceed.

Azurma was cute enough to allow the Naztecs to believe that she was
really the one they took her to be.

By so doing she came in possession of a power which she would not
otherwise have had.

She had no difficulty in persuading the king to set Lacy and his dog
free, and give them the privilege of going anywhere about the city.

She told his royal highness where she had come from, and he at once set
forth his desire to visit Hez, if possible.

Whereupon Azurma set her people down as a bloodthirsty race, and
offered to lead the Naztecs upon them at some future day, and
exterminate them.

This seemed to satisfy the king, and he gave orders that hereafter
Azurma should be treated as a princess.



CHAPTER XVIII. WHAT HAPPENED TO DICK AND QUEEN OLIVE.


When Dick Vincey felt the cold snout of an animal touching his face, a
convulsive shudder ran over his body.

He thought that his earthly career was ended, for a certainty.

But, instead of being seized and torn to pieces by the horrible
picuasus, as he supposed it to be, the animal uttered a low whine, and
began licking his face.

Almost at the same instant the boy heard footsteps approaching.

Then it flashed across his mind that the animal who stood over him must
be a dog.

He opened his eyes and strove in vain to pierce the inky darkness and
see what it was.

The footsteps were coming nearer all the time, and fearful that the
person who was approaching might turn in some other direction, Dick
shouted out:

“Help!”

Queen Olive awoke with a wild cry of alarm on her lips, and tremblingly
asked Dick what had happened.

Before he could reply, a light flashed up and illumined the cave,
almost blinding the two prisoners for a moment.

But this soon passed off, and they saw a man, attired in a fantastic
garb of limited extent, hurrying toward them.

A huge dog was standing over Dick, which the boy recognized at once as
Jupiter, the dog he had seen go over the falls with his master.

But when the man halted in front of them and held his lighted torch
near their faces, a cry of astonishment, intermingled with joy, left
the boy prisoner’s lips.

It was no other than Reginald Lacy himself who stood before them.

Lacy seemed to be as much surprised as Dick, but drawing a knife from
his belt, he quickly severed the bonds that held the couple prisoners.

“How came you here?” he asked, as Dick arose to his feet and patted
Jupiter on the head.

“You shall hear the whole story,” was the reply; “but let us first get
out of this place. I, for one, have had quite enough of it to last the
rest of my life. Come, Olive, we are saved!”

Without any further ado, Lacy led the way out of the cave, going
through a long, dark passage, the mouth of which opened into the vast
cavern just above the falls.

Once here, Dick breathed a sigh of relief.

“Now, Mr. Lacy,” said he, “I will tell you how the queen of Hez and
myself came to be in the predicament you found us.”

He then related, in as few words as possible, all that had transpired
in the past few hours, winding up by asking Lacy how he and the dog
escaped death when they went whirling over the falls.

“That is easily explained,” returned Reginald Lacy, with a smile.
“There were no rocks at the foot of the falls, and, consequently, the
danger of going over them is not great. There is another person who
went safely over them since I did.”

“Who was it?” asked Dick. “Surely not Azurma?”

“But it was, just the same. She is now living, and is as hale and
hearty as she ever was.”

“Where is she?” asked Queen Olive, in an interested manner.

“In the city of the Naztecs, a few miles from here.”

“What do you mean?” gasped Dick, in astonishment.

“Exactly what I say, my boy. There is a race of people, similar in
character to those who live in the Land of Hez, not far from here.
Their city is my home for the present, as well as that of Azurma. But
come, we had better be moving from here; there is no telling when one
of those big turtle spiders might show up. What do you say if you both
accompany me to the city of the Naztecs? I’ll guarantee that you will
be used well.”

“We will go!” said Queen Olive, suddenly. “It would not do for me to go
back to Hez at this late hour. The people would scarcely believe the
abduction, and it is hard to tell exactly what might take place.”

“Lead the way, Mr. Lacy,” spoke up Dick. “I am satisfied with anything.
This is a country of wonder and mystery, and I desire to see all I can
of it.”

Reginald Lacy had left the city with his dog to make an exploration of
the surrounding country.

Unconsciously his steps led him to the spot where Dick and his fair
companion lay bound hand and foot.

But it was Jupiter’s fault more than his own that he came that far away
from the little city.

The dog wanted to pursue an upward course, and Lacy allowed him to have
his way.

He had passed through many caverns and chambers, and were it not for
the dog, he knew that he would never be able to find his way back again.

But Jupiter was a dog that could be depended upon, and no one knew this
better than his master.

Lacy was very much pleased at finding Dick, and as they threaded their
way through the mazes of the underground world, he told the boy about
the presence of Philander Owens in the city they were bound for.

“I wish,” said he, “that you would see him, and endeavor to get him to
let what has passed be forgotten. He is very bitter against me, though
for what reason it is not likely that anybody, save the pair of us,
will ever know.”

“I will do all I can,” returned Dick.

The beautiful queen spoke never a word during the descent into the
valley below.

That she was becoming weary and footsore was plainly evident by the
manner in which she clung to Dick’s arm.

She was as much puzzled as Dick when they entered the lighted chamber
and started through it.

But when they came to what lay beyond she could scarcely believe her
senses.

She had never laid eyes upon such buildings as the little city
contained, and could hardly bring herself to believe that she was not
dreaming.

With Dick it was different. He was not surprised at anything, but took
every new thing he saw the same as though he had always been aware of
its existence.

As Lacy and his dog entered the city with the two strangers, much
excitement was manifested by the Naztecs.

They crowded around the newcomers, and began asking all sorts of
questions in their peculiar language.

Queen Olive understood it perfectly, and she lost no time in giving
them all the information they desired.

Attracted by the confusion outside, Azurma came forth from the room
assigned to her in the purple-hued building.

As soon as she observed who the strangers were, a cry of joy left her
lips, and she rushed to them.

“Where is Leo? Did he not come with you?” she asked of Dick.

“No, he did not,” was the reply. “So you escaped death, after all,
Azurma?”

“Yes, but no thanks to her who condemned me to death!” said the girl,
looking at her former queen.

“Was it my fault that you were condemned to death?” asked Queen Olive,
in a calm voice.

“No,” replied the girl, after a moment’s thought. “Forgive me for
speaking as I did. You did but your duty.”

Then, as is generally the case, the two women embraced each other, and
were more friendly than they had ever been before.

The Naztecs seemed very proud of their visitors, and treated them with
the utmost kindness.

They were also given rooms in the palace, and a royal reception was
held in their honor.

But though Dick was treated after the manner of a prince, and had the
girl he loved near him, he was yet far from being happy.

Had he been in his own country, with Leo and the rest of his associates
about him, it would have been different.



CHAPTER XIX. LEO WEDS, AFTER ALL.


When the new queen had reigned for a year, she one day took it in her
head to modify one of the principal laws of Hez.

It was to change the time of the maidens waiting for their husbands
from two years to six months.

As this was more of a common-sense view of the matter, her people
unanimously agreed to it, with the exception of Roderique de Amilo.

He was for keeping the ancient laws of the country the same.

But one against so many did not amount to much, so the law went into
force.

Elated by the favor with which her new law was received, the queen,
whose name, by the way, was Nalie, concluded to make another change,
and a big one, at that.

Hitherto none of the males born in Hez had been allowed to marry under
any consideration.

Consequently the race was fast dying out, as very few men from the
outside world came to the strange country, and when they did, it was
merely by accident.

When her majesty issued this edict, she announced that her reason for
doing so was to keep the race in existence forever.

This, too, met with the approval of the Hezzians.

The day soon arrived which the queen had fixed when all those who
desired to enter a state of matrimony could do so, and nearly all the
unmarried ones took advantage of it.

The building in which dwelt the supposed founder of the Hez race,
Roderique de Amilo, who was to perform the ceremony, was a circular
one, and contained but two rooms. The rest of the space was taken up by
a broad hall, which opened at either end of the house.

There were no seats of any kind in the hall, and, consequently, all had
to stand up.

When Leo, whom the queen had chosen for her future husband, and Nalie
arrived, De Amilo had just commenced to marry some of the Hezzians to
the maidens they had chosen.

The ceremony was about the same as the Spanish one of to-day, only it
was somewhat shorter.

The couples were married as fast as the acting priest could rattle off
the words of the ceremony, and sent away happy.

At length it came Prof. Easy’s turn, and with his face wreathed in
smiles, he stepped up to the scratch with his blushing, young bride
leaning upon his arm.

As soon as the knot was tied, they marched off to the little house that
had been assigned to them.

Next came Martin Haypole, and then Lucky.

When these had been disposed of, there was but one couple left, and
that was Leo and the queen.

A few had remained to see their ruler married, but the majority had
gone away to their usual avocations.

As Leo and his fair companion stepped to the front, there was a
disturbance at one end of the hall, and a figure rushed in.

Leo turned hastily around, and a cry of astonishment left his lips.

It was Azurma, the girl whom he thought dead, who had rushed in.

She stood in front of Queen Nalie with uplifted hands, but not a word
escaped her lips.

Everybody in the building recognized her, and a wild yell of terror
went up.

Down upon their faces went all save Leo, who was thunderstruck, but not
frightened in the least.

Azurma glided to him, and, placing her hand upon his shoulder, said:

“Come, my Leo; I will take you to your cousin Dick, who yet lives.”

Hardly knowing what he did, the boy followed her from the building.

No one barred their progress, and in a couple of minutes they had
entered one of the numerous passages, and were lost to view.

Leo followed Azurma through the passage without saying a word.

He was very much mystified at the girl’s sudden appearance.

Over a year before she had been condemned to death, and he had seen her
with his own eyes go shooting into the turbulent stream that flowed
through the Devil’s Kingdom.

He remembered Azurma’s last words, as he followed her along, and he
began to think that not only the Land of Hez was one of mystery, but
the ones who lived in it mysterious, also.

The girl clung to his arm and did not offer to speak until they had
reached a point fully a mile from the village governed by Queen Nalie.

Azurma related her miraculous escape, and told how she reached the land
of the Naztecs, how Reginald Lacy and his dog had found Dick and Queen
Olive in the cave, and wound up by saying that both she and Queen Olive
had been created princesses in the Naztec nation, and that Dick had
been the king’s adviser for the past seven months.

She also informed him that Philander Owens was a resident of the city,
and that he and Reginald Lacy had buried the hatchet, and were now fast
friends.

They had married sisters, she said, and lived in the same house.

All this was startling news to Leo, and he longed for the moment when
he could meet Dick and embrace him.

Azurma, who knew the way perfectly, led him to the grounds near the
foot of the falls, by way of the rocky descent near the Devil’s Kingdom.

In a little over an hour from the time the two left Hez they reached
the mouth of the long, lighted chamber leading to the strange
underground city.

Before they were halfway through this they met Reginald Lacy and
Jupiter, the dog.

The meeting between Leo and Lacy was a very pleasant one, and the
faithful dog, who recognized the young fellow at once, pranced
playfully about his feet.

“Come,” said Lacy, leading the way--“come and see what you think of our
city.”

They reached the end of the wide passage and descended into the cave
below.

Leo was not a little astonished at what he saw, and when he reached the
center of the little place he could not suppress a cry of admiration.

The meeting between the cousins was a joyous, not to say affecting, one.

Leo had supposed Dick to be dead, and Dick had worried considerably as
to how Leo was getting on in Hez.

Leo’s surprise was complete when Olive--as we will hereafter call the
ex-queen of Hez--came forth, carrying an infant son about a month old
in her arms.

“This is my wife and son, Leo,” said Dick. “The youngster is named
after you. What do you think of him?”

“What do I think of him? I congratulate you, old fellow! Why, it don’t
seem possible that you are a man of family. And your wife! Well, she
hasn’t lost any of her good looks. I tell you, wonders will never
cease. I am the only single man left in our party of swamp explorers
now.”

“Is that so?” asked Dick. “I thought that none of them could marry
until two years had elapsed.”

“The new queen changed the law. The professor, Haypole and Lucky were
married to-day; and if Azurma had not showed up just as she did, I,
too, would have been a benedict.”

“Who was to have been the bride?” asked Olive.

“Your sister--Queen Nalie.”

“Ah! Was it an act of your own free will and accord?”

“No, hardly;” and Leo explained the whole circumstance from beginning
to end.

“How is the new queen liked by the people of Hez?”

“Very well, I guess.”

“Do you know one thing?”--and Dick’s wife called Leo aside. “I have
agreed to leave this underground world with my husband, if we can find
a way to get out, and go, with him to the land of his own people. He is
making arrangements to lead a number of the men of this place to Hez
and capture it. That once done, he says, he can easily find some means
of getting to the outside world.”

“That’s true, old fellow, chimed in Dick.

“I now have eighty good fighting men at my command, and I think we
shall be able to down the Hezzians, even if they do outnumber us.”

“You can count on me to do my part, I assure you,” said Leo.

The Naztecs seemed to be pleased at another addition to their number.

Dick, Lacy and Owens had taught them many things they had been entirely
ignorant of; and as they were an intelligent race, they were constantly
on the lookout to learn something new.

Leo now appeared to be more contented than he had at any time since he
came to the land of mystery.

He soon got used to the mode of living in the country of the Naztecs,
and, like his predecessors, soon acquired their language.

There was only one thing that bothered him, save his desire to get to
his native heath once more, and that was the undying love Azurma bore
him.

He liked the girl well enough; but, unlike Dick, he did not allow
himself to become “gone” on any of the beauties of the strange land.

But duty told him that he ought to marry the girl, for she was growing
thinner every day, and all on account of him.

He concluded to wed her, and make the best of it, and one day, about
three weeks after his advent into the Naztec country, Leo and Azurma
were made man and wife according to the established rules of the
country.

There never was a happier bride in the whole world than Azurma; and
from that time until the day of her death Leo never regretted marrying
her.



CHAPTER XX. MANUFACTURING A CANNON.


Leo Malvern had not been long in the city of the Naztecs ere he began
to assist Dick in training the men how to fight.

Like his cousin, he desired to make his way to the Land of Hez and
force a way to the outside world.

Neither allowed the Naztecs to become aware of what their intentions
were after they had once defeated the Hezzians in battle, but trusted
to luck to leave them in possession of Hez and force their way out.

While working about the soil near the city, Dick had discovered the
materials for making a first-class blasting powder, and by means of
this they hoped to blow open the door in the obelisk and thus find
their way to freedom.

The discovery of a combustible substance that could be set off by a
spark set Philander Owens to thinking.

He knew full well that the men of Hez outnumbered the party Dick and
Leo intended to lead against them, by three or four to one.

Consequently, something more powerful in the line of weapons than
spears and axes must be introduced.

Owens was an inventive sort of genius, and it did not take him long to
figure out how a destructive weapon could be made.

There was a bed of copper ore in the vicinity of the underground city
of the Naztecs, and Owens went to work mining a quantity of this.

He did not inform anyone of his intentions until he was forced to for
want of help in his undertaking.

One day he called Dick and Leo aside and said:

“Are you most ready to march upon the Hezzians and fight your way to
the outside world?”

“Yes,” replied Dick; “we have got the eighty men pretty well drilled
now.”

“If we had a nice, little cannon--say a ten-pounder--we could work our
way through them nicely, couldn’t we?”

“I should say we could!” exclaimed Leo. “But why do you speak of such a
thing when it is entirely out of the question?”

“I don’t think it is out of the question, my boy.”

“What do you mean?” asked Dick, with wide-open eyes.

“I mean just this--I am going to cast a gun.”

The cousins were too much astonished to speak, but when Owens went on
and explained his plans, they fell in with him, heart and soul.

The first thing to do now was to procure something to melt the ore in.

Dick concluded to ask the king for what he wanted, and he accordingly
did so, telling him that it would add to their advantage in routing the
Hezzians when the attack was made.

“There is naught in the city that would serve for such a purpose,
unless it be in the sacred cave.”

“Where is that?” asked Dick.

“On the hillside, at the south of the city.”

“Will you allow me to go there and see if I can find what I want?”

“Wait,” said the king; “let me tell you about the sacred cave. The
mouth of it is sealed, and has been for many, many years. It was
decreed by a former king that no person of the Naztec nation should
ever break the seal and enter it. It contains all the articles
required for smelting copper, silver, gold and other metals. At that
time working in metals was one of the principal industries of the
place, since it was then that the houses in the city were built.

“You will observe that they are all built of stone and metal. The
metal, of course, had to be cast to be wrought into its proper shape.
And so it went on, till the houses were all done, and the city of the
Naztecs completed. Then it was that the king issued the edict that
all the smelting appurtenances should be placed in the cave and its
entrance sealed.”

“That’s quite an interesting story, I assure you,” remarked Dick.
“Then, if what you say is true, the very things we need are in the
cave.”

“Yes, but we dare not open it.”

“None of the Naztec nation dare do it, you mean.”

“Exactly.”

“But I am not of the Naztec nation. I may open it, I suppose?”

The king thought a moment, and then said:

“As you please. I will neither tell you to do it nor not to do it. I
trust that you will in due time get your weapon of warfare constructed,
though.”

That settled it.

Dick at once repaired to Leo and Philander Owens, and told them what he
had learned.

Reginald Lacy was sought, and together the four repaired to the sacred
cave.

They had no difficulty in finding it, since the king had told Dick
exactly where it was.

By dint of using a couple of heavy, metal bars, they managed to pry a
stone from the entrance, which was sealed with a substance like cement.

When the stone was rolled sufficiently aside, a cry of joy escaped the
lips of the four.

The cave was evidently just as it had been left when the workers in
metal had completed their job so many years before.

It contained a pair of huge furnaces, crucibles, ladles for dipping out
the molten metal, and everything needful.

But all these things were quaint and very ancient in appearance,
reminding our friends of what they had read concerning the building of
King Solomon’s Temple, in the Bible days.

Not one of the Naztecs bothered them while they busied themselves about
the cave.

There was an abundance of fuel for the furnaces in the place, and
before an hour had elapsed Dick and Leo had kindled the fires.

Meanwhile, Owens and Lacy had been busy in conveying the copper ore to
the place.

Not until they had deposited all they thought they needed in the cave
did they discover an abundant supply already there, of copper, silver
and gold.

The silver was more plentiful than any of the rest of the ore and
at the suggestion of Lacy, it was decided to cast their cannon of
four-fifths of copper and one-fifth silver.

Quite an expensive gun, the reader might say. But of what use was
the silver to our friends in that out-of-the-way place? Even if they
succeeded in defeating the Hezzians and getting out of the underground
place, it would be impossible to carry much away with them.

Anyhow, there was more than enough gold to load each of the four down,
and they made up their minds to take all they could of this with them.

Now that they had succeeded in obtaining the metal and the means of
melting it, the next thing was to manufacture a mold.

But Philander Owens considered this the easiest part of it, and in less
than half a day he had made one sufficient to answer the purpose.

He formed it by digging a hole in a bed of soft sand of the depth
required for the proposed cannon, and then by running a round piece of
wood of the size of the bore they wanted down into this within a few
inches of the bottom, the mold was complete.

Of course the touchhole would have to be drilled, and the wood burned
out afterward.

When everything was in readiness, Dick and Leo held the stick firmly in
its place, and Lacy and Owens poured in the molten mixture.

There was a furious sizzling for a minute or so, and then, when the
steam caused by the intense heat coming in contact with damp sand had
cleared away, they saw that, to all appearances, their cast had been
successful.

An examination told them that it was a success, and a complete one,
at that. They did not even have to burn the stick out, for the wood,
though being of the hardest kind, had shrunk a trifle, which allowed
them to pull it out easily enough.

“Hurrah!” exclaimed Leo, waving his cap in the air. “Now, to bore out
the touchhole and our cannon is completed!”

As soon as it had cooled, they dug it out and rolled it over upon the
ground.

While Lacy and Owens were engaged in boring out the touchhole, the
cousins melted up a number of bars of gold into a shape convenient to
take with them.

It took the two men some time to make the required hole, and, at
length, when they had completed it, they had been at least twelve hours
in constructing their cannon.

“Now,” observed Dick, “we must try it before we go home.”

The rest promptly agreed with him, and he proceeded to load the huge
weapon with a good charge of the powder that had been manufactured by
them.

This was plentifully wadded and pounded in thoroughly, and then they
prepared to set it off.

To avoid any possible accident, a slow-match was rigged and lighted,
and then they repaired to a safe distance to await the result.

There was a fizzing noise, made by the slow-match, and a few seconds
later a terrific explosion rang out, which shook the very ground upon
which they stood.

At the very instant it died out a rumbling sound was heard, and the
unknown light that illumined the strange country went out as if by
magic, leaving them in total darkness!



CHAPTER XXI. THE EARTHQUAKE SHOCK.


Two years had slipped by since the advent of the party into the land of
mystery, and at length the white men left in Hez determined they would
endeavor to find their companions who had disappeared, and who, they
believed, were not far distant, but for some reason were prevented from
rejoining them.

Prof. Easy, Haypole and Jones concluded to make an effort to find a way
to get below on a level with the Devil’s Kingdom.

They set out very early one morning, taking the passage that led to the
brink of the latter-named place.

When they arrived there they began carefully studying their
surroundings, to find a means of descent.

They had scarcely been there ten minutes when a low rumble was heard,
coming, it seemed, from beneath them.

“An earthquake!” exclaimed the professor.

The words had hardly left his lips when all three were thrown upon the
ground by a tremendous shock, which lasted nearly half a minute.

When they rose to their feet, a few moments later, in a half-dazed
condition, a startling sight met their gaze.

The light, which had hitherto been quite bright, was now very dim, and
flashed forth in fitful bursts.

But it was enough to enable them to see that a huge pile of rocks had
been scattered about, showing a clear passage to the country below.

“If there are no further shocks,” remarked the professor, calmly, “this
will prove a Godsend to us. It has shown us what we have been looking
for for so long.”

They waited for perhaps half an hour, and then, as they experienced no
further signs of another quake, they started down the decline before
them.

Down they went, until they struck the level of the stream that emerged
from the Devil’s Kingdom.

Once here, they had no difficulty in discovering footprints made by
somebody who had been there before them.

“Hurrah!” shouted the Yankee. “I knew I was right. We’ll find Leo and
Dick sure--see if we don’t! These are the prints of the gal’s feet, who
brought Leo here.”

His companions were forced to admit that he was right, and so they
followed the trail along the bank of the stream until the falls were
reached, and then another descent had to be made.

There was nothing to hinder them from going down, so they did so at
once.

Andrew Jones produced a torch, and was just about to light it, when
Haypole caught him by the arm in an excited manner, and exclaimed:

“Gosh-ding it, look there! It looks like a political torchlight
procession, don’t it?”

He pointed to a spot on their left as he spoke.

About three miles distant they plainly observed a band of men, carrying
torches, emerge from the mouth of a cavernous passage.

“I ain’t got a great deal of money with me, but I’ll be ding-wizzened
if I won’t bet fifty dollars that Leo is in that gang!” said the
Yankee, producing his pocketbook in a matter-of-fact way.

“I have not got any money, and if I had I would not bet with you,”
returned Jones. “I am of the same opinion as you. Let us advance toward
them; we can get near enough to see just who and what they are without
being observed ourselves.”

“Agreed!” exclaimed Prof. Easy; whereupon they set out in the direction
of the approaching torchlights.

As they gradually neared them, they saw that there were about thirty
persons marching along, dragging some heavy concern behind them, and
carrying torches.

“Do you know what I am a-goin’ ter do?” said Martin Haypole, coming
to a halt. “I am a-goin’ ter fire off my revolver an’ prove that Leo
Malvern is in that crowd.”

In an instant he had drawn his revolver and fired a shot.

The echo of the report had scarcely died out when there was an
answering one from the approaching torch bearers.

“Great boots!” yelled the Yankee, jumping about three feet in the air;
“what did I tell you?”

Then he opened wide his mouth and led his companions in a deafening
cheer.



CHAPTER XXII. FREEDOM AT LAST.


Well satisfied that Leo was in the approaching party of torch bearers,
the professor and his two companions hurried to meet them as fast as
they could run.

In less than five minutes the two parties met.

A cry of joy went up from the three searchers.

There were four men of their own race in the party of torch bearers.

A single glance told them this much, and they also recognized all four.

They were Leo Malvern, Dick Vincey, Reginald Lacy and Philander Owens.

Martin Haypole uttered a whoop, and, rushing forward, seized the hands
of the two brave, young fellows who had been his companions in their
journey through the Everglades to the end of mystery.

“I’m downright glad to see you both alive an’ well!” he exclaimed.
“Where in thunderation have you been so long, Dick?”

“I can tell you the whole thing in a few words,” replied Dick, as he
shook hands with his former associates.

Then he proceeded to relate what had befallen him from the time he and
the queen had disappeared from the magic chamber.

When he came to the point where their newly constructed cannon was
fired off, in order to test it, he said:

“The report must have caused some disturbance among the gases and
electric fluids in the underground country, for immediately afterward
there came a terrible shock, and everything was in darkness.

“It seemed to be a veritable earthquake, and we were thrown to the
ground with such force that it was several minutes before we regained
our senses and rose to our feet.

“When we did so we knew that something awful had happened, so we put
for the city with all possible speed.

“On arriving there, we discovered that it was but a mass of ruins.

“Every building in it was leveled to the ground, and all the
combustible substances in the place had taken fire from the burning
furnaces that had been in some of the houses.

“As the flames leaped upward it was a grand but terrible sight, and we
could but look upon it with a feeling of awe.

“But we were sickened at heart when we learned, a few minutes later,
that of all the inhabitants of the thriving little city, only
twenty-nine were left.

“The others had all been crushed to death by the falling buildings.

“Among the victims of the terrible disaster, brought about by the
discharge of our gun, were our wives--I mean Queen Olive, Azurma and
two Naztec ladies, whom Lacy and Owens were wedded to.

“The survivors were terror-stricken, and begged us to lead them from
the spot at once to the land of the Hezzians, and fearful that another
shock might take place, we placed our gun on an improvised drag and
started, knowing that we could do nothing further for those who lay
beneath the ruins of the city.

“Full of sorrow, we turned the angle that hid our view of the destroyed
city, and journeyed through the chamber of rock to the open.

“Here everything was in darkness, but we had provided ourselves with
torches, and lighted them as we emerged. Shortly after that we heard
the shot you fired, and Leo answered it. That is all there is of it,
but it is quite enough, I can tell you.”

There were tears in Dick’s eyes as he related the events that had so
recently taken place, and, recognizing the situation, the professor
and his two companions did not question him further.

On the contrary, they related their experiences since they had parted
company, and then, seizing hold of the ropes attached to the drag, they
all started for Hez.

Andrew Jones knew full well that the Hezzians would not allow them to
depart in peace from the underground world, or he would never have
sanctioned the movement to drag the cannon along with them.

He thought if the destructive powers of the weapon was once proved to
them, they would give in and allow the party to depart.

It was no easy matter to drag the heavy piece up the steep hills they
were forced to traverse, but there were enough to do it, and so they
managed it very well.

On their way to Hez they observed that the earthquake, or whatever it
might be called, had caused many changes.

But, luckily for them, their way was not blocked up, and in due time
they came in sight of the village.

But what a wonderful change had been wrought here!

The surface of the ground above had given way and caved in, making the
opening above the village of stone huts more than four times its former
size.

The majority of the buildings were buried from sight beneath tons of
dirt, and not a sign of any of the Hezzians could be seen.

The earth had caved in in the form of a slant, and, with a cry of joy,
our friends began mounting this.

When they reached the top crust of the earth once more, a prayer of
heartfelt thanks left the lips of one and all.

But the Naztecs could not be induced to follow them to the outside.

The light of day was so strange to them that they were too frightened
to proceed further.

In vain did Dick and Leo coax them to come up; but they only shook
their heads, and at length turned their steps in the direction of their
former homes in the bowels of the earth.

The swamp explorers found themselves upon a comparatively high piece
of ground, which was surrounded by the marsh lands that composed the
greater portion of the vast Everglades.

It was the first time they had set eyes upon the huge trees and tangled
undergrowth of the outside world in two whole years, and, dreary as
their surroundings were, they thought it the most beautiful sight they
had ever witnessed.

Those who had reached the earth’s surface were Dick Vincey, Leo
Malvern, Prof. Remington Easy, Martin Haypole, Andrew Jones, Reginald
Lacy and Philander Owens.

The only one missing of those who had entered the door in the obelisk,
two years before, was Lucky, the darky.

Leo and Dick thought of this at about the same time, and were for going
back to search for him.

As they were arguing over the matter with their friends they heard a
whistle in the distance, and, on looking in the direction it came from,
discovered the darky approaching them.

“Hurrah!” yelled Lucky, as he observed them, “I’s so glad I hab foun’
youse, Massa Leo and Massa Dick.”

“How did you get out of the Land of Hez?” asked Leo.

“De roof done cave in a little while back an’ kill putty nigh all de
people. I run for de stairs dat we cum down when we fust cum here, an’
went up them till I seed a light. I got out easy enough, as de big
gravestone had fall down an’ broke in two. I was terribly scared--’deed
I was; an’ waited in de bushes till I heered youse a-talkin’. Den I
whistled an’ cum over here.”

That was the explanation Lucky gave for his sudden appearance, and it
about covered the matter.



CHAPTER XXIII. OUT OF THE EVERGLADES.


“Now, then,” observed Dick Vincey, “let us leave the land of mystery
forever! We have passed through many strange things while in it, and
many enjoyable days, as well. Let us say farewell to the underground
world and our families, who are buried beneath the ruins of the Naztec
city and the village of Hez!”

There were tears in the eyes of the young man as he spoke, and, with
their eyes turned to the cavern they had emerged from, all hands
uttered the one word:

“Farewell!”

Then they left the spot and started for the place where the obelisk had
been.

The huge stone column lay upon the ground in a dozen pieces, while the
stairs leading into the earth’s bowels were plainly visible.

“Now,” said Leo, “to get out of the Everglades.”

As they started over the ground in the direction they first came, Dick
suddenly missed Jupiter, the dog, for the first time.

When he came to think of it, he had not seen him since they left the
ruined city of the Naztecs.

He spoke about it to his friends.

“The poor animal must have been killed during the earthquake, and his
master was too much excited to notice his absence,” said Leo.

The attire worn by our friends was of the style of the places they had
lived in, and they looked curious enough as they made their way through
the swamp.

When they came through the Everglades, they had chipped the trees on
the route they took, and as these marks were still plainly visible they
anticipated but little difficulty in getting back to their boat, the
_Maid of the Marsh_, which was looked upon with so much disgust by the
Yankee.

They found the boat half covered with mud, but otherwise she was
uninjured.

It took them nearly a day to clean her and get her ready for use once
more, and when this job was finished all hands felt better.

A week or so later eight forlorn-appearing men might have been seen
camped upon the borders of Lake Okechobee.

They were Dick Vincey, Leo Malvern, Prof. Remington Easy, Martin
Haypole, Andrew Jones, Philander Owens, Reginald Lacy and the darky,
Lucky.

The long gowns they wore were torn and dirty, and they looked more like
a crowd of ragpickers than anything else.

But they would soon be in the limits of civilization again, and they
felt thankful for it.

Their journey from the Land of Hez to their present position had been a
perilous one, indeed.

But by perseverance and pluck they managed to elude the quicksands
of the great swamp, and escape from being devoured by the ferocious
alligators it contained.

Two weeks more and they reached the home of Leo Malvern.

It is needless to state that the cousins were received with pleasure.

Their relatives had long given them up as dead, and hence their joy at
meeting them alive and well.

The wonderful story of their adventures was taken as a joke at first,
but when all hands stoutly adhered to it, the relatives of Dick and Leo
were forced to believe it.

“There are a few questions I would like ter ask some of you fellows,”
said Martin Haypole, a day or two after their arrival at Leo’s home.
“First--who built the obelisk at the entrance of Hez? Second--was the
legend of Hez true, and was Roderique de Amilo as old as he claimed?
Third--was the pool and fountain in the dazzlingly lighted cavern
really the Fountain of Youth Ponce de Leon was in search of? And,
fourth--was it really the discharge of the cannon that caused the
earthquake that wrought such a ruin upon the city of the Naztecs and
the Land of Hez?”

As the Yankee asked these questions he knocked the ashes from his pipe
and glanced around at his hearers.

“Your questions will never be answered in this world,” replied the
professor, gravely. “We can form our own opinions--that is all.”

And so it is. We have stated the incidents of our story in a manner
meant to be plain; now we will leave the reader to answer Martin
Haypole’s questions.

THE END.

The next issue of BRAVE AND BOLD, No. 128, will contain “Stonia
Stedman’s Triumph; or, A Young Mechanic’s Trials.” This story relates
the experiences that befell a young workman, and shows how he
eventually triumphed over a clique of jealous fellow workers, at the
same time unearthing the schemes of a band of dangerous moonshiners. Be
sure and read Stonia’s gallant struggle against great odds.

       *       *       *       *       *

BE A ROOTER

  _Root For a Record in the National Game and for Tip Top Prizes_

[Illustration: TIP TOP’S NATIONAL BASE BALL CONTEST]

Do You Want to Try for the Pennant?

Do You Want a Fine Outfit for Your Team?

Do You Want to Score High in the National Game?

  _HERE IS YOUR CHANCE_

Root for the Famous Tip Top Prizes and Pennant

  PLAY BALL

_Watch Every Number for Further Announcements_



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber’s note:

Based on the available evidence, the author for this book is most
likely Cornelius Shea.

This story originally appeared, very likely in a longer version,
as “Under the Everglades; or, Two Years in a Land of Mystery,”
_Golden Hours_ issues 176 through 185, June 13, 1891 to
August 15, 1891, published by Norman L. Munro & Company.

Punctuation has been made consistent.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation were retained as they appear in
the original publication, except that obvious typos have been corrected.

Changes have been made as follows:

p. 22: “hate as he darted” changed to “hate darted” (of hate darted)

p. 30: “looking for so” changed to “looking for for so” (looking for
for so)





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