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The Air Ship Boys
by H.L. Sayler
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The Air Ship Boys or The Quest of the Aztec Treasure

By H. L. Sayler



CHAPTER I

THE DEPARTURE OF THE OVERLAND LIMITED

The Overland Limited, aglow with lights, stood in the Dearborn Street station in Chicago waiting for eight o'clock and the last of its fortunate passengers. Near the entrance gates, through which perspiring men and women were hurrying, stood the rear cars of the train. Within these could be seen joyous passengers locating themselves and arranging bags and parcels.

In fifteen minutes the long journey of Ned Napier and his chum Alan Hope to the far southwest was to begin.

At the other end of the big shed, where the cars of the long train seemed to fade almost out of sight, four persons were anxiously awaiting the approach of the hour of departure. One of these, the conductor of the train, consulted his watch, as he had done several times already, holding it close within the glow of his green-shaded lantern.

"It's getting pretty close to time, Major Honeywell," he said with some concern. "You're sure he'll be here?"

The man addressed, who stood leaning lightly on a cane and whose soft dark hat and clothes indicated his military calling, showed similar concern, but replied confidently:

"We have nearly fifteen minutes. Young Napier has a reputation for never failing. I'm sure he'll be here in time."

"Here's the telegram," interrupted young Alan Hope, as he drew a yellow sheet from his pocket. "It is from Youngstown, Ohio, and says Ned's train is on time. He left Washington yesterday and if everything is all right he reached the Union Depot a half hour ago. He'll be here."

"Well, you know we can't wait, much as I'd like to," replied the conductor. "You'd better have everything ready."

"She's dat, sah," interrupted the fourth person of the group, a young negro, who, as he spoke, placed his hand on the side door of the car, and moved it on its easy running bearings.

"You see, there isn't much time left," continued the sympathetic train official. "We're coupling up." And he nodded toward the gloom beyond the train shed out of which the big compound locomotive was already emerging. The military man with the cane became more apprehensive.

"What shall we do if Ned fails to get here?" he said suddenly after peering down the long platform toward the busy end of the station.

"Oh, we didn't go into this to fail," cheerily responded the youth by his side. "If we 'fall down' it won't be on a simple thing like this. He'll be here. It won't take us but three minutes to transfer the stuff when it gets here. Never fear. I'll just take another look in the car to make sure."

As he did so the colored boy exclaimed:

"It's all right. Here's de screws as he done tole us to git and here's de screw-driver outen de box as he done writ us to have ready and dar's de door all ready fur to fly open."

To prove it the lad gave the wide door in the side of the car a shove, and as it ran back on its track a portion of the inside of the car was exposed. It was a peculiar car and worth description, for in it, next to the big engine and ahead of all the other cars of the almost endless train, Ned Napier, his friend Alan Hope, and their servant, Elmer Grissom, were to be the sole passengers on a most mysterious and, as it proved, most eventful journey. In railroad parlance the car was what is known as a "club" car. Half of the interior was bare and unfinished, like the compartment in which, on special and limited trains, baggage is carried. This part of the car, now exposed to view, was dimly lighted with one incandescent bulb. In the half-light it could be seen that the space was almost wholly filled with tanks, boxes, casks, crates and bundles, all systematically braced to prevent jarring or smashing. It was plainly not the luggage of ordinary travelers. Except for a narrow passageway in the center of the car and a space about five square next the open door, every inch, to the very ventilators of the car, was crowded with bound or crated, numbered and tagged packages. In the open space next the door Alan Hope now appeared.

"Coming yet?" he asked with apparent confidence as he peered outside.

The colored boy Elmer shook his head.

Just then the conductor returned and again his watch.

"Eight minutes," he said; "time's getting along and I've got to go back and see about my train. I don't want to make you nervous, but do you want us to take this car if fails to get here with the stuff?"

"I suppose there's no need," replied the military man, beginning to show irritation. "But there's eight minutes yet."

"I know," replied the conductor, "but after we are coupled up and it is time to leave we can't stop to cut this car out. We've got to have five minutes for that. At five minutes of eight you'll have to decide whether it is go or stay. I'm sorry—but you'll have to decide in a minute or two."

"Decide it now," interrupted Alan from the open car door. "We're going and he'll be here."

The Major appeared to be in doubt as to the wisdom of this, but before he could say anything Alan continued:

"Couple up whenever you want to, Mr. Conductor, we'll be ready," and he sprang out of the car, his face set with determination.

By that time the throbbing engine had silently moved up next the car and two grimy depot men with smoky torches had swung off the footboard to make the connections.

"Got to know," repeated the sympathetic conductor. "Only five minutes." He looked at the Major for the final word.

The latter peered down the long almost vacant platform. There was no one in sight but the late arrivals being helped aboard the cars in the far end of the station. Then he gave another look of appeal at his own watch as if in doubt what to say. To send a special car half way across the continent was no inexpensive project. And to send it without the person or the precious material that it was intended seemed not only a waste of money but foolish. Although the anxious man had both confidence and nerve it could be seen that he was in a quandary.

"Five minutes," exclaimed the railway official. "Does she go or stay?"

Before the man could answer, Alan faced him and with a hand on the Major's arm exclaimed:

"Ned will be here, he can't fail; tell him we're going."

The Major smiled. "That's it," he exclaimed suddenly. "Take her along. It's up to us to take care of ourselves."

"Good," said the conductor, "I hope he'll make it."

With a signal to couple on the engine he hurried away for a final inspection of his train.

For a moment the three persons left behind stood in silence. There was a hiss of the engine as it pushed the connecting blocks together and then those waiting so anxiously could hear the jar of connecting valves as the brake hose were snapped. Confident as Alan was, it gave him a sinking feeling. Then, as the swish of tests sounded and the gnome-like figures of the depot men crawled from under the car, the Major looked again at his watch in despair.

"Four minutes—"

Before he could say more Alan caught sight of a movement among those gathered around the last car at the far end of the depot.

"There he is!" he shouted and darted forward.

"He sho'ly is," exclaimed Elmer, his white teeth showing, "and Yar's de screw driver and yar's de screws all ready."

A slowly moving truck had carefully turned the end of the waiting train and, drawn by two baggage-room employees, was making its way along the platform. By its side walked a boy—a lad of about seventeen. One of his hands rested on the truck and his eyes were carefully fixed on the load it bore. This was a black, iron-bound case about four feet long, three feet deep and perhaps a yard in height. On each side in red letters were the words:

"Explosive; no fire." Beneath this ominous legend were two large iron handles.

When the men drawing the truck quickened their pace the boy spoke to them sharply and they fell again into a steady walk. For the curious onlookers through whom the strange little caravan passed the lad by the side of the truck seemed to have no concern. A traveling cap was pushed back from his young face and his keen and alert eyes and the tone of his voice indicated a quality that goes with those born to command.

"Hello, Ned," came a ringing greeting from Alan as he ran forward. "They were afraid you wouldn't get here. But I knew you would. It's only a minute or two. Hurry."

"Four," said the new arrival cheerfully and confidently.

He gave his left hand to Alan and a better welcome in a cheery word of greeting, but his right hand did not leave the truck. Nor did his eyes leave it except for a moment.

"And the Major?" asked the new arrival as the truck rumbled on.

"Waiting to bid us good-bye."

"Everything aboard and shipshape?"

"Everything but this," and Alan glanced at the black case on the truck.

"I've carried it a thousand miles like a baby," laughed Ned. "Rode with it all the way in the express car."

"Then you didn't sleep last night?"

Ned laughed. "It was too interesting," he answered, "and I can sleep to-night. But I'm glad it's here with no one killed and not a drop spilled."

Advancing leaning heavily on his cane, the military man had hurried forward, his face radiant.

"Welcome, my boy, and congratulations. But for goodness' sake hurry," he began hastily.

Ned smiled again. "I think we had better not hurry this," and he pointed to the truck load. "That's the reason I'm late. I walked the horses from the Union Depot. You see we can't afford to spill our supplies. It was too hard to make and cost too much."

In another moment the truck was abreast of the open car door.

"Back her up," exclaimed Ned giving a hand himself to the tongue of the truck. Then, as the top of the truck came up flush with the car door and floor he sprang lightly on the truck and motioned the men to do likewise. For a moment they hesitated, but being reassured, Ned and Alan and the truck men lined up on either side of the big case. Slowly and carefully, with a brawny truck man on each side to help the less stoutly muscled lads, the case slid forward and with a "yeo-ho" or two from Ned it was soon in the car. Without a pause it was pushed at once into a space outlined on the floor.

"And about two minutes to spare,"' cried the Major from the platform jubilantly and thankfully.

"Not quite," laughed Ned, "but it'll be a half a minute and that's as good as an hour. The screws, Elmer."

The colored boy, who had been busy keeping out of the way, sprang forward to perform his part of the apparently ticklish job. It was then seen that each bottom corner of the mysterious box had an iron flange. In the center of' each of these was a small hole.

"Major," called out Ned as the truck men climbed out of the car, "these men were very obliging and careful."

The Major understood him, and as he began searching his pockets for a bill Ned quickly inserted four screws in the waiting holes and with a few sharp turns of the screw driver made the case hard and fast to the floor of the car. Almost as quickly he threw the door into place and bolted it, and then with Alan hurried out for a last word to the friend who was so much interested in his success.

"Was I right?" he exclaimed. "Half a minute?"

"To the dot," enthusiastically answered the Major. "Now, boys, good-bye. Everything in that car is exactly as you planned and asked. From now on it is subject to your orders alone. What mine are you know. God bless you both and good luck to you!"

As the boys took his hand Ned handed him a letter. "I'm sorry I couldn't have seen my mother again, but please send her this. I wrote it to-day on the train."

Far down the line of cars came the words, "all aboard," and Elmer, cap in hand, sprang onto the steps.

"Good-bye," exclaimed Alan, "and thank you for the great chance you're giving us."

"Good-bye," said Ned, "if we fail in our work it won't be your fault, Major."

And then, as the train began to move, the boys stepped aboard, off at last, after six weeks preparation, in search of the lost Cibola and the treasure of the Turquoise Temple.



CHAPTER II

NED'S MEETING WITH MAJOR BALDWIN HONEYWELL

Six weeks before Ned Napier and Alan Hope had set out on this trip Ned had been the surprised recipient of a mysterious note. In this message, written on the stationery of the Annex Hotel, he was urged to call on the writer the next morning at ten o'clock. With his mother's approval he had kept the engagement. The events which followed will explain how Ned came to take his momentous journey to the far southwest.

Promptly on the hour Ned presented himself at the office desk. A clerk with a handful of letters gave him a half glance and turned away.

"I say," began Ned in a voice that made the clerk turn quickly, "I want some information."

The man stepped forward, leaned over the counter far enough to get a full view of his questioner, and answered:

"All right, sonny. What can I do for you?"

"You can tell me if Major Baldwin Honeywell is staying here."

"Friend of Major Baldwin's?" asked the clerk, his smile broadening.

"If Major Honeywell is stopping here I suppose he is paying well for his entertainment," replied Ned after a moment's pause.

"Sure," answered the facetious clerk, "regular rates."

"Perhaps that ought to include civil attention to those he has business with. I have an appointment with him at ten o'clock. I wish you would see at once that he knows I am here."

The clerk's smile was not quite so broad now but he was still amused.

"What name shall I give, son?" He was about to repeat the "sonny" that had grated a little on Ned's sense of the proprieties but he stopped short—and added: "Have you a card, Mr.—?"

"I have no card and I don't call myself 'Mr.'," answered Ned, "but you can say that Ned Napier is here and will be glad to see Major Honeywell whenever it is convenient."

At the mention of "Ned Napier" the clerk's airiness disappeared. A certain respect seemed to take its place. Then he leaned forward and said a good deal more politely: "You are not the Ned Napier?"

"I never heard of any other one of that name," answered the boy. "But I think we are losing time. Please say I'm here."

A moment later a page announced that Major Honeywell, in suite 8 A, desired Mr. Napier to be shown up at once. Reaching the apartment the page knocked and there was a quick "Come in."

Hat in hand, and with all the manliness and dignity his seventeen years afforded, Ned stepped into the room. At a table a man had just risen as if from work on some papers. As the man turned to come forward and his eyes fell upon the lad he paused as if surprised. Ned Napier was neither large nor small for his age. But his circumstances had been such, financially, that his attire was plain and perhaps old fashioned—much of it the handiwork of his frugal and fond mother; and the absence of smart and up-to-date ideas in clothes and shoes made him look, perhaps, even younger than his years. Other lads of his acquaintance—those in his classes in high school—aped their elders. Ned's time and interests were too much given up to his boyish ambition to permit this.

Ned saw a man of about sixty years, with snow-white moustache, dressed in blue. The man had every appearance of being both a soldier and an officer. His face was tanned as if by much exposure to the sun, but the line of white at the top of his forehead, where his hat gave protection, suggested that the color was both recent and transitory. Major Honeywell's hair, which was yet dark and only slightly streaked with gray, was too long to suggest present active service, as Ned at once concluded. His face, too, had something of the student in it, and this effect was increased by a pair of large gold spectacles with double lenses. The man's contracted eyes gave the youth the uncomfortable feeling of being microscopically examined, and Ned was for a moment ill at ease. The manner of the scrutiny was that of a scholar who had before him a strange new specimen. Ned, still with hat in hand, felt more like a dead bug than a very live boy. Then the white-mustached man smiled, took off his heavy-lensed glasses, and stepped forward with his hand extended.

"I am Major Honeywell," he began in a low voice, "formerly of the regular army and later detailed on ethnological work for the Government. You are—"

"Ned Napier," responded his youthful caller.

"You must take no offense if I am a little surprised," exclaimed Major Honeywell; "I had supposed you would be older. Perhaps your surprise came first on receiving my note?"

"It did," replied Ned; "I was surprised and so was my mother. But she thought I ought to come, although we could not imagine what you wanted."

Major Honeywell smiled and motioned Ned to a chair with a graciousness that made the lad more comfortable. It had taken but a passing glance to reveal to the boy that he was in the presence of no ordinary man. The articles scattered about the room, which apparently were part of his host's traveling outfit, confirmed this. Of three leather cases or trunks in front of the mantel and within Ned's view, one was open. On the extended top of this, still partly covered with the folds of a light Indian blanket, were several flat and dull plates or dishes of Indian design, more or less broken and chipped. From the case came a pungent aromatic smell such as Ned had noticed in the "Early American" room of the museum. He was not quite sure what "ethno" meant, but he made a guess that it related to old Indian things, and this theory he confirmed to himself when he noticed on the table that Major Honeywell had just left another piece of pottery and by its side a large reading or magnifying glass.

"A collector," thought Ned, more puzzled than ever.

"I thank you for coming," said Major Honeywell finally. "It was good of you to do so. But I had supposed you were older—at least a young man," and he smiled again as if in some doubt.

"Perhaps," replied Ned with just a shadow of resentment in his voice, "if you will tell me why you sent for me I can help you in making up your mind as to whether you were wrong in doing so. I'm seventeen."

Major Honeywell arose, took off his glasses again and walked to where Ned was sitting.

"I hope you'll not take offense, my boy. But my business with you is most important. It is possibly the most important thing that has ever come to me. Fate, or chance more properly, of course, seems to have brought us together. If what I have in mind and have partly hoped could be brought about, is brought about, you will have no reason to regret my sending for you. We must be sure of ourselves. So far we know almost nothing about each other. Since our acquaintance may mean a great deal to us let us be sure of ourselves. Therefore, you will pardon me if I ask you if you are the Ned Napier?"

Ned laughed good-naturedly.

"That's what the clerk down stairs asked me few moments ago—if I were the Ned Napier. Well, I never heard of any other Ned Napier. But boys don't carry credentials, you know, Major Honeywell. I'll take your word for it that you are Major Baldwin Honeywell, formerly of the United States Army, and now of the—what do you call it—ethno—?"

"Ethnological survey," laughed the Major. "Then, since we know each other, I want to congratulate you, my young friend, on being one of the brightest, nerviest, and most promising young men of America. I've read about you and that's why I sent for you."

Ned could only conclude one thing and it made him blush. "You mean my dirigible balloon experience last summer?" he asked with growing embarrassment.

"I do," replied Major Honeywell with what Ned thought was wholly unnecessary warmth and enthusiasm, "and I want to shake the hand and congratulate the youngest, most daring and most promising balloon navigator in the world."



CHAPTER III

THE RELATION OF MIGUEL VASQUEZ

It may be well to recount how such a young lad as Ned had become so famous.

Ned's father had been a consulting engineer with a fondness for aeronautics. When Mr. Napier died, a year before Ned's meeting with the Major, it was discovered that he was making in his little shop a small dirigible balloon to be used at an amusement park. Mr. Napier's death was sudden. Manufacturer's bills for the balloon bag and engine came due and Ned, young as he was, knew that he must pay them. Putting on all the dignity that his sixteen years would permit he called on the manager of the amusement park.

"I hear your father is dead," said the manager. "I suppose we have lost the twenty-five per cent we advanced on the air ship."

"Why do you suppose that?"

"Because he had complete charge of the work and we have no one to take his place."

"I mean to do that myself," said Ned.

The manager smiled and shook his head. "No doubt you would try—you look it—but we don't care to experiment."

"But you want the air ship, don't you? You've advertised it."

"Yes, it was ordered—through your father. Since he is dead and cannot contribute his services, our agreement is void."

"Very well," replied Ned. "Good day."

"Look here," interrupted the manager, "what do you mean to do?"

"I'm going out to sell an air ship."

"You mean our air ship?"

"You said the contract is void."

The manager laughed again, but not as jovially.

"You ought to get on," he exclaimed.

"I've got to get on, and I'm going to do it by being on the square."

"I guess you're right. What's your proposition?"

"Since you've thrown up the contract I'm going to sell the balloon at a profit. The price is now $3,000. And I want a contract as operator for six weeks at $100 per week."

The manager stared at Ned and then exclaimed. "I'll do it. You are the very youngster we want."

That was how Ned Napier came to finish the air ship his father had planned, and how it happened all that summer that the papers printed news stories and Sunday specials with pictures of his daring flights, and how Major Baldwin Honeywell and other happened to speak of him as the Ned Napier.

To return to the scene of Ned's meeting with the Major—

"My name is Ned Napier," the boy began as soon as his host's cordiality gave him a chance, "and I am the young man the newspapers wrote about."

"I certainly made no mistake in sending for you," exclaimed the soldier. "But, before I say more I want you to realize that this is, to me, a most important matter."

"You mean it is—"

"A solemn secret. I want secure your services in a desperate and daring adventure that will mean a great deal to me—and a great deal to you."

"Certainly," was the boy's response. "I give you my pledge on that."

A look of relief came into the old soldier's face.

"If I furnished you the money," went on Major Honeywell suddenly, "could you produce in a short time a practical and manageable balloon?"

Before the boy could answer the old soldier continued: "I don't mean one of those affairs in which ascensions of an hour or so are made. I mean one in which you could travel for several days—perhaps a week?"

"No," said Ned, "it can't be done. No one has yet remained in the air in a balloon over fifty-two hours."

Major Honeywell said nothing, but Ned could see that what he had told the Major had dashed some budding hope.

"That is," Ned hastened to explain, "you couldn't do it unless you periodically renewed your supply of hydrogen. I really believe," continued Ned, "that I ought to know more about what you are planning to accomplish."

Again the white-mustached man was silent a few moments, and then he told without reserve the great secret. He began with an account of himself. Until three years before he had been an officer in the United States cavalry, stationed in the southwest. Then the President had assigned him to ethnological work. His special work was in the ruins of the Sedentary Pueblos. While scaling a cliff in this work he fell and permanently injured his left knee.

Resigning from the army, he traveled for a year and then went to visit an old friend, Senor Pedro Oje, whose immense sheep herds in Southwestern Colorado had made their owner a millionaire.

While here, hearing of an ancient nearby pueblo, just south of the Mesa Verde, Major Honeywell and his friend drove to the settlement. To Major Honeywell's surprise he found an old friend in Totontenac, the chief. As the two white men were about to leave, old Totontenac presented to his soldier friend an ancient funeral urn.

Major Honeywell was almost paralyzed with astonishment when he saw that the vessel was sealed and that it bore on its side, instead of the conventional Aztec design, this inscription in black: "Miguel Vasquez, 1545."

"What was in it?" asked Ned quickly when the Major came to this part of his narrative.

"That man was undoubtedly a soldier who marched out of Mexico in 1539 with Friar Marcos, the great explorer," went on Major Honeywell, ignoring the question, "and when others gave up the search for the famed seven cities of Cibola and the wealth of the Aztecs that every Spaniard believed rivaled the treasure of the Incas, this man kept on. Either by accident or design Miguel Vasquez was left by the expedition and six years later he wrote on cowhide and concealed in that vase one of the most valuable historic records extant in America to-day—confirmation that there was a real basis for the tales that lured the Spaniards to this region in quest of treasure."

Stepping to a trunk Major Honeywell took from a compartment a tin tube. From this he extracted a stiff sheet of parchment-like material.

"It's writing, isn't it?" exclaimed Ned.

"Yes, and Spanish. It is Miguel Vasquez's last will and testament, written over three hundred and fifty years ago. And here is a translation of it. You may read it yourself. That is my secret— and yours now!"

And these are the words that turned the current of Ned Napier's life:

"A relation of Miguel Vasquez soldier of Spain made in the year 1546 concerning the hidden city of Tune Cha. Coming out of Saint Michael in the Province of Culican I journeyed with Captain Marco de Nica in 1539. At Vacupa I departed from him and remained now six years among those of this land. Three years I dwelt in the town of Acuco and heard often of the city of Tune Cha wherein is to be found the Temple of Turquoise than which none more beautiful is to be found, not even in Castile itself. Such I have seen with my own eyes. It standeth within a palace of five hundred rooms or more wherein are to be found priestly vessels of gold and silver. And this same palace or City of Priests is compassed about by a massive wall. And in the center of the palace standeth the Temple, facing the sun which is the sacred place of al Quivera, Arche and Guyas. And the walls of this Temple are naught but precious Turquoise even to the height of forty feet or more, and the pillars thereof are of gold and silver alternate. Knowledge of this hidden and beautiful city hath not been reported unto Spain nor even unto Nueva Espana. From Acuco it lieth thirty day's travel west of north and as I estimate in 36 degrees latitude in the mountains of Tune Cha. From the Rio de Chuco it lieth west six days' travel. Nor may it be discovered but by those who have knowledge of it. Miguel Vasquez"

"What I had hoped to do," said Major Honeywell at last, "was to make the most perfect balloon ever built and discover through you this hidden temple of turquoise treasure. You say you cannot do it."

Something he had never felt before shot through Ned's body. His face flushed and then grew pale under the spell that was on him.

"Major Honeywell," he said suddenly, "I don't know of a balloon that can be made to fly for a week. But if it is necessary to have one to do what you wish I'll make it and I'll find Vasquez's Turquoise Temple."



CHAPTER IV

THE CONTRACT, AND LIQUID HYDROGEN

"I knew you'd do it," exclaimed Major Honeywell, beaming. "Now we'll have my friend Senor Oje up and get right at the details."

"One moment, Major Honeywell. It is easy to say what I just told you. But it means I've got to do something no one has ever done. I've got to take with me—in the balloon, of course—the material to replace the gas I lose."

"Well, that's easy, isn't it? For you—" qualified the old soldier.

"I guess you don't know much about ballooning," laughed Ned.

"Will money enable you to do it?"

"I hope so! Other experimenters have tried to carry materials to make gas. I'm going to take the gas itself in a glass jar."

"In a glass jar!"

"Precisely. Liquefied hydrogen gas."

At that moment Senor Pedro Oje, who had been summoned by Major Honeywell, entered the room. An almost Indian complexion and cast of countenance indicated his Mexican origin. What had taken place was related to Senor Oje, and he left no doubt that he was thoroughly in sympathy with the project. He soon put matters on a business basis.

"We are to share alike in what is found, I understand," he said. "Major Honeywell will have a third interest because the secret is his. This young man is to have a third because the risk is his. And I am to have a similar portion for furnishing the capital. And that brings us to the real starting point," the Mexican capitalist continued. "What is it to cost?"

"Ten thousand dollars at least," answered Ned instantly.

"Phew!" exclaimed Major Honeywell.

Senor Oje, not unused to speculative investments, gave no sign of surprise.

"How shall it be arranged?" was his only comment.

"Put that amount to my personal credit in the First National Bank— if you care to trust me."

"We are trusting you with more than that," replied Major Honeywell with earnestness.

"It will take me six weeks to make my arrangements. In that time, as I need the money, I will draw on the account," said Ned.

"Very good," said Senor Oje; "I will draw up the agreement."

"Now," continued Ned, addressing Major Honeywell, "what is your interpretation of the message of the Spaniard?"

"Of course Vasquez's words must be modernized. What he termed the Tune Cha Mountains begin in New Mexico and extend northwesterly into Arizona and Utah. In many places their plateaus rise eight thousand feet above the sea. Their thousands of peaks and canyons are fit rivals of the wonders of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Nowadays they are known by many names—the Sierra Chusca, the Lokaeboka, the Carrisco. 'Thirty days' travel west of north' is not very definite, but it certainly locates the palace in the far northwestern part of these mountains.

"The Rio de Chuco can only mean the Chusco river. The only place in its winding course that is six days' journey from the mountains is where it joins the Amarilla. This is south and east of Wilson's Peak, which is our landmark."

"Very good," exclaimed Ned, briskly. "Now, what is the nearest point in civilization?"

"Clarkeville, Arizona."

"Then that is my starting point. This is June twentieth. I shall be ready by the last day of July. Of course I shall need a special car."

"Very well," responded the capitalist. "I see you know what you want."

"Incidentally," exclaimed Ned, "I shall, of course, be permitted to carry my own assistants."

"Assistants? Yes, of course," replied Major Honeywell, "but they must be persons of discretion."

"My chum, Alan Hope, who will make the ascension with me, will be one, and a colored boy, Elmer Grissom, who has helped me prepare for all my flights, will be the other."

There was no dissent.

"When shall I make my report?" Ned added.

Major Honeywell and his friend conferred a moment.

"Will five weeks be enough time for your exploration?"

"I think so; perhaps less."

"Then we will meet you at the Coates House in Kansas City on the first day of August."

Senor Oje arose and lit a fresh black cigar.

"It will be well for you and Major Honeywell to talk over these things while I see my Chicago banker," said he. And with a good- natured "Adios, Senores," he left the apartment.

"Now, about this liquid hydrogen?" began Major Honeywell at once.

"Well," said Ned, "instead of ballast, I'm going to carry reserve hydrogen with me."

"And is that so difficult?" asked the Major.

"Impossible, if you try to carry material to make the gas," answered the boy.

"And so you are going to carry it in liquid form?"

"I'm going to try, although the making of liquid hydrogen is, so far, pretty much a theory. It has been made only under tremendous pressure and at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit."

The Major whistled.

"That is so cold that ice is red hot comparatively," explained Ned. "This work must be done, in Washington."

They discussed the balloon itself, and the car and the engine for propelling it; where these were to be made in the East, and how they were to be forwarded to Chicago as they were completed. Ned himself was to go East at once and remain there until the last thing was accomplished.

Ned's chum, Alan Hope, had just taken employment for the school vacation in a large sporting goods store not far from the hotel. A few minutes later Ned walked leisurely into this store and sought out the fire-arms department, where Alan was on duty.

"Hello, Ned," exclaimed Alan, "what do you think of this?" And with a smile he handed him an automatic pistol he was inspecting.

Restraining himself, Ned looked it over carefully.

"It holds ten cartridges and it's a beauty," declared Alan.

Ned weighed it carefully in his hand. "What's it worth?" he asked with dignity.

"Eighteen dollars."

"I think we'll need three of them!"

Alan laughed.

"And there are a good many other things I think we shall need," went on Ned, soberly.

"This hot weather is pretty bad on some people," laughed Alan. "But, by the way, who are 'we?"'

"You and Elmer Grissom and I," answered Ned carelessly.

"And where are we going?" continued Alan, who was not unused to Ned's joking.

"On a little run in a private car down into New Mexico."

Alan looked at him a moment and then determined to have the joke out.

"Then what are we going to do?" he asked, still laughing.

"Make a trip through an unexplored mountain region in the best dirigible balloon ever built."

Alan wondered just where the joke came in. "And then?" he continued.

"Discover enough hidden treasure of jewels and silver and gold to make us rich."

"Shall I get you a cabbage leaf and some ice water?" asked Alan.

"Get your father's consent that you can go; that'll be all," announced Ned and then, breaking into a laugh, he relieved the perplexed Alan by explaining what had just taken place. In ten minutes Alan had secured permission to be off for the remainder of the day and the two boys hurried away for luncheon, to revel in dreams of their great opportunity.

By night Mrs. Napier had consented, though with tears, to Ned's going, and later Alan's father reluctantly did the same. As Ned was to leave the next afternoon and had to see Major Honeywell and Senor Oje in the morning it was a busy evening that the two boys spent in Ned's workshop.

At one o'clock in the morning Alan's work in Chicago was outlined and Ned's needs in the East were all listed.

"And now," exclaimed the tired but exuberant Alan, "it is all arranged but the name. What are we to call the air ship?"

"The 'Cibola,'" answered Ned without hesitation, "the dream of the Spanish invaders and our hope of success."



CHAPTER V

A DINNER PARTY ON THE PLACIDA

The long, heavy, limited train on which the young air ship boys were at last embarked on their extraordinary mission pulled slowly out of the station.

Ned made a quick survey of the Placida. Coming out of the baggage end he passed first into a drawing room. In this were two sections that opened up into four berths. Beyond the berths a passageway led to a private stateroom. When the boys reached the stateroom, Elmer was standing at the door with a happy smile on his face.

"Fo' de captain," exclaimed the colored boy.

"Where are you to bunk, Alan?" Ned asked, quickly.

"Oh, the crew is in the main room."

"Not much," exclaimed Ned. "We're partners in this enterprise. I don't have any better than the rest."

And in another moment he had dropped his valise alongside Alan's berth.

"We'll keep the little room for consultations," he said with a laugh, "when we don't want Elmer to hear us talking about the Indians."

The colored lad grunted.

"Can't scare me wif no Injun talk," he said. "I specs I ain't half so 'fraid o' Injuns as I is o' dat stuff in de black box."

"And it's time to attend to the 'stuff,'" interrupted Ned.

They returned to the baggage room.

"Now," Ned began, "the door to this car must be kept locked except when the train crew are compelled to come through. We, in turn, must be careful about fire and lights. But, for fear of accident, I have taken some precautions."

Alan and Elmer then saw that the top of the case was fitted with a lid the edges of which were bound with rubber. In the center of the covering was a short spout.

"What's the use of an air and gas proof top with a hole in it?" asked Alan, inspecting it curiously.

"Maybe dat's to let de air in and de lid's to keep de hydrogum from gettin' out," volunteered the colored boy.

Ned was too busy to answer the one or to laugh at the other. He had unlocked the lid and thrown it back. About six inches beneath the top of the case stood eight iron boxes—two rows with four boxes in each. These boxes, six inches square, were each about three feet in height and in each could be seen the neck of a glass vessel. Securely packed in their iron jackets to prevent breaking, stood the glass receptacles, open-mouthed and apparently empty. But down below the shadowed rims were soft clouds of gaseous vapor, beneath which reposed the precious contents that had cost Ned over a thousand dollars—the liquid hydrogen.

On top of the square iron buckets was coiled eight or ten feet of rubber hose. Taking it out Ned closed and locked the lid. He then screwed one end of the hose onto the open spout and, springing to the top of the case, passed the other end out of the open ventilator.

"Now," Ned explained, "we are in less danger. Difficult as it is to condense hydrogen, it is more difficult to keep it in liquid form. It constantly seeks to return to gas. In a closed place it might make trouble."

Elmer had already disappeared, with popping eyes and mumbles of protest. Alan proudly exhibited to his friend the results of his share of the work of preparation. Every crate, box, barrel and package was numbered and labeled and securely fastened in place.

On one side of the car stood five large oak tanks, looking like the famous beer tuns of Germany.

"I can make more hydrogen in those than you've got in your black box," Alan exclaimed jokingly.

"I'll have a better look at them in the daylight," finally said Ned; "and now those easy chairs in the other car would feel pretty good."

"Aren't sleepy, are you?" asked Alan, forgetting that his chum had not slept the night before.

"No," said Ned, "only happy. But I'd be happier if I had had time to get a good hot supper."

"All ready, sah, in de stateroom," announced Elmer's cheerful voice.

Both boys turned—Ned in surprise.

"Supper's all ready, sah!" continued the colored boy, "and waiting fo' you all."

In the stateroom was a sight to arouse a sleepy boy and to delight a hungry one. In the middle of a small table was a bunch of pink roses. On either side, in a dish of cracked ice, was the half of a luscious cantaloupe. Silver knives, forks and spoons, sparkling glass-ware and snowy napkins at once revealed the resources of the Placida's pantry.

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" exclaimed Ned.

"Pretty nifty, eh?" laughed Alan.

"Well, if this isn't the last straw!" exclaimed Ned as they seated themselves. "But I want to thank you both. I didn't know how hungry I really was—"

He was about to plunge a spoon into the fragrant, cool melon when he saw a folded note by his plate. Opening it he read:

"Dear Ned: Good luck and good voyage. The roses are from my own garden. Bring me a turquoise ring. MARY HOPE."

It was from Alan's sister.

"Shall we do it, Alan?" he cried.

"Shall we?" answered Alan wringing his chum's hand. "We'll do it or—"

"Is you all ready for dis?" asked the young chef suddenly appearing with a smoking broiled steak. "It can't wait no longer."

And it did not have to.

An hour later the two happy boys sat on either side of the table in the drawing room of their car.

"Are you getting nervous?" began Alan.

"About what?" asked Ned.

"Oh, about everything. The responsibility for this car and the setting up of your balloon, and the trip itself."

"Are you?" exclaimed Ned.

"My, no, I'm not. But then I'm not the captain. But I thought you might be."

"Aren't we getting along all right?"

"Perhaps too well," Alan answered.

"Never talk that way," interrupted Ned decisively. "Everything is happening as it does because we planned it just that way. Things can't go too well. That is a foolish idea. The good fortune of careful preparation should only confirm your judgment."

This was the sort of advice Alan had to take now and then from his friend; but it always did him good.

"Then you don't believe in good luck?" rather sheepishly suggested Alan.

"I believe in it, yes," replied Ned, "if it comes—and I never put it aside. But I never count on it."

Sleep seemed to have fled from Ned's eyes. Although Alan suggested that it might be well to turn in early and be up early, Ned insisted on seeing Major Honeywell's chart of the country they were to explore, saying that he had another night on the journey in which he could sleep.

The chart was really only a rough pencil sketch. The instructions were more in detail.

"This country, now a portion of the reservation of the Navajo and Southern Ute Indians, is a wilderness," Major Honeywell wrote. "White men do not visit it because the Indians will not permit them. Mining prospectors who have tried to do so have been murdered."

"Cheerful, isn't it?" interrupted Alan.

"This jumble of mountains has no connection with our two great western mountain ranges. The towering plateaus, cut with yawning canyons, are plainly the result of some special volcanic action. This unknown region extends over a hundred miles northwest and southeast, and on all sides drops suddenly into the sandy deserts. At Clarkeville the desert begins at once. If you will start a little east of north and locate the Indian village of Toliatchi, twenty miles away, you will be on the Arroyo Chusco. Although the bed of this stream may be dry it can be traced northward sixty-five miles, where it unites with the Amarilla, eighty-five miles from Clarkeville. At the juncture of these water courses, if you face west, the roughest part of the Tunit Chas will confront you. At your right will be Wilson's Peak. That portion of the Tunit Chas to the southwest forms the Lu-ka-ch-ka mountains. To the northeast lie the Charriscos. Somewhere in these mountains lie the temple and the treasures we seek."



CHAPTER VI

BOB RUSSELL OF THE KANSAS CITY COMET

When the Overland reached Kansas City at nine o'clock the next morning the air ship boys were just finishing an appetizing breakfast of fruit, omelet, pancakes and coffee. The Placida, their special car, came to a stop at the far end of the station train shed, and, covered with dust as it was, and almost hidden among hissing engines and baggage and express cars, there seemed little reason for it to attract attention. Of course it was not ignored by the railway officials. No sooner was the train at rest than the depot master and the division superintendent were knocking at the door. They had special orders concerning the car, and immediately wheels and brakes were being tested and ice and water were being taken aboard.

The railway officials made a quick inspection of the car, asked if anything was needed, and were soon gone. A few minutes after they had left a young man suddenly appeared, dodging among the cars. He sprang on to the rear step of the Placida, but before he could enter the car, the door of which had been left open by the departing officials, the vigilant form of Elmer Grissom blocked his way.

"Who's in charge here?" demanded the stranger. "I'm a reporter and want to see him in a hurry."

The railway officials had been admitted through the baggage portion of the car, but Elmer knew that this way was not open to everyone. He understood the need of secrecy, and politely forcing the reporter out of the door on to the platform he led him to the front of the car.

"If you'll give me yo' card," he then said with dignity, "I'll take it in, sah."

As he was about to do so, Ned and Alan emerged from the car for a few mouthfuls of fresh air.

"Hey!" exclaimed the impatient young man, "I'd like to see the man in charge of this car. It's important and I'm in a hurry. I'm a reporter for the Comet."

The boys smiled.

"We are in charge," answered Ned. "What can we do for you?"

The reporter seemed taken somewhat aback at seeing two youngsters directing a special car. His bearing changed at once.

"I've been sent to get a story about where you are going and what you are going to do," he said with a little more consideration; "that is, if you care to tell."

Ned puckered up his lips and thought. He had met reporters before and he knew what a "story" meant.

"I think we don't care to say," he replied in a moment. He did not even care to say it was a secret. Even that admission, he knew, would be a basis for something that might interfere with his plans,

"Our correspondent in Chicago says you left there last evening with a carload of new and powerful explosives."

"Was such a story printed this morning?" asked Ned, eyeing the reporter closely.

"I think not," said the reporter, "but we are an afternoon paper, you know. We have a report that you are on your way to Mare Island, California, and that you have a carload of explosives for the navy."

"Was such a story printed this morning?" repeated Ned, smiling again.

"No, it wasn't. But it will be this afternoon," answered the young man impatiently.

"If such a report had been known in Chicago last night," replied Ned sharply, "it would have been in every newspaper in that city and this city this morning. No correspondent sent you such a story. You are a poor guesser."

The reporter was at least four years older than Ned and Alan. Therefore, he gave a little start of surprise. He had been trapped in a trick that he had often worked successfully on many an older person. For Bob Russell, easily the brightest and quickest-witted reporter in his city, thus to be turned down by two "kids" would never do. Without wasting time to deny Ned's charge, he tried a belligerent role.

"Do you deny you have newly invented ammunition in that car?" he exclaimed brusquely.

"I deny nothing and refuse to be put in the attitude of doing so," calmly answered Ned. "Although it happens you are wrong again."

The young man laughed and again changed his tactics.

"Well, look here, boys, what's the use of getting mad about this? You're working on something, just as I'm working on a newspaper. You've got a good story somewhere about you and I'd like to have it. What's the matter with being good fellows and loosening up?"

"Because it is purely a business matter in which the public would be too much concerned if it knew what we were doing."

"Well, whatever it is, it's good—I know that," replied the young journalist, laughing, "and I'm sorry I'm not in it with you—special car—flowers—traveling like railroad presidents. I'm on. But, say, when this thing breaks I'd like to be in on the yarn. I was lying. I never heard of you before the train pulled in. But you know the railroad people are on. They told me you had a black case marked 'Explosive.' That's all I know. Say, couldn't you tell me this—are you going through to the coast?"

Ned relented a little.

"Perhaps," he said smiling, "we might go to the coast."

"You might?" interrupted the reporter eagerly.

"Or we might stop in the mountains."

The reporter looked perplexed.

"Then you've got something to do with mining?" interrupted the impulsive journalist, "and it isn't the navy yard. But you came from Washington! I know that, you see."

"Yes," volunteered Ned, "but we might be from the Hydrographic Office."

"Cloud breakers," quickly interrupted the reporter again. "How's that for a guess? Are you rain makers?"

"What are they?" innocently asked Alan.

The reporter saw he was wrong.

"I give it up," he said shrugging his shoulders. "You are two wise lads."

"Not wise," suggested Ned, "but attending strictly to our business."

"Right you are," answered the reporter.

"I've got to leave you to have a look through the train. Sorry I'm not in on this. Where ever you're going, it looks good to me. When you come back, don't forget me. Save the story for me, Bob Russell of the Comet."

Handing his card to the boys with a cheery "So long!" he was gone. The boys felt a little relieved. They had done what they could to protect the interests of their patrons and themselves by keeping their mission a strict secret. So far as Ned knew, the only persons who had knowledge of what they were doing and where they were going were his mother and sister, Alan's family, and Major Honeywell and Senor Oje. Not even Elmer Grissom's parents knew where he was bound—it was sufficient for them to know that he was with Ned. Of course the railway people knew where the car was to stop. Beyond these it was necessary for no one else to know what was being done— not even the manufacturers who made the balloon, the engine and their precious gas. But what the young air navigators desired and what Bob Russell wanted were two different things.



CHAPTER VII

THE MAKING OF A NEWSPAPER STORY

Let us see whether the young reporter was baffled by the reticence of the secretive boys.

"Every one to his trade," murmured Bob Russell, as he hastened from Ned and Alan, "and now, me to mine."

Bob was what was known on his paper as the "depot reporter." It was not the most important assignment, for usually his work consisted only in describing such notable personages as passed through the city and now and then in interviewing the more important of these. But this day he was confronted with a mystery and it was his business to solve it. He acted quickly.

Hurrying after the depot master, with whom of course he was friendly, he persuaded that official to go at once to the conductor of the train and ascertain the names of the boys. This was a simple thing, done in that manner, for even the passengers in a special or private car must have regular tickets. The conductor at once revealed the identity of the three passengers. Although Bob knew the conductor, he realized that he stood a chance of being refused even thin information if he asked for it personally.

While his friend the depot master was getting this information, Bob quickly, but apparently carelessly, approached the head brakeman who had helped bring the train from Chicago. It was Tom Smithers—also a friend of Bob's, who made a point of knowing every employee running into the station.

"I see you've got the Placida with you?" began Bob indifferently.

"Yep," answered Tom, "and loaded to the axles. All except passengers. She's running light on them. Two boys and a coon."

"I just had a talk with them," remarked Bob, carelessly offering the brakeman a cigar. "Pretty dusty, eh?" After a moment's casual talk Bob returned to the subject.

"I guess those kids must be next—running a car with locked doors."

"Locked doors!" snorted Tom, putting his cigar away for a surreptitious smoke. "Not on your life. Not against me. You bet she was open whenever I rang."

"But it might just as well have been locked," said Bob. "The place is so jammed full of stuff. I couldn't make out what it was, but there was a wad of it."

The unsuspecting brakeman then gave Bob what he was hoping to get.

"Well, I stopped and saw it," he confessed. "I roused up the coon after midnight to have a look at the ropes and when I came back I took my time. They got a case of powder or dynamite in there marked 'Explosive.' I didn't bother that but the rest was plain. Half the boxes in the car were labeled 'balloon works' or 'motor works.' It's a balloon show—nothing else."

"Where is the car going?"

"They ain't consulted me," laughed Tom.

A few moments later Bob was in the office of the division superintendent. When he left he knew that the Placida would be dropped on the only siding at the little town of Clarkeville in New Mexico. He had also looked over the best map in the offices and fixed in his mind the topography of the adjacent country.

Before half past nine Bob had presented these scattered facts to his city editor.

"It's a story, all right, Bob, and a good one. Go to it," said the editor. And Bob did the best he knew how—in a newspaper way. On the suggestion of the editor he telegraphed to the representative of the Comet in Chicago: "Who is Ned Napier?" In a little over an hour he had a hundred and fifty word telegram outlining Ned's aeronautic career and concluding: "Why? What do you know? Napier not here. Family won't talk."

Then Bob began his story. It was, for a reporter of his experience, brilliant, with good deductions, good guesses and good ambiguous generalities. It seemed to tell more than it really did.

At four o'clock that afternoon Ned and Alan were speeding over the green and fertile prairies of middle Kansas in blissful ignorance of what Bob Russell had done. Under striking headlines appeared the following story:

"Ned Napier, the famous young aeronaut of Chicago, passed through the city this morning on his way to the southwest to execute the most daring and important balloon journey ever undertaken in this country. Accompanied by an assistant, Alan Hope, and on board a special car packed with $50,000 worth of apparatus he will proceed to Clarkeville, an insignificant town in New Mexico, from which place he will make his hazardous flight over the mountains lying to the north. The aerial journey may possibly extended over the Sierra Nevadas as far as the Pacific Coast.

"The details of the expedition are not made public, as young Napier has been retained by the authorities at Washington and is operating under a strict pledge of secrecy. The knowledge that such an expedition is under way was made known for the first time to the representative of the Comet by Mr. Napier at the Union Station this morning. While slow to discuss the ultimate object of his trip Mr. Napier talked of his plans in a general way.

"'I represent the Hydrographic Department,' he said to the reporter, 'and the journey I am about to make may extend from Clarkeville as far as the Pacific. I hope it will accomplish what the department has planned, but you know that we who are in this profession are always prepared for failure. My assistant and I may easily have our lives crushed out on the rugged peaks of the mountain chain we are attempting to cross.'

"Mr. Napier suggested that some might conclude that he had been sent out as a 'rain maker,' or 'cloud breaker' in an attempt to secure rain for the arid plains, but he laughed at this idea.

"In the government's special car, carefully safeguarded, is carried a large can of a new and powerful explosive. In exhibiting this to the reporter Mr. Napier good-naturedly said:

"'I am sorry I cannot tell the public the exact character of this new explosive. But the secret belongs to the government.'

"When it was suggested that the explosive might be destined for certain elaborate experiments in the unpopulated wilderness of the region to which the expedition is now hastening on the Limited, Mr. Napier would only answer;

"My lips are sealed. I can say no more. But I compliment the Comet in discovering what all the eastern papers have missed—that a stupendous thing is projected and that I have the honor, with my friend, Mr. Hope, to attempt it."

Then followed an elaborate rewritten version of what had been telegraphed from Chicago concerning Ned. After this was a detailed account of the car, not omitting little Mary Hope's bouquet of faded roses, which in Bob's story became "a wealth of cut blossoms, the tribute of Mr. Napier's scientific friends."

What Bob wrote was in type by twelve o'clock. Three hundred words of it were telegraphed to the Chicago evening newspapers. Sharp at six o'clock that evening the Chicago correspondent of the New York World sent advice to his paper that he had a story on the mystery of what Ned Napier was about to do for the government. Word came back at once to send on the story.

At ten o'clock the telegraph editor of the World in New York took the account just received to the managing editor of the paper.

There was a minute's consultation, a nod of the head, and at twelve o'clock that night Bob Russell was awakened to respond to a telephone call. It was his own managing editor who read him this telegram:

Managing Editor, Comet, Kansas City

Send man at once to follow Chicago balloon man and discover mission. Advance funds and draw on us. Will share story with you.

Managing Editor, New York World.

It is hardly necessary to say that Bob Russell was a passenger on the Limited leaving the next morning. He was just twenty-four hours behind in the race, but he meant, if he could, to execute his orders, and was already smiling delightedly in anticipation of what he knew would be a contest of wits.



CHAPTER VIII

THE HOSPITALITY OF NEW MEXICO

Clarkeville was even smaller than the boys had imagined it. The little depot was far more pretentious than any other building in sight. Beyond this was a wide and exceedingly dusty street. On the far side of this unpaved roadway was a row of one- and two-story frame buildings. Here and there was a cheaper structure of little else but corrugated iron sheets, while to the left, where a similar street crossed the railroad at right angles, there was a one-story cement building proudly labeled "Bank." Both streets suddenly disappeared in a sandy, treeless plain.

Wooden awnings in front of the buildings extended over the sidewalk. At the edge of these awnings were a few teams and many saddled horses, some of them hitched to posts, and others standing with their bridle reins dropped to the ground. Not many persons were in sight. The deep and cloudless blue sky was brilliant with the noonday sun while a hot breezeless haze hung over all.

The Limited had made its usual daily pause and then to the surprise of the agent had run down beyond the water tank with one car, switched it back onto the one siding until it stood opposite the musty smelling freight shed, and, quickly coupling up again, had gone.

Ned and Alan had alighted when the train stopped. Around them the boys could detect the first signs of the real West. At one end of the station a big-hatted Mexican squatted by a hot tamale can. Among others idling near were some high-heeled and sombrero-topped cow-boys, whose easy and loose clothing made Alan envious at once. Even the depot attendants, with their belts and loosely knotted neckerchiefs, seemed gayer and freer than their brother laborers back in the East.

With coats off and collars loosened the two boys filled their lungs with the tonic air, for, in spite of the heat, a certain dryness seemed to give life and vigor to the atmosphere.

"There it is, Alan," exclaimed Ned finally, pointing away to the north and the distant mountains, "beyond those peaks and somewhere under that sapphire sky is our land of promise. We'll be in it in a few days."

The brilliant sky, the exhilarating air and the new life about them filled both boys with enthusiasm.

"Whoopee!" almost shouted Alan finally, throwing out his arms as if to embrace his friend. "All we need is an Indian or two and I guess we'd be out West for sure."

"You may not be so anxious to see them before we start back," remarked Ned. "Anyway, I promise you enough of them in this country."

With the departure of the train, the two boys became the center of some attention. Strangers were not plentiful in Clarkeville, and when the news spread that a special car was standing behind the freight shed on the far side of the tracks there was an instant rush of idlers in that direction. Ned and Alan returned with them and smiling good-naturedly right and left took stand at the forward car steps.

It was about two o'clock in the afternoon, but so anxious had the boys become in the last stage of their journey that they had ordered Elmer to put off the noonday meal until they reached Clarkeville. The colored boy, troubled over the notion of a good dinner spoiling, was waiting on the car platform for it chance to get his "bosses," as be delighted to call them, into the car.

Before he could do so, and while the two chums were answering idle questions as to whether they were a "show," Ned's quick eye caught sight of a more important personage. A middle-aged man, not quite so western in appearance as the others, but plainly as much at home in the saddle, rode up with a clatter and sprang from his pony.

Ned advanced quickly, spurred on by the new arrival's quick "Howdy, strangers!"

"My name is Ned Napier," explained the lad, "and this is my friend, Alan Hope."

The rider held out his hand.

"I'm Curt Bradley, and I'm the mayor of this town," he replied by way of introduction.

"Glad to meet you," answered Ned. "You've just saved me the trouble of looking you up, for that would have been my first business."

"Not to be over cur'ous," laughed the Mayor as his eyes took in the big expensive car and then returned to the two boys, "might I inquire the nature o' yer business."

Ned laughed.

"Certainly," he answered, "but come aboard first. Elmer," he said to the waiting cook, waiter and porter, "another plate for Mr. Bradley."

And in spite of the wholesome-looking but bronzed Mr. Bradley's protest that gentleman was soon sitting with the boys before what was perhaps the most elaborate meal he had ever eaten. His protest came from the fact that he had already had his dinner, but the fresh fruit and vegetables and spring chicken were temptations too strong for him.

When Ned saw that their new acquaintance was at his ease and rapidly becoming satisfied he lost no time in coming to the point.

"Our visit here, Mr. Bradley, is, in part, a secret. I hope you will accept my assurance, however, that it can in no way operate against or damage your town or its residents or the country round about. I want your assistance."

"Ye can hev that," came the quick answer, "and if your lay is no one's business, why, it ain't none o' ours."

"I'm glad to hear that," answered Ned. "But there may be some who will not be so considerate."

"When I pass the word I guess they'll all think about like me," interrupted the Clarkeville official. "Ye jest tell me what it is you want."

"First I'll explain to you that in the other part of this car we have the material to make a dirigible balloon."

"A what!" exclaimed the Mayor, his mouth full of chicken.

"A balloon that you can guide through the air."

Curt Bradley dropped his knife.

"One o' them flyin' machines?"

"Exactly."

"And kin we all see it fly?"

"Certainly," answered Ned, "if you will just see that no one interferes with us. I shall be glad in time to show you, I hope, the most perfect dirigible balloon ever put together and to explain just how it is to be operated. But in a few days, when it is ready, we are going to sail away on business that is our own. And when that time comes curiosity must stop. If anyone attempts to ascertain where we are going or what we mean to do I sound warning now that we will do all we can to prove to him that it is none of his business."

The Mayor looked at them in surprise.

"Why," he began, "I suppose ye must be on a mighty partic'lar job. Are you—?"

"There!" interrupted Ned. "You see you are beginning to ask questions. Since we can't answer them we'd rather not hear them."

"Right," exclaimed the Mayor. "Give me yer word it's all fair and square and that ye ain't violatin' no laws and I'll give ye my word they won't be no more questions asked."

"I'm glad to do that," answered Ned, "we want certain accommodations for which we are willing to pay. But we want the confidence of Clarkeville that we are all right, even if we are a little young."

"Clarkeville is yours," laughed the Mayor, getting up from the table, "and now what do ye want first?"

In another hour the two boys, guided by Mayor Bradley, had examined the entire settlement. A little way down the railroad track they found a rather ramshackle building, mostly tin roof, and behind it a large plot of ground surrounded with a high corral or fence. The sign read "Buck's Corral." In the East it would have been called a livery stable. The air navigators engaged the place at five dollars a day for a week or more, and put a half dozen Mexican laborers at work removing the few horses and cleaning out the building and corral. The proprietor, who owned one of the few wagons in the town, they also hired as a drayman at $2.50 a day for himself and team.

Work began at once. Through Mayor Bradley three reliable men were employed as watchmen, and these, in eight-hour shifts, undertook the duty of seeing that nothing in the corral was molested in the absence of Ned and Alan. Then the work of transporting material began, the first task being the removal of the five large generating tanks.

Alan had been thoughtful enough to foresee the need of special clothing, and it was not long before he and Ned and even Elmer Grissom were enjoying the freedom of wide-brimmed hats, stout shirts, thick-soled shoes, and belts. Elmer's duty was the constant care of the Placida, which he only left on special permission. Ned and Alan were free to devote themselves wholly to the agreeable and long anticipated task of at last "getting ready."

Help was easily hired and with Buck's wagon in service the wide-opened doors of the baggage car seemed to give out more boxes, crates and bundles than a full freight car. When strangers were on the car the colored boy stood like a sentinel over the black case which was made less conspicuous by being covered with a blanket. And his constant injunction "No smokin', sah," soon won him a sobriquet, Mexicans and cow-boys alike calling him "Smoky."

Elmer was relieved from picket duty in time to prepare an extra supper to which Mayor Bradley, Buck, and Jack Jellup, the town marshal, were invited. It was extra work for "Smoky," who took his new name with a mild protest; but when he called the crew to the meal it was apparent that he harbored no resentment. Jack and Buck took their seats gingerly, but the boys soon made all at home.

"There ain't agoin' to be no pay took fur this day's work," suddenly exclaimed Buck as he finished a generous portion of cold sliced ham and potato salad.

The boys laughed in protest.

"I ain't seen real food in ten years," continued Buck, "and what I said goes. This meal's worth a week's work to me."

"All I got to say, young uns," interrupted Jack Jellup, the marshal, "is that this 'ere town is yours."

Jack's idea of hospitality was an invitation to the boys to visit the town saloons as his guest, but Ned arid Alan laughed and thanked him, pleading weariness as a reason for declining. The final tribute of the three guests, however, before they left, was to push the Placida along with crowbars until it was free of the freight house and stood where the evening breeze could freely find its way through the windows. Then with hearty "buenos noches," ("Good night") and promises to see that every one was on hand early in the morning, they left.

For some time Ned, Alan and Elmer sat in camp chairs on the car platform reveling in the glorious starlit night. From somewhere in the little town came the sound of low singing and a Spanish air played on the mandolin. It was all so different from the life the boys had known that it seemed like a dream. And when their real dreams did come it was of the not far distant Tunit Chas.



CHAPTER IX

"CALIFORNY KID" GETS A JOB

Old Buck's horse-corral had blossomed over night into a modern balloon factory. And the proprietor, with his bronco team, and the superintending Ned and Alan made big gaps the next day in the precious freight of the Placida. By noon the five casks for generating hydrogen, the cooling and purifying box, and the lead pipe and other equipment, had been transferred to the old horse yard. Three tons of iron turnings, forwarded by freight in advance, were found in the keeping of the railroad agent. It took Buck six trips to move this, and that consumed the afternoon.

A special trip was made by the wagon just after luncheon. This was to transport the tool chest—practically two chests, for it was a large one containing both wood and iron-working tools. With it rode the two boys, both in overalls and ready to begin the setting up and adjustment of the generating tanks.

After their arrival at the corral, the rest of the afternoon, in spite of the heat, slipped quickly away. But by night a foundation had been leveled in a corner of the yard and the five barrel-like generators were firmly anchored and connected by lead pipes with the cooling and purifying box.

"Looks purty much like a distillery," commented Buck, who had just made his last trip with the iron shavings, which were now piled close by the casks.

"And is," laughed Ned, "in a way."

But he volunteered no more. In fact the whole matter was a mystery to every one in the town, except Mayor Curt Bradley and Marshal Jack Jellup.

In the morning the first work accomplished was the removal, one at a time, of ten casks of sulphuric acid, each weighing four hundred pounds. It was a delicate job and not unattended with danger in case of a cask breaking. The boys began to realize the need of help of a higher grade than that of the "greasers" who had been thus far their only assistants except Buck.

Their usual good luck seemed to be with them, however, for just in the middle of the work of sliding a heavy carboy of acid from the wagon a stranger stepped from the group of onlookers, and without words gave a hand to the job.

Alan was about to thank him hurriedly, when the stranger said: "Wot's the game, son? Wot's doin'?"

Alan was at first inclined to resent this "tough" familiarity. Then he realized that the language of the man was in his natural manner of speaking, and he said:

"Who are you and where are you from?"

"Give you one guess," laughed the stranger. "No! Can't tell a 'bo'? Well, just tramp. Wot's dew name? I lost me card case. Me nom de plumb is Kid, Californy Kid. And me address is—well wot's de name o' dis munificent metropolis?"

"Clarkeville, New Mexico," answered Alan smiling.

"Well, den me address is dat. Wot's de nex' inquiry?"

The man was young. His clothing was worn and greasy, his shoes were patched, and those parts of his face and hands that could be seen between smears of coal dust were red from exposure and the sun.

"How do you happen to be here?" continued Alan.

"Well, cul—beg pardon, son—de fact is I lost me purse and de brakeman on de fast freight wouldn't take me check. I was dumped. And I can't get away exceptin' I walk."

"Then you wouldn't care to work?"

"Will dis beautiful city give me coin and chuck widout work?"

"I'm afraid not," laughed Alan.

"Den' it's work for yours truly," answered the tramp with a sort of cheery humor. "But, say, boss, ye couldn't stake me to a drink and some chuck afore I loosen up me muscles?"

"Your pay will be two dollars a day," said Alan, "but no drinking goes. Here's a note that will get you something to eat." And writing a message to Elmer the tramp was soon hurrying to the car for a meal. A half hour later, with his sleeves rolled up, he returned, riding alongside Buck on the wagon.

Ned had given the new hand little attention.

Now he looked him over and asked:

"What's your real name?"

"Gus, boss; or, spellin' it out, Gustave Lippe. How's dat for a handle—Lippe?"

Ned looked at the young man long and sharply.

"One name, they say, is as good as another out here. But I didn't know tramps got this far west."

"Sure," answered the tramp, "It's long jumps and hard ones. It's me last excursion dis way."

"Well," said Ned slowly, "you can work for us as long as you are not too inquisitive."

"Dat's me, boss. I'm de clam till me two dollars per will git me to de next whistle."

"Then you'd better arrange to board with Buck."

"Dat's me lay, boss, already booked. Now show me some work. Me trunk was checked t'roo and I ain't nuttin' on me mind but me job."

"Well, you had better spend the rest of the afternoon in cleaning up a bit," suggested Ned. "Here's five dollars in advance. Report early in the morning."

"Tank's, boss," said Gus, the tramp. But he took the bill slowly.

"But, you can't spend it on beer and whisky and work for us," added Ned.

Gus shifted uneasily.

"You'd better have a bath and a shave. And if you need clothes and can get them here," continued Ned, "I'll advance more to-morrow—if you show up all right."

"I kin work widdout a shave," the man said, "ain't der nuttin' doin' to-day?"

Assured that to-morrow was when he was wanted the tramp slowly and apparently reluctantly turned and slouched away toward the stores.

"What do you make of him, Ned?" asked Alan as the two toys resumed work.

"Too slangy, I think," commented Ned.

But the final stowing of the acid soon drove the tramp from the minds of the boys.

When the young aeronauts finally closed the corral and returned to the car, the sun a great red ball, was just dropping behind the serrated mountains of the western horizon. On the car steps, Ned turned and pointed to the north. Far away the dusky gray of the plains deepened into darker and darker shadows that ended in a low black mass. But here and there from the black wall rose irregular spires, their tops pink-tipped by the red sun.

"Yes," exclaimed Alan, "the Tunit Chas—our mountains."

And even though the vigilant Elmer called from within, the boys stood and gazed in silence until the last glow had died away and the land of their hopes was lost under the stars.

Important as was the work to be done in Buck's corral, there was another vital thing to be accomplished while this progressed. That was the creation of a base of supplies near the navigator's field of work. This was preferably to be at the junction of the Amarilla and Chusco rivers, and that point lay just eighty-five miles to the north. Between Clarkeville and that spot there were no roads and, at this time of the year, perhaps, no water. With the best wagon and team they might be able to get, this trip over the desert would require not less than five days.

It was impossible for either of the boys to go on this important errand, as both were needed on the spot to set up the balloon. So it had long since been decided that Elmer was to have charge of this secondary expedition. And since it was Elmer who would have to conduct the expedition safely to its destination and establish a relief camp, the colored boy had been thoroughly coached in his coming task.

"Kin I?" the boy had said more than once. "When de Cibola gits dar I'll be dar. And ain't no Indians nor rattlesnakes nor hot weather goin' to break up dat camp."

And the camp meant gasoline, water, food and a stepping stone back to civilization, whether the expedition ended in failure or success. As the boys had already planned that Buck should furnish the wagon and horses and guide Elmer's caravan, they had asked him to call that evening to talk it over.

"I'm ready to start, yes, right now," Elmer had said as he served the good supper over which he had been laboring, "but I does jes nach'elly hate to turn you young gemmen over to dese greaser cooks."

The boys laughed. "You don't think we can keep this up all summer, do you?" exclaimed, Ned. "Even 'greaser' cooks are better than having nothing to eat. And up there," nodding toward the north, "there won't be any cooks."

"Don't forget," interrupted Elmer, "camp—camp—well, my camp. When you get dar dar'll be a good meal waitin' you and when you git outen de mountains I'll still be dar waitin' wid eatin's."

The boys laughed again.

"Like as not," suggested Alan, "if you get all that truck up there. You'll certainly have enough. But don't you bother about the eating. You just watch the water and the gasoline."

"Till de snow flies," exclaimed Elmer with emphasis.

"Which, right there," dryly remarked Ned as he disposed of the last of a generous slice of melon, "is rather indefinite."

When Buck, whose real name they had discovered to be William Bourke—easily corrupted into "Buck"—appeared, the boys had a delicate job before them. Inquiry had quickly shown them that Buck's twenty-five years on the old Santa Fe trail as guide and an active service in the army as scout easily made him the man to conduct Elmer to the north.

To all their long explanations and reasons Buck listened in silence. When there seemed nothing more to be said, Buck smothered the still glowing end of a cigarette between his dark weather-beaten fingers and said slowly:

"When do we start?"

It was arranged that on the second morning Buck should be ready for a journey of uncertain length; that the general direction should be north; that the final destination should be revealed by Elmer on the second morning out.

"Soldier-like," Buck had commented, "and that's the way I like it."

Buck and an assistant were to take an outfit of two wagons, each drawn by four horses. In the lighter wagon six barrels of water were to be carried for use in case the usual "water holes" were dry. In case of an accident, the lighter wagon and horses were to be sent south by the second man and Elmer and Buck were to make a quick dash forward with what water and supplies could be carried on the other wagon.

Old Buck made rather light of the matter.

"Injuns ain't nothin' nowadays," he had explained, shrugging his shoulders, "ye jest want to keep yer bearin's and git used to drinkin' atmosphere and ye'r all right."

The contract with Buck called for thirty dollars a day in money and food for himself and a helper. Both parties to the contract were satisfied and after Buck's fresh cigarette disappeared in the direction of the town the boys lost no time in turning in for a good night's rest.



CHAPTER X

AN ERROR IN CALCULATION

While Buck was busy getting his wagons and horses and water casks ready the next morning the boys were not surprised to see Gus, the tramp, drive up just after breakfast with the moving team.

"Have you had breakfast?" asked Alan by way of a greeting.

"Have," retorted Gus, pulling up his team awkwardly. "It's me wrappin' meself around tortillas till I feel like a bag o' corn meal."

"I can't see that you've spent any great amount of that five dollars on yourself," interrupted Ned, noticing the tramp's unshaven face and the still visible traces of coal smoke.

"Well, boss, ye'r right. Dead right. But, ye see, de barber o' dis growin' city only works on Saturday and me friend Buck's bat' tub has a leak. Anyhow, de ladies hereabouts is scarce and few. Think wot a swell I'll be when Sunday comes."

"Come in the car. We've plenty of water, and soap too," suggested Alan, smiling.

'"Well, boss, don't tempt me. I'm working. I can't soldier away no time dudin' meself up on do bosses' time."

"All right," replied Ned, laughing, "every one to his taste."

There was plenty of work to be done, and in a few minutes all were at it. The chief task this day was the unloading of the materials yet on the car. That had to be done by night, except in the case of the boxes marked "Overland," all of which had been carefully and specially crated for wagon transportation. Of these there seemed a great many, and they were all put in one pile in the space made vacant by the removal of the gas generators. The hydrogen case, covered with a blanket, stood always under Elmer's watchful eye. This was to be removed last.

As the boys meant to stay close by their valuable outfit, they planned to load Elmer's caravan early the next morning and to see it start on its trying and dangerous trip. Then they intended to remove the hydrogen cask to the corral and take up their own abode in the same place. The Placida—with no little regret—was to be surrendered to the railroad and returned to Chicago.

For that reason this was a busy day. Load after load of crates, boxes, and bundles were carried to the big corral, the teams stirring up the dust of Clarkeville's main street on their way. It was heavy work, and required care. Smoky-faced Gus was earning his pay. So skilful and adroit was he in executing tasks assigned him that Ned commented on it to Alan.

While the boys were at their noonday lunch Buck appeared to report progress. The big wagon was to come from a sheep ranch, ten miles to the south. A man had gone for it and would arrive with it that night. The wheels of the smaller wagon were being soaked in water and the axles had been greased.

Ned could not resist asking:

"How's your new boarder, Buck?"

"Ain't seen much o' him. Purty poor feeder fur a tramp. Can't get a tortilla down him nohow."

Ned looked at Alan significantly.

"Hasn't any baggage, has he?" continued Ned.

"Not a stitch. Lessen you allow fur a extra suit o' underclothes."

"Under clothing?" exclaimed Ned. "Two suits?"

"Yep. And fine, too. My old woman washed a suit to-day and she 'lows as how it cost more than the rest o' his outfit."

"Don't you think that funny?"

"'What?" responded Alan sleepily.

"Why, a tramp with two suits of fine underwear?"

"Probably he stole them."

"And probably be didn't. A real tramp might steal them, but he wouldn't wear them."

"Well, what do you care," laughed Alan, "whether he's a tramp or not so long as he's useful?"

Ned was silent a few moments.

"Tramp or not, that fellow will bear watching."

"All right," conceded Alan, "I guess we can do that."

By night the barn and horse yard of the corral looked like a combination manufactory and hardware store. The seven sections of the skeleton-like car stretched across the old horse yard like a disjointed snake; crated aeroplane guides, and the propeller and the rudder leaned against the fence, looking like the frame work of a house; the more compact engine, motor, radiator and fan stood ready for unpacking under the shelter shed, while shafts, connections and boxes of small parts filled a large part of the empty stalls. The tins of gasoline for experimental flights and the first trip to Elmer's camp were in a far corner of the yard, and in the wagon shed stood the two immense special trunks containing the gas bag and the Italian hemp netting.

The evening meal was not as cheery and chatty an affair as the preceding ones had been, although Elmer had done his best in honor of their farewell. And the boys insisted that at this last meal the waiter should be dispensed with, and Elmer was put at the head of the table.

"Yo' make me feel as if I was a startin' fo' do norf pole," exclaimed Elmer. "I don't see what's de use of so much fussin'."

"Well, anyway," exclaimed Ned, holding up a glass of iced tea, "here's luck to you, Elmer."

"And de same to you," answered Elmer. "And to all of us."

Rising bell was to ring at four o'clock the next morning; so the boys all turned in at once after they had cleaned up the kitchen.

It was about twelve o'clock when a sudden call sounded through the car.

"Alan!".

It was Ned, who, clad in pajamas, was shaking his chum. The latter, dazed for a moment, sprang upright, soundly whacking his head on the upper berth, in which Elmer was snoring loudly.

"What is it?" he exclaimed, rolling out on the floor. "Who hit me? Indians?"

"Not yet," laughed Ned, shaking his "pal" into wakefulness. "Listen!"

He struck a match, lit a candle and sat down on the edge of the berth.

"You're a bum calculator," he began, eyeing Alan.

"I didn't calculate where that berth was," answered Alan ruefully, rubbing a lump on the top of his head.

"And you didn't calculate where we are now," somewhat excitedly added Ned. "And I didn't think of it until just now."

"Go on," interrupted the still sleepy Alan. "If it's a riddle I give it up."

"I suppose you know what the air pressure is to a square inch," answered Ned, like a school teacher rebuking a slow scholar.

"Why, 14.7 pounds, of course."

"Where?" exclaimed Ned again, sharply.

"Where?" echoed Alan.

"Why, at the sea level-that's where. Not out here. Do you know how high we are above sea level right here?"

Alan began to see the point and a smile came over his face. He had no chance to answer:

"We're a little short of seven thousand feet up in the air right here in Clarkeville," continued Ned in about the same tone of exultation he might have used had he found a gold mine. "Now, listen. How many cubic feet of gas does our balloon hold?"

That question was easy. The boys knew that as well as the multiplication table.

"Sixty-five thousand, four hundred and ninety-three feet."

"And how much weight is it going to carry?"

"Three thousand nine hundred and thirty-five and a half pounds."

"Exactly," went on Ned. "That's the weight we are going to carry figured at sea level. Did it ever occur to you that our sixty-five hundred feet of hydrogen can lift more way up here seven thousand feet in the air, than it can at sea level? Did it ever occur to my special engineer and calculator that as the weight and pressure of the air grows less our hydrogen will lift just that much more weight.

"By the great horn spoon!" exclaimed Alan. "Give me that candle."

In another moment he was at the drawing room table with a pencil in his hand. It did not take him long to make his calculations.

"Live and learn," he exclaimed finally. "I'm certainly all you said was a 'bum calculator.' Our altitude here is 6,875 feet, for I took it to-day just for practice. And we can carry in our balloon just exactly 693.6 pounds more than we figured."

"I thought so," laughed Ned. "It came to me in a dream, I guess. But you don't need to feel badly. You say I'm the boss, yet I never thought of it. You see, the trouble is that all the balloon ascensions ordinarily are made from the large cities of America or Europe. Who ever thought of ascending a mountain to get a start? But since we have done so we must figure accordingly."

"And what is the first thing you are going to add?" asked Alan.

"First thing?" exclaimed Ned. "First and last and in the middle, gasoline. We may find water in the mountains and we might even find food, but we're not going to find gasoline. Now we'll do part of our work whether Elmer meets us or fails."

The incident showed the essential difference between Ned's mind and Alan's. Alan was careful, precise, and adept in detail. Ned had the "dreams" and inspirations of an inventor.



CHAPTER XI

A DISGUISE PENETRATED

The boys, in spite of their broken slumbers, all turned out promptly at four o'clock the next morning. They found this hour the pleasantest of the day in this hot and dry region. The late moon was just disappearing, and over the plains swept a breeze that hinted of snow on some mountain peak not far away. Not a sound broke the stillness but the occasional cry of a skulking coyote.

"Hear it, Elmer," said Alan, as the boys got busy in the baggage car. "You want to look out for those fellows."

"I ain't feared o' no cutes and I ain't feared of no Injun," solemnly answered Elmer, "jist so dem rattlers gives me de go-by. Dat's all I ast."

Buck's big wagon had arrived and was backed up to the car and now, by the light of a lantern hanging above the door, the work of loading began.

With their improved gas bag the boys had figured on a record flight without renewing the gas supply. They had hoped to be able to stay at least seventy-two hours in the air. But during a large part of this time they expected to drift without the engines, for they could not carry enough gasoline to last for more than twenty-four hours of engine work. By their new calculations they had more than enough gasoline, and according to Ned it seemed probable that the decreased air pressure on the bag might extend the period of flight another twenty-four hours, or to four days.

After that all would depend on the liquid hydrogen. The remarkable qualities of this unique product were to be tested for the first time in the history of ballooning. When the gas in the bag had diminished by leakage through the valves and elsewhere so that it was no longer sufficient to carry the car, the liquid hydrogen was to be turned into gas which was to take the place of that lost. Ned had left Washington with sixteen cubic feet of the liquid in eight delicate Dewar bulbs, or casks. He figured that one-quarter of it would be lost by evaporation, leaving twelve cubic feet. This seems a small supply until one understands that the hydrogen increases in volume 880 times as it returns into gas from the liquid form. The twelve cubic feet of liquid, therefore, would give them a little over ten thousand cubic feet of new gas. And this, with the loss of ballast and provisions in three or four days, Ned calculated, would give the balloon a new life of a day or so.

Therefore, the secret plan was a direct journey to Elmer's camp, a flight of eighty-five miles, which would bring the Cibola near to the foot of the mountains of mystery. After this camp had been located and more gasoline taken aboard the boys were to head their craft toward the Tunit Chas mountains. What would follow they could not foresee. With good luck they might be able to hover birdlike over the peaks, canyons and plateaus for five days. With bad luck they might have to come down sooner or fall. Then, if the Cibola failed them, they would have to find their way to the treasure temple and the ruined palace on foot in a rugged wilderness, infested with unfriendly Indians and reptiles, or struggle back, in some manner, if they could, to Elmer's relief station, and thus to civilization.

Should the worst happen and the balloon fail them, the boys might be lost in a desolate region that is even now uncharted by the government. The only resources they would have would be the Cibola equipment and their own ability to take care of themselves. In any event, the knowledge that Elmer and Buck were in camp ready to succor them meant a good deal. And that was why the loading of the overland outfit had so much interest for the boys.

Of tins of provisions there were many: condensed foods—German erbswurst, or army rations of ground peas and meat; dried potatoes; eggs in powdered form; preserved and salt meats; hard tack; tea and coffee; flour; and evaporated fruits. The water was already arranged for and the wagon containing the casks was at Buck's adobe house.

On the floor of the wagon, packed in bunch grass, were the precious gasoline casks. On top of all came the silk waterproof tent and the camp equipage. Stowed under the seat was the box containing spare flags, a heliograph, part of a wireless telephone outfit (the other part was to be carried in the balloon) and compass. Two magazine rifles and ammunition were included in the outfit, and Elmer donned for the first time in his life a belt and holster to carry one of the magazine revolvers that Ned had bought on the day when he first told Alan what he had undertaken to do.

By the time this work was done it was day. Then came breakfast, which Elmer insisted on preparing. He even demanded that he be given time to make hot biscuits. These, with thick slices of broiled ham, the last of their oranges, and hot fragrant coffee constituted the last meal on the Placida.

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