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´╗┐Title: The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure
Author: Sayler, H. L. (Harry Lincoln)
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 "The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure" ***

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The Air Ship Boys

or

The Quest of the Aztec Treasure


By H. L. Sayler



CONTENTS

       I  THE DEPARTURE OF THE OVERLAND LIMITED
      II  NED'S MEETING WITH MAJOR BALDWIN HONEYWELL
     III  THE RELATION OF MIGUEL VASQUEZ
      IV  THE CONTRACT, AND LIQUID HYDROGEN
       V  A DINNER PARTY ON THE PLACIDA
      VI  BOB RUSSELL OF THE KANSAS CITY COMET
     VII  THE MAKING OF A NEWSPAPER STORY
    VIII  THE HOSPITALITY OF NEW MEXICO
      IX  "CALIFORNY KID" GETS A JOB
       X  AN ERROR IN CALCULATION
      XI  A DISGUISE PENETRATED
     XII  NED TO BOB RUSSELL'S RESCUE
    XIII  QUICK JUSTICE IN THE WEST
     XIV  BUILDING AN AIR SHIP
      XV  HOW JACK JELLUP LOST AN ARM
     XVI  READY TO "LET GO ALL"
    XVII  AN INTERRUPTED FLIGHT
   XVIII  FREE AND AFLOAT AT LAST
     XIX  THE FIRST FLIGHT
      XX  FIGHTING INDIANS WITH A SEARCHLIGHT
     XXI  A CORDITE BOMB AND ITS WORK
    XXII  A THRILLING RESCUE IN MID-AIR
   XXIII  CAMP EAGLE IN THE MOUNTAINS
    XXIV  A GRAVE IN THE DESERT
     XXV  BARTERING STORES A MILE IN THE AIR
    XXVI  THE SECRET TUNNEL IN THE MESA
   XXVII  THE TURQUOISE TEMPLE DISCOVERED
  XXVIII  THE COLLAPSE OF THE CIBOLA
    XXIX  THE GOLDEN EAGLE OF THE AZTECS
     XXX  A QUARTER OF A TON OF TREASURE
    XXXI  AN ADVENTURE WITH THE NAVAJOS
   XXXII  ALAN SUCCUMBS TO EXHAUSTION
  XXXIII  A FORLORN DASH FOR HELP
   XXXIV  THE RESCUE



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 he 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 he 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.

As the meal came to an end the clump, clump of horses' feet in the
sand announced that Buck had arrived and that it was time for
breaking the "special car" camp.  Alan and Elmer hastened to clean
up the little kitchen that had given the boys so many savory meals
and to pack up the remaining provisions, and Ned jumped off the car
to see Buck.

To the lad's surprise he found Gus, the tramp, just as dirty and
just as cheerful as ever, proudly mounted on one of the newly
arrived horses.  Buck noticed the surprise in Ned's face and
explained:

"The helper I thought I could get fell down on me.  My boarder's
goin' with us.  I guess he'll do."

"You understand you don't know where you're going," said Ned,
approaching Gus as he rolled off his horse, "nor when you're coming
back?"

"I knows dat we ride and dat dere's chuck a-plenty," smiled Gus,
"and whichever way it is," he added lowering his voice and
chuckling, "can't be no worse dan Buck's place--fur me."

"Do you want to go?"

"Well, I ain't a settin' up nights a longin' to, but to oblige a
friend, Mr. Buck, I allowed meself to be persuaded."

"Well, we'll see," said Ned.

Ned rather wanted to watch this young man.  Something suggested that
the tramp was too quick witted to be made a party to their plans.
Ned didn't exactly know what harm the stranger could do them, but he
decided to talk it over with Alan.  While Buck was hitching up the
horses Ned turned to go into the car.

They were loading from the far side opposite the hydrogen cask and
as Ned passed the corner of the car he almost ran into the station
agent.  The agent, who was also the telegraph operator, had a
telegram for Ned, which the boy took eagerly.  Ned had sent a
message to Major Honeywell, telling of their safe arrival, and did
not doubt that this was some important afterthought of the Major's.
The address ran: "Mr. Ned Napier, Private car Placida, Clarkeville,
New Mexico."  Tearing open the envelope Ned read:

"Just learned Kansas City Comet has story mysterious trip for
government starting Clarkeville.  Real object not known.  Look out
not followed.

"Baldwin Honeywell."

With three jumps Ned was in the car and had pull Alan into the
drawing room portion.  The telegram was read again and the two boys
looked at each other in astonishment.

"How could they?" began Alan.

"No matter how," answered Ned, almost out of breath.  "They did and
that's enough. Now I know!"

"Know what?"

Ned pushed his chum to the side of the car and pointed outside where
Buck and his helper were at work.

"Look at him," he exclaimed.

"At Buck?"

"No.  At the tramp who won't wash his face, who has a gentleman's
underclothes and who is so anxious to work for us!"

"Well, I see him.  But--"

"Haven't you ever seen those sharp eyes before?"

"You don't mean--?"

"I do.  If that isn't Bob Russell, the Comet reporter, I'm a goat."



CHAPTER XII

NED TO BOB RUSSELL'S RESCUE


It was a time for quick and fast thinking, and Ned and Alan did it.
Alan's instant suggestion that they denounce the disguised tramp was
almost as quickly voted down.

"So long as we didn't know who he was he had the advantage of us.
Now that we know--" and neither of them now doubted the fact for an
instant.  "We have the advantage of him," argued Ned.  "Let's turn
that knowledge to profit.  We can easily guess what he is trying to
do.  Major Honeywell's message says our real object is not known.
This reporter has learned something, and I suspect he could have
found quite a lot from the train crew.  On that he has written a
good enough story to attract attention.  That shows he is no fool.
And he wouldn't come out here unless he had been sent.  Who would
send him?  Why, his paper, of course, to discover our real mission."

"What can we do to head him off?" mused Alan.

"There are two ways," suggested Ned, "and we've got to make one of
them effective.  I don't know how he has guessed but he must not
have another guess.  And he's seen a good deal."

"We might have him arrested," suggested Alan.

Ned thought awhile.

"I'll tell you, Alan," he said finally.  "The young men of the press
to-day may write fanciful stories, and they may even 'fake' where it
injures no one, but personally they won't lie.  Let's call our tramp
in here, confront him with his imposture and give him his choice of
writing nothing or of being drummed out of town."

"Who'll make him leave town?"

"Marshal Jack Jellup wouldn't need two suggestions on that score.
And more, he'd see that the order was obeyed.  I don't like to do
it, but I think we're justified.  He's taking that chance."

Again the thing was gone over, with arguments for and against, and
then Elmer was hastily dispatched to find Jellup and bring him to
the car.

"And Buck will lose his helper," laughed Alan.

"Better that than a second expedition on our heels," answered Ned

"Gus!" he called, throwing open a window.  "Come in here!"

The tramp soon stood before them.

"Geel Dis is a swell joint," were the tramp's first words as with
apparent awkwardness he entered the car.

Ned acted as spokesman.

"You say you've promised Buck to go with him without knowing where
you are going?"

"Dat's about de cheese."

"Well, we are willing.  But I may as well tell you that this is a
secret expedition.  If you go you must promise that you will not
tell anyone what you see or hear."

The tramp's face suddenly took on a peculiar look, but it was gone
as quickly.

"I gives me woid.  I won't open me trap to no one."

"Meaning you won't say anything about it?" smiled Ned inquiringly.

"Dat's it.  Mum's de woid.  I won't open me trap."

"Nor write anything?"

The furtive look came back, this time more pronounced.

"Me to write!  Wit wot?  Me new typewriter?"

"That isn't an answer.  Do you promise, if we send you with Buck,
that you'll neither tell nor write nor make known in any way what
you learn about what we are doing?"

"Say, look here, boss.  Quit yer kiddin'.  Me name is Lippe and
mebbe I shoot it off a bit too frequent now and then, but you don't
need to be afeered o' me peachin' to de udder'Bos.'"

"I'm not afraid of that," continued Ned.  "We don't care what you
tell all the tramps this side of Kansas City.  But we don't want you
to print anything more about us in the Comet."

Hardly a flush came on the tramp's face.  There was a quick movement
of the lips as if he were about to make protest and then he laughed
outright.

"Bob Russell," said Ned, also laughing, "would you like the use of
our bath tub for a few moments?"

"Would I!" laughed the young reporter rubbing his tinted and smoke
begrimed hands together as if to wash them.  "Well, I guess I would.
My hands are up.  What's next?"

"Wash up and we'll see," exclaimed Ned.

The young reporter was still laughing.  "And if it isn't too much
trouble," he asked, "would you mind if Buck took his check over to
the depot and got the suit case that it calls for?  Then we'll talk
business."

In less than twenty minutes the sun burnt, dirty Gus Lippe had been
transformed into the dapper Bob Russell.  When he reappeared in
fresh linen, outing clothes and a natty straw hat, he was still
laughing.  Approaching the group in the drawing room, where Marshal
Jack Jellup had now arrived, the young reporter took out his pocket
book and a five dollar bill.

"I'll pay that back first," he began; and then noticing one of his
cards he politely handed it to the marshal.  It read:

ROBERT RUSSELL
KANSAS CITY COMET

"Ye'r a purty fresh kid," sneered Jellup.

"At your service, Mr. Officer."

Jellup had already received an explanation of the whole affair and
was aching to exercise his authority.

"Ye'r an impostor," he began, "and ef ye hadn't been caught, ye'd
have taken money on false pretenses.  I was onto ye."

"Oh, now," interrupted Bob, "at two dollars Mex per day I'd have
given good value."

"Mebbe," retorted the marshal, "but these gentlemen hev come here on
particular business and they came like gentlemen.  The officials o'
this city hev give their word that there shouldn't be no interferin'
with their plans.  And thet's what you're a-doin'.  Now git!"

Ned broke in:

"One moment, Mr. Marshall"

"Oh, that's all right, Mr. Napier," exclaimed the reporter, "he
doesn't mean just that.  He knows I don't have to leave here so long
as I obey the law."

"Ye don't, don't ye?" retorted the marshal.  "Well, there ain't no
back east law down here.  Our law books mebbe got all burnt up.  And
mebbe I happen to be purty much o' the law myself.  Ye'll git and
git quick."

Again Ned interfered.

"I suppose if we ask you to permit Mr. Russell to stay here he can,"
he asked.

"Well, I reckon that would be so.  Ef ye ask it I reckon I'll have
to," he replied surlily.

Ned and Alan held a brief consultation.

"We have decided to ask the authorities to permit you to remain here
on one condition."

The intelligent face of Bob took on a quizzical air as he waited to
hear the condition.

"That is," went on Ned, "that you give us your word that you will
not make known anything you have seen here, or of our plans so far
as you may know them."

Bob's answer was immediate.

"I can't do that," he said, "I was sent here to do just that thing,
and as quickly and as fully as I can.  You ought to understand, and
do, I think, that I have a duty to perform.  I've taken the trouble
to come all the way out here to get a story.  I've got it and of
course I'm going to use it.  I should be false to my duty, to my
employers and to myself if I promised not to do this."

"But you don't know our story."

"And I'm sorry.  But I should have known it all if I had had a
little better luck."

"Then you won't promise?"

"Decidedly not."

The boys showed that they were as stubborn as he.

"Then we'll see that you learn no more," Alan exclaimed angrily.

Bob smiled.  "You can't take away what I already know, and it will
take a pretty long story to tell all I am going to guess from what I
have seen."

As he spoke his eyes were on Major Honeywell's chart of the Tunit
Chas Mountains, which had carelessly been left lying on the table
where it had been in use during breakfast in the last explanations
to Elmer.

Ned's face reddened in new anger.  He did not resent what the young
reporter was doing; he even realized that he might do the same thing
himself; but he was chagrined to find himself caught in such a
simple manner.  That was a big piece of additional information for
Russell to have, and Ned knew it.  Hard as the thing was to do he
would at least put the young man out of the way of further
discoveries.

"All right," he exclaimed, "we've tried to do the fair and decent
thing, and if you want to be stubborn Marshal Jellup can do as he
likes."

"Git!"

It was the marshal who spoke and he did so as if it were a pleasure.

"I'll take the Limited west to Gallup at noon," said Russell, "if I
can stop it and catch the eastbound train there to-night."

"Then ye'll flag it along the road," shouted Jellup, "fur ye'll get
out o' here on foot and in a hurry."

"On foot?" exclaimed Russell in surprise.

"That's what I said an' ye heerd me."

Russell looked in appeal at the two boys.

Ned was mad, and mad all over.

"You are so quick to have your own way," he said, "you can't blame
us."

"All right," was the cheery response, "it'll lend a bit of local
color to the story.  Goodbye, boys.  And good luck to you.  I'll see
you when you come back."

"Remember," said Alan relenting a trifle, "we'll let you stay until
we leave if you'll promise to write nothing."

Bob laughed again.

"What good would that do me?  No experience means anything to me
that I can't turn into copy.  And as for walking--I'd walk from here
to Kansas City or crawl before I'd lie down on my shop like that."

"Come on, kid, get busy," exclaimed Jellup again. "An' when ye
start, don't bother about lingerin', because I'll be hangin' around
and I'm good with this at some distance."

As he spoke he drew a Colt 44 and tapped it.

"Never fear, Mr. Jellup," laughed Bob.  "I suppose I can express my
suit case to the next town?"

"Ye can't do no business in this city, d'ye hear?  Now, come on."

"Say, partner," interrupted Bob with his usual good humor, "if you
will let me take a snap of you I'll make you celebrated.  'Famous
gun man' of New Mexico.  It'll be great."

In another moment the nettled marshal had Bob by the shoulder and
was whirling him out of the car.  On the steps he threw the suit
case onto the sandy plain and then pushed the reporter roughly down
the steps.  Ned and Alan stood, with flushed faces, watching the
reporter pick up his hat and suit case.  Then young Russell made a
remark they could not hear and the marshal's revolver flashed in the
air.  They could see the boy's face grow pale at last, but as he
straightened up the two men disappeared around the freight house.

Like a flash Ned was on the ground and after the marshal and his
victim.  Alan and Buck came running in the rear, for the alert Buck
saw that something was in the air.  It was early day and only a
straggler or two was in sight at the depot. The sun, already
mounting high, foretold a day of depressing heat.  The steel lines
of the railway stretched interminably eastward toward the first stop
forty miles away.

Bob Russell, pale but defiant, stood in the middle of the track, his
heavy suit case in his hand.

Suddenly there was the crack of a revolver and the dust flew about
the young reporter's feet.

"Jist as a sample!" roared the angered Jellup.  "The next one'll be
higher up."  And his trembling finger pointed down the hot sandy
track.

There was nothing more to be done.  The pale-faced but nervy
reporter turned toward the east and started slowly down the track.

Ned ran forward.

"Russell!" he shouted, "Russell!"

As the reporter paused and turned, hearing his name, there was a
second report of the marshal's revolver and Russell's suit case flew
from his hand, ripped and torn ragged by a forty-four bullet.

The smoke of the explosion puffed upward and, where it had been, the
marshal saw Ned Napier's automatic magazine revolver under his nose.

The boy was white with indignation.  The possible serious results
that might come to him and his plans meant nothing in his anger at
such a dastardly act.

"It isn't a Colt," he said with dry lips, "but, if you make another
move like that it's got ten shots and they come out all together."



CHAPTER XIII

QUICK JUSTICE IN THE WEST


Jack Jellup, marshal and "bad man," was never more surprised in his
life.  But Jack was no fool, and something in Ned Napier's eyes made
the westerner conclude instantly that he had unexpectedly and
unquestionably "barked up the wrong tree."  For a few moments the
marshal and the young aeronaut stood facing each other and then
Jellup sneered:

"Do you reckon you'd better run this town?"

"No, nor you," quietly answered Ned, "and if that's the way you are
going to do it you can settle with me right now.  I'm going to stand
on my rights."

He was conscious that Russell had hurried back and was behind him.
Another second and there was a sharp click.  Both Jellup and Ned
turned to see the nervy young reporter with the torn suit case open
on the ground at his feet.  A snap shot camera was in his hand.  His
face was white, but there was a trace of his usual smile on it.  Ned
wanted to laugh too, but the situation was too serious.

"I've got you both," said Bob, a little nervously, "and if it's a
good one I've got a dandy--'shooting up the town or the bad man
covered'--"

Had it not been for Ned's lightning-like action these might have
been Bob's last words.  Jellup's pistol had flashed once more, but
as it dew into position Ned's own weapon rose with it under Jellup's
right hand and the marshal's shot passed over Bob's head.  Before
Jellup and Ned could recover themselves Bob's camera was on the
ground and the reporter had his own revolver, which he had grabbed
quickly from the suit case.

In the center of this group now stood, unarmed, Alan Hope and old
Buck.  Almost at the same time a dozen men, attracted by the melee,
had also intervened and had taken charge of the three excited
combatants.

Pushing the crowd right and left appeared the stalwart form of Mayor
Curt Bradley, weaponless, but with the stem face of one who gives
orders that cannot be ignored.

"Put 'em up, every one of you," he exclaimed; "do ye hear?  Put 'em
up."

"Ye'r both under arrest," shouted Jellup to Ned and Bob.

There was a quick explanation and then Mayor Bradley, still very
stem of face, ordered everybody across the street to his office
above the drug store.  Men seemed to spring out of the ground, and
the room was instantly packed to suffocation.  Marshal Jellup made a
formal charge against the two boys of  "resisting and interfering
with an officer" and then each told his story.  The decision was
immediate.  Mayor Bradley ordered that both boys be released and the
court be instantly cleared.

Jellup made his way noisily toward the door, his face white with
rage.  Apparently a number present were his friends and cronies, for
the looks of sympathy that he got turned into open murmurs of
dissent.

Mayor Bradley was on his feet at once.

"What's the matter?" he began incisively.  "Is there some one here
who wants to appeal from my decision?"

The hubbub subsided but there wag no response.

"The time to make any complaint about my decision is right now and
to me," went on the tall Bradley, looking over those in the room.

But no one apparently cared to take up Jellup's cause.  When the
spectators had gone the Mayor, who had sternly watched the slow exit
of the last loiterer, turned to the boys.

"I thank you, Mr. Bradley," exclaimed Ned earnestly.

"And I want to thank both of you," quickly added Bob Russell, taking
the hand of each.  "I'm the cause of this and I'm sorry.  I guess
you saved my life twice," he added, wringing Ned's hand.  "If it
hadn't been for you the Comet certainly would never have heard from
me again.  I guess that, puts all my obligation up to you."

"No," said Ned, "I can't let you say that.  You have your own duty
just as I have mine.  We'll go over to the car and wait for the two
o'clock Limited.  Then you are at liberty to go and write your story
and do its you like."

"He don't have to leave," interrupted the Mayor; "this is a free
town and it's going to be an orderly one."

"And I'm not going to," broke in Bob.  "You've got yourself in a
muss over me and some of these soreheads may try to make you more
trouble.  If you'll let me, I'll stay to the end and if it comes to
a mix-up I'm going to be right there with you."

Mayor Bradley smiled and old Buck slapped the reporter on the back.

"But how about the story you say you are going to write about us,"
asked Alan.

"There wouldn't have been any story if it hadn't been for Mr.
Napier," replied Bob.  "And there isn't going to be one until he
tells me to write it.  It's up to him."

Ned was looking out of the window at the curious loungers standing
in the street.  He was thinking of the work yet to be done and of
all the difficulties that the discomfited marshal might put in his
way.  It wasn't a "picnic proposition."  He didn't fear for himself,
but the thought of his expensive and delicate outfit and of how
easily it might be irreparably injured was not reassuring.

"Russell," he said finally, "I think we need you.  If you care to
stay with us we'll be glad to have you.  It isn't because I don't
want to be bluffed by Jellup, but because you are game.  If you'll
go with Buck and Elmer, I'll try to make it worth your while--some
time--and you shall be the historian of this expedition--when the
time comes to write its story."

Am hour later the delayed overland expedition was on its way toward
the desert.  There had been a quick shopping expedition in the
stores of Clarkeville and Bob Russell, in a new hat and boots and
various other articles of clothing, most of them too large for him,
sat proudly on the driver's seat of the second wagon.  Around his
waist was a new cartridge belt and holster carrying Ned's gift, a 44
revolver--"for game or rattlesnakes," as the boys expressed it, but
the weapon was not concealed when the little cavalcade traversed the
main street of the town, and if Jellup was an onlooker Ned felt sure
that the outwitted marshal would think twice before again molesting
the expedition.

"All set," laughed Bob, as the final farewells had been said, and he
held up his camera, "now for the real thing."

Ned and Alan were now alone.  To tell the truth, the excitement of
the morning had been rather trying for them, but if it left them a
trifle nervous they soon forgot their apprehension in making the
last of the transfer.  There was now another reason for abandoning
the car.   With headquarters established in the corral they would be
near the balloon and its equipment, and if Jellup should permit his
ill will to develop into some overt act, they would be in a position
more easily to protect themselves.  For that reason a number of
their "greaser" assistants were taken to the car before noon and the
hydrogen cask was loaded on the small wagon and carefully freighted
to the corral.  Then followed the remainder of the provisions and
the personal belongings of the boys.  Early in the afternoon the
Placida was closed and turned over to the railway agent.



CHAPTER XIV

BUILDING AN AIR SHIP


When Ned announced to Alan that they would at once unpack and test
the motor--"for we might as well stop if the engine isn't right," as
he put it--all thoughts of the troubles of the early day vanished.
And the motor certainly was a beauty.  Though some expert had
recommended the French motor, Ned had preferred to use one made in
America, not only because he had been able to get it quicker but
because he believed it as good as the foreign make.

The engine had eight air-cooled cylinders, in two sets of four,
placed at an angle of ninety degrees to each other.  The crank case
was of aluminum and the shaft of vanadium steel, hollow, and
specially treated to insure toughness.  All the studs or bolts were
of the same steel.  Complete, with balance wheel, it weighed two
hundred pounds.  The ignition was accomplished by six dry batteries
and a single-wire vibrating coil.  It was rated at fifty horsepower.

So exactly had the preliminary work been done at the factory that in
two hours the boys were able to have the engine bolted to the
section of the car where it was to be used, and before evening the
radiator tubes and pump of the cooling system were also in place.
Temporary connections were set up and the sparking wires attached,
and then the reservoir was filled with gasoline.  A little jar as
the wheel was turned, then a couple of sharp explosions, and the
engine fell to its work as if it had been running for weeks.

Ned shut it off after a moment's critical inspection.

"Let her flicker!" pleaded Alan.  "We've waited so long for a real
one that I like to hear her buzz."

"We'll let her buzz when we can use the buzz," laughed Ned.
"Gasoline is gasoline, you know."

Night did not stop the work of the eager lads.  As soon as they had
eaten a light meal, Ned and Alan, with a couple of lanterns and a
half dozen of candles, began to adjust the sections of the car.
These, seven in number, when joined, were 54.12 feet in length.  The
American spruce frame and the aluminum joints were all intact.  This
work finished the day.

Blankets on the rough floor were good enough for the explorers that
night.  The luxury of the Placida's mattresses and fresh sheets was
missed, as was Elmer's skill as a chef when it was time for
breakfast the next morning.  The boys were not so indifferent about
this meal as they had been about that of the evening before.  They
had no stove, but they took the time to arrange a regular camp in a
comer of the corral.  A little fire was soon burning, at which they
made coffee and toasted some bacon.  This, with hardtack and some
preserved fruit, they thought was enough, for they were determined
not to disturb the carefully packed provisions that were to be
carried in the balloon.

"Have you had enough?" asked Ned as the last piece of scorched bacon
disappeared.

"Enough?" answered Alan.  "A regular banquet!"

Just then there was a loud thump on the closed door of the barn.

"The hands are arriving," explained Ned, and he hastened to open the
door.

A few of the workmen were there, but the knocking had been done by a
pleasant faced woman--apparently a Mexican.  A black shawl covered
her head and one arm.  It was Mrs. Bourke, Buck's wife.

"I thought," she said smiling, "hungry."

Without further words she threw back the shawl and revealed a small
tin pail.  The appetizing odor made Ned's mouth water.  In the
bottom of the bucket were frijoles, or boiled and fried Mexican
black beans cooked in pepper, and on top of these were a half dozen
smoking hot tortillas or corn cakes.

"Mrs. Buck," exclaimed Alan, "you have saved our lives!"

All recollection of his recent banquet seemed to have disappeared,
and so did Mrs. Bourke's bucket of beans and cakes, in double-quick
order.  The reward was a bright silver dollar for the thoughtful
woman and a contract that she should come three times a day and
prepare the boys' meals.  It would have been easier to have gone to
Buck's home, only a short distance away, but the boys were now
determined to stay in the corral, or leave it only one at a time.
However, they soon developed a taste for Mrs. Bourke's peculiar hot
wholesome dishes and these, with what provisions they had on hand,
were a fair substitute for Elmer's cooking.

The frijoles having been disposed of, Ned at once went out, and was
fortunate in finding a load of rough lumber and a sort of
jack-carpenter.  With the help of the boys a four foot-high series of
"horses" or frames was set up in the center of the corral.  This was
for the car to rest on while it was being assembled.  It was
elevated so that the propeller and aeroplanes and rudder could all
be tested after being set up.  The propeller, 11.48 feet in length,
revolved in bearings four feet above the bottom of the car.

After noonday refreshment the middle section of the car, to which
the engine was already attached, was carefully lifted into place
with the aid of the workmen, and then the laborers were paid off and
dismissed--all except the watchmen.  From now on there was nothing
that the boys could not do themselves, and they wanted to be
undisturbed and alone.  The putting together of the car was a treat
of which they had long dreamed and they were happy in their work.

The remaining sections were easily laid on 'the "horses" and then
came the bolts and the bracing with piano wire.  When brought
together the fifty-four foot long skeleton was in shape much like a
cigar.  The main frame was six feet high, tapering to five feet at
each end.  In depth the dimensions were the same.  The engine rested
on the floor of the middle section and was accessible in all its
parts from that compartment.  An elevation of the floor in the
forward part of this section made it possible for one to stand high
enough to have an outlook in all directions through openings in a
hooded elevation that projected above the top of the section.

This hood was of a waterproof silk, coated with powdered aluminum,
that metal being used because of its semi-incombustibility.  This
silk also covered the sides of the central compartment, making a
wind-, rain- and waterproof cabin.  The lookout windows on all four
sides were covered with isinglass. The bottom of the framework of
the car forward and aft of the engine compartment had a ladder-like
flooring of spruce, inserted more for strengthening the car than for
service.  But on top of the car, reaching from end to end, was a
continuous runway two feet wide which could be used in hurriedly
visiting either propeller or rudder.  This runway was protected by
guide ropes of Italian hemp running through posts extended upward
from the sides of the car.  The top of the engine compartment was
completely floored, making a platform 6 x 6.12 feet square.  This
was surrounded by a protecting network, and Alan named it the
"bridge."

A light rope-ladder extended into the engine cabin from an opening
in the roof, making the top floor space or bridge and the upper
runways quickly accessible.  The gasoline reservoir, just forward of
the engine, was connected with the bridge by a copper supply pipe.
The extra supply of gasoline was to be carried on the bridge in the
open air, and lashed to the netting instead of being stored in
permanent reservoirs as is the usual practice.  This was in order
that the empty vessels might be thrown overboard when it was
necessary to lighten the balloon.

The other sections of the car were each 8 feet long and decreasing
in height from 6 feet next the cabin to 5 feet at the end of the
car.  In the two sections just forward of the cabin and in the two
just aft provision had been made for attaching the eight liquid
hydrogen casks--four at each end.  As this liquid was reconverted
into gas the light sheet-iron casings might likewise be cast
overboard to lighten the balloon.  As needed, the liquid hydrogen
jars, coated with mercury, were to be taken from their casings and
carried to the bridge where the reconverter was located.

Aft of the engine cabin was the store room for water and provisions.
The grooves and rods for the counterweights and equilibrium adjuster
ran in the middle of the upper footway and the propeller shaft
rested on the bottom of the forward section of the car.

At ten o'clock that evening all the work on the car was finished
except the buckling on of the aluminum silk sides and the hanging of
the propeller, the rudder and the aeroplane sides.  It was as long
and as hard a day's work as either of the boys had ever done.  They
were dead tired, but happy, and after a sousing wash-up they got
into their pajamas and, throwing their blankets on the floor of the
little office, were soon fast asleep.



CHAPTER XV

HOW JACK JELLUP LOST AN ARM


In spite of his fatigue Ned did not sleep soundly.  It had been
threatening a thunder storm all evening and the increasing
oppressiveness of the air made the young, aeronaut wakeful.  The
long whistle and jarring stop of the midnight local train finally
fully aroused him.  In the west the thunder was rumbling and great
sheets of heat lightning promised a storm in a short time.  After
slipping out into the corral and seeing that the waterproof silk
sides of the car were securely buttoned around the engine Ned
returned and again tried to go to sleep.

But his restlessness continued.  In his early sleep he had had a
vivid dream about the wagon expedition.  In this he thought that
Marshal Jack Jellup had followed Elmer, Bob and Buck and set fire to
the wagons while his friends were asleep in camp.  It was a relief
to awaken and find that the flash of light was lightning and not, as
he had imagined in his dream, an explosion of the gasoline carried
in Buck's big wagon.  He lay awake awhile regretting the quarrel
with Jellup, and then he sank into a doze again.

But his active brain would not rest.  Again he fell into a dream.
This time the picture was very real.  The big balloon had been
finished and launched.  A thrill ran through him as he felt the
monster craft poise and waver and then slowly rise above the corral.
He could hear the cheers of those gathered about.  But in the midst
of them he heard the sudden crack of a revolver.  Jack Jellup had
put a bullet through the silken bulk of the bag.  The cold
perspiration broke out on Ned's forehead.

The dream was so real that he thought he could hear the taunting
voice of Jellup.  In feverish excitement Ned sprang upright, to find
a pair of strong arms clasped about him.  He did not cry out.  A
wave of cold fear seemed to benumb his tongue and brain.  He knew
this was no dream.

Forced onto his back, his face and eyes partly covered by the
shoulders of his sudden captor, Ned's returning consciousness made
him aware that there was a dim light in the office.

"It's Jellup, Ned," exclaimed in a whisper a sudden voice which Ned
instantly recognized as Alan's.

"No more from you," exclaimed a rough voice in quick reply.  "Here's
the rope, Domingo."

The man on top of Ned knew his business.  Almost before the boy
realized what was being done his hands and feet were caught in
dexterous knots and he was helpless.

"Now," continued the other voice, "let's have a few minutes' talk."

Ned's assailant had arisen, and for the first time the boy could
look about.  In the center of the room, with a sputtering candle in
his hand, stood the revengeful Jellup.  His companion Ned at once
remembered as one of the noisy court room spectators of the day
before.  Between the two, clad in his pajamas and similarly bound,
was poor Alan.

"Ye can stand or set, jist as ye like," began Jellup.  "Me and me
deputy hev made this little visit to ye fur a purpose. The  citizens
of this town is tired of yer carryin's on and they've just delegated
me to ascertain what it all means.  We got a purty good idee."

"Well, what is your idea?" interrupted Ned, slowly regaining his
composure and his natural defiance.

"My idee is that ye don't need no flyin' machine anywhar except to
git away quick and what we want to know is what air ye goin' to take
with you when ye fly away?"

"Nothing that doesn't belong to us," answered Ned, "if that is what
you mean."

"Ye ain't, eh?  I suppose ye don't know that thar's enough cow money
in our bank to be worth stealin'?"

Both Ned and Alan looked at each other astounded.

"You don't think we look like safe robbers, do you?" began Alan.

"Ye look just slick enough fur that and more," retorted the marshal
who had placed the candle on the table and roughly pulled Ned to his
feet.  "But I didn't come here to argy.  Ye began by vilatin' the
law and ye didn't come the way down here for no fun.  Ef that ain't
yer game, and we don't put it above ye, what's yer lay?"

"There's only one answer," said Ned.  "None of your business."

The marshal shoved Ned nearer the table.

"Mebbe ye want to apologize fur that little bluff of yers
yesterday--"

"No," said Ned, "but I'll accept yours."

Jellup's right hand was on his revolver.

"I ain't hyar to make no threats," he exclaimed, "and ye don't need
to be afeered that I'm going to shoot ye.  But I've got just one
other little proposition.  Ef ye don't cotton to that, why, thar
ain't agoin' to be no Fourth o' July balloon ascension around hyar."

Ned straightened up.

"Your proposition can't be a fair one or you wouldn't come like a
thief at this time of night--"

Jellup's pistol flashed in the air but fell back again as the
marshal's left hand shot upward and struck Ned full in the face.
Even as the tears sprang into the bound boys eyes and pain and anger
flushed his pallid face, the cowardly Jellup fell backward and
stumbled to the floor.  Alan, standing just behind the man, had shot
his knees forward, striking Jellup's legs in the hollow of his
knees, and, thrown off his balance, the westerner lay sprawling on
the floor.  Before the marshal's confederate could interfere, Alan,
tightly as he was bound, had flung himself on top of Jellup and with
all the power he could throw into the act had butted his head into
the marshal's face.

Am oath and a cry of pain indicated how true the stroke had been.
Both Ned and the companion of Jellup sprang forward at the same time
and the four fell in a silent distorted heap.  But the encounter was
unequal.  In another moment both boys were lying side by side on the
floor and their captors stood over them.  Even in the half light of
the little room both boys could see the blood-smeared cheek of the
marshal.

Jellup's hand was on Domingo's arm holding him back from further
attack on the helpless boys and the marshal was restraining his
anger as a snake withholds its venom until it strikes.

"Purty good," sneered the marshal, "and the funny thing is ye hain't
got a bullet through ye fur it.  But my business ain't with dead
ones.  Onct more, air ye goin' to say what ye'r a plannin' to do?"

"Since it doesn't concern you in the least," said Ned, slowly, "no."

Jellup was silent a moment.

"Fur kids ye seem to have plenty o' money.  Ye'r purty free
spenders.  I'll give ye one more chance.  Ef ye've got a thousand
dollars handy fur a kind of a bond as it were I guess that'll sort
o' protect us."

"You mean for bribery?" exclaimed Alan.

"No, just instead of stealing," angrily added Ned.  "We haven't a
thousand dollars and if we had you couldn't get a cent of it.  And
to save you some trouble I'll say that what we have is in your
bank."

Another half-uttered oath sounded on Jellup's lips.

"In thet case," retorted the marshal, "we'll jest show you that we
mean business.  That's a lie about the bank.  Produce or take the
consequences."

"Help yourself," replied Ned, "if you think we are lying."

"I ain't no pickpocket," retorted Jellup, "this is official.  I tell
ye it's a bond and this is yer last chanct to make good."

The boys remained silent.

But Jellup's companion was already busy.  Leaving the marshal to
stand guard over the boys he made a quick search of their clothing.
But Ned was not so used to money as to be careless in the handling
of it and the six hundred dollars that he had in gold was in a belt
carefully concealed in the top of the liquid hydrogen crate, which,
for safety, had been stored in a corner of the room.

When the silent Domingo threw down the working garments of the boys
he took up the candle and began a tour of the room.  The big black
liquid hydrogen crate attracted his attention and he approached it.
The red "Explosive--no fire" letters of warning apparently meant
nothing to him, but Jellup halted him with a sharp warning, followed
by a few words in Mexican.  Domingo handed the candle to Jellup and
the latter stepped toward the box.

"That means what it says," exclaimed Ned quickly and sharply.

The crate stood as it had been carried from Washington with the top
on and the connecting hose extended upward through a hole made in
the low roof in order that the slowly accumulating reconverted gas
might escape in safety.

"Mebbe," said Jellup, "mebbe yes and mebbe no.  I guess they ain't
nothin' agoin' to explode that ain't set afire."

Ned noticed with satisfaction that the lid was properly locked.
Jellup noticed it too.  Without a word, he turned and easily found
Ned's keys.  Again he approached the crate, looking over the keys.

"Jellup," exclaimed Ned in alarm, "there's gas in that box, and if
you go near it with a light you'll blow us all up."

"Gas, eh?" answered the eager Jellup.  "Don't run no sich bluffs on
me."

"I warn you," cried Ned as the man approached the box, "it's taking
your life in your hands."

Something in the tone of Ned's voice must have alarmed Jellup, for
he paused.  Then he retreated a few steps and handed the almost
burned out candle to the vigilant Domingo.

"I allow I kin jest hev a look without no light to oblige you.  I've
been purty curious about this precious package ever since I see it.
And ye'r a sight too anxious consarnin' my safety."

What might really happen Ned did not exactly know.  The gas
generated from the liquid hydrogen was highly inflammable and
explosive when confined.  But the evaporation was exceedingly slow
and the exhaust hose should easily carry the forming gas in safety
to the air.  But even a small accumulation might be in the partly
depleted bulbs or the top of the crate and a fire would certainly
ensue even if there was no violent explosion.  And besides, just
beneath the lid was their money--the cash Ned had secured for their
further expenses and the return home.

"We are anxious for all of us," explained Alan.

"And mebbe anxious fur something else," sneered the marshal.  "I
reckon a peek in the dark ain't agoin' to hurt no one--an' it may
help some."

"Drop on your face, Alan," whispered Ned, "and lie flat."

It was the only precaution they could take.  Both felt that all
their plans might end in a moment.  But Ned could not resist
watching--even though his face was close to the floor.  He saw
Jellup examine each key, guess the right one at once and then insert
it in the lock.  Yet, despite his assumed bravado, it was apparent
that the man had considerable apprehension.  For, before he turned
the lock, he motioned to Domingo to retire further with the candle.

Finally, as if summoning his courage, the avaricious marshal snapped
the key, threw back the catches on each end of the crate and then
slowly and gingerly and at arm's length began to lift the lid.  With
the top an inch ajar he paused, waited a moment or two, and then
began sniffing as if searching for an odor.

Ned saw him.

"It doesn't smell," he explained quickly, "but it's there.  Look
out!"

"Don't smell!" retorted Jellup.  "Gas as don't smell?  Well, that's
agoin' some, I guess."

Nevertheless, he had dropped the lid.

But as quickly recovering himself he reached forward again and with
a quick motion threw the top up and sprang back.

To Ned's relief nothing happened.  Either the light was too far away
or the gas had all been removed by the hose.  But this relief was
quickly succeeded by another alarm.  There had been no explosion,
but their financial means were now at the mercy of two thieves, and
he and his churn, bound and helpless, were powerless to protect
either themselves or their funds.  There was nothing to be done but
to grin and bear it.  For Ned's new leather money belt, containing
six hundred dollars in gold was stretched out conspicuously and at
full length on top of one of the two rows of glass bulbs in the
case.

"Lyin', as I thought," exclaimed Jellup.  "Gimme' the light,
Domingo."  And the chuckle that followed almost instantly was
indication enough that he had discovered the boys' small fortune.

"Dangerous, eh!" he laughed.  "Now, we'll see if the city gits its
bond."

Then he paused as if a thought had entered his head.

"But, jest to keep the record clean, I reckon ye'd better give it to
me yerself, young 'un.  Jack Jellup ain't no burglar.  Loosen him
up, Domingo.  And fur fear ye might need persuadin' jest take a peek
at this," and he drew his revolver.

When Ned had been liberated, Jellup pointed to the money belt.

"Jest be good enough to hand me whatever's in that," he exclaimed,
"without no hesitation.  Then we'll have a little talk about what
else is agoin' to happen."

It was hard to surrender so easily but the risk of attacking two
armed men single-handed was great.  Ned walked slowly toward the
crate.

"Get busy," ordered Jellup; "we've got other business yit to talk
of."

Ned had a sudden impulse.  The thing flashed on him and taking hold
of the belt in the middle he lifted it until the two ends were just
over an open-mouthed bulb of hydrogen, and then as if by accident
dropped the belt into the jar.  The clear, watery liquid splashed
and the belt disappeared.

"Water," shouted the eager Jellup, "Jist plain water."  And as Ned
sprang back the gold-fevered marshal sprang forward and plunged his
hand into the liquid.

He did not immediately know that his hand was in the depth of a
liquid whose temperature was 423 degrees below zero.  But the thin
film of gas that instantly formed and protected his naked flesh
dissipated in a moment and then one benumbing, paralyzing shock
swept over Jack Jellup's body.

With a cry wrung from him by pain such as few mortals have ever
experienced and survived, the stricken man fell unconscious to the
floor--his arm frozen as solid as crystallized steel.



CHAPTER XVI

READY TO "LET GO ALL"


In the confusion that followed the sudden extinction of the candle,
while Ned was freeing Alan and Jack Jellup was uttering heartrending
groans, the marshal's confederate lost his nerve and made his
escape.  When a lantern had been procured, immediate attention was
given to the stricken man.

Ned hastened to secure a bucket of water.  Wrapping the corner of a
blanket about the handle of a tin dipper he ladled out a spoonful of
the liquid hydrogen and, although the numbing chill ran through his
fingers and up his arm, he managed to pour the hydrogen into the
contents of the bucket.

The pail of lukewarm water became almost instantly a cake of solid
ice.  As Ned dropped the tin dipper to the hard adobe floor it flew
into a hundred pieces.  The inconceivable cold had crystallized the
metal until the slightest shock was sufficient to break it into
pieces.

At the sound of the crashing tin Ned instantly thought of the belt
of gold yet in the hydrogen jar.  But a human being was in pain, and
he gave his first attention to the suffering marshal.  He had made
the ice to use in drawing the frost out of Jellup's frozen arm.  In
a few moments he had mashed a portion of the ice into small bits,
and using a blanket to make a pack, he soon had Jellup's rigid arm
encased in the fine ice.  This he applied for the same reason that
snow and ice water are applied to frozen ears and noses.  But his
treatment was of no avail.

The rain was now falling steadily and it was dark, but Ned found
that it was nearly day--a little after four o'clock.  Jellup's
suffering was so extreme that the boys had given him a hypodermic
insertion of morphine, using their "snake-bite" outfit, and in a few
minutes the man's ravings ceased and he quieted into a deep sleep.

While awaiting this, attention was given the gold.  Feeling free to
approach the now open jars with a light it was seen that a portion
of, the belt protruded above the liquid.  A cord with a sailor slip
knot was lowered over the extended bit of leather, drawn taut with a
jerk and the belt was slowly lifted out.  A folded blanket had been
placed on the floor to receive it.  As Ned expected, the leather
crumbled and broke like glass as the belt fell on the soft blanket.

"If you want change for a twenty-dollar gold piece just tap one of
those with a stick." said Ned, laughing and pointing to the gold
pieces scattered among the broken fragments of the belt.

"Not I," exclaimed Alan, "not after what happened to the tin
dipper."

Leaving Alan to watch over the unconscious Jellup and the frozen
gold, Ned dressed himself, and in spite of the rain hastened out in
the just perceptible dawn to carry out a plan he and Alan had agreed
upon.  An hour later, with the assistance of Mayor Bradley, the
marshal, now somewhat easier, was placed in a bed in his own home.
Unless the silent Mexican told it no soul in all Clarkeville other
than Mayor Bradley and the air ship boys knew why Jellup was absent
from his haunts and his post of duty that day.  Nor did many of them
ever know, when Jellup reappeared on the streets after weeks of
suffering, how he had been injured.  They only knew that his right
arm was gone and that he was no longer marshal.

The rain ceased with the coming of the day.

"If we don't get away pretty soon," suggested Alan, as Ned was
getting into dry clothing preparatory to tackling another of Mrs.
Buck's meals, "this thing will be getting on my nerves."

"Well," answered Ned philosophically, "there is mighty little worth
having in this world that isn't hard to get."

If all went well that day the boys hoped to be ready to make their
departure that night or the next morning.  Therefore they went to
work with a vim.  Both felt more comfortable when, after finding
that the gold coins had returned to their normal condition, they had
again concealed them.  The propeller, rudder and aeroplane guides
were now put in place and tested.

As the engine, with a speed of 1,400 revolutions but geared down to
800, began to turn the shaft and the twelve-foot propeller began to
revolve, Ned swung his hat in the air.  Without a break the speed
increased to 500, 600, and then 700 revolutions a minute.

"Shut her off," exclaimed Alan joyously, as the white arms flew
round and round and the air shot backwards on both sides of the long
car.  At 750 revolutions the car was rocking and lurching as if it
would soar birdlike into the air.  At 800 the powerful pulling
propeller began to overcome the rigidity of the framework on which
the car rested and as Alan caught and held the car, fearful that it
was about to fly away under the propeller power alone, Ned shut off
the engine.

The next instant the two boys, with clasped hands, were doing an
Indian war dance in their glee.

It was not long until the rudder wires and the aeroplane shafts had
been attached to their proper guide wheels in the lookout or pilot
portion of the engine cabin.  Then came the preparation of the
balloon bag itself.  Here again Ned showed what he had accomplished
in the six weeks he had spent in the East.

Clearing a space near the generating tanks, they placed the one
hundred sand bags, weighing forty pounds each, in parallel rows.
These sacks, with convenient loops on each for attaching the rigging
of the bag as it was being filled, had already been prepared by the
"greaser" laborers, but the placing of the two tons of dead weight
was not a joke, and the boys regretted that they had not kept a few
men around.  But by noon this was done, and then the great
waterproof fiber trunk containing the silk bag was rolled out
between the retaining bags.  The boys could not carry it, as the
balloon itself weighed seven hundred and twenty pounds, but they
improvised rollers and with many a laughing "yo he ho" finally
accomplished the task.

The bag had been made by one of the leading aeronautical engineers
of America, whose factory, strangely enough, was in one of the small
inland towns of New York State.  In a spirit of humor the
manufactory had been termed the "Balloon Farm," and so famous was it
that Ned had even planned to spend a part of his summer vacation
visiting it.  When Major Honeywell gave him the opportunity, Ned was
at once determined to utilize every advanced idea of the skilled
owner, whatever the cost.

The result was a machine-varnished and, as nearly as such a thing
was possible, hydrogen gas-proof bag.  In the construction of this
the experienced manufacturer and engineer, who was no other than
Professor Carl E. Meyers, the hero of hundreds of ascents, had used
a new machine which applied simultaneously to both sides of the bag
fabric several thin films of elastic varnish.  The bag itself
consisted of two layers of Japan silk between which was a layer of
rubber, all being sewed together and then vulcanized.

But the balloon trunk was not opened at once.  The pipe to convey
the gas from the cooler and purifying tank had been brought in
four-foot lengths of light wood, cemented and shellacked.  Eight
lengths of these were laid to the center of the cleared place and
then the joints were wound with binding cement tape.  When these
things had been satisfactorily adjusted it was mid-afternoon.
Everything now seemed ready for the filling up of the generating
tanks, the inflation, the flight, and "good-bye."

Therefore, a final consultation was held.  Wind tests conducted each
day had shown the prevailing breezes favorable, or at least not
against the aeronauts.  The inflation would require approximately
ten hours.  If begun at once this would make the departure possible
about midnight.  This was not undesirable as the absence of the hot
southwestern sun would make the gas easier to control.  But another
thing had to be taken into consideration.  Only four days had
elapsed since Elmer and Bob and Buck had started.  Were they yet at
the rendezvous?

"I don't see what difference that makes," said Alan.  "We expect to
sail directly north and east of the foothills.  If they have not
reached their camp they must be nearly there and on the way.  We've
got to locate them with our glasses anyway.  Let's start and pick
them up where we find them."

"True enough," answered Ned.  "The way the engine is working, in
this light favoring wind, we ought to make eighteen miles an hour
anyway.  If we leave at midnight, by five o'clock in the morning we
can be ninety miles north.  The only trouble is in the handling of
the bag.  It's going to take at least twenty men to move the
inflated bag from the retaining weights to the car and we can't make
the rigging fast in the dark.  We'd better begin work at four
o'clock to-morrow morning, as soon as it begins to be light, and get
away about two in the afternoon.  I think we'll see our friends
about seven or just at dark, if we do."



CHAPTER XVII

AN INTERRUPTED FLIGHT


And so it was arranged.  The young aeronauts thus had all afternoon
to store provisions, water, gasoline and the instruments.  The
altitude barometer, the recording thermometer, the statoscope and
recording hygrometer, together with the telescopic camera were each
given a place on the bridge and lashed to the netting.  The
twenty-five-foot rope-ladder, strong but light, that was to hang
below the car, and the anchor and drag rope, were attached, the name
pennant of white with the word "Cibola" resplendent in blue, "turquoise
blue," explained Ned--was unfurled on its little staff just abaft the
big propeller, and a new silk American flag was laid out it the stern
of the car to be run up on its halyards as soon as the bag was attached.

Then came the careful transfer of the liquid hydrogen.  One at a
time the cast iron eases were carried from the building, hoisted
aboard the car and lashed in place.  Before supper Ned had time to
go to the depot and send a telegram to Major Honeywell, who was yet
in Chicago.  It read:

"Ready for inflation.  All O. K.  Sail at 2 P. M. to-morrow, August
11."

He then visited "Saloon Row" and arranged for twenty men to report
at four o'clock the next morning.  No chances were to be taken that
night.  Dividing the hours up to four A. M. into two watches, the
two boys had supper and Ned was soon fast asleep on the floor of the
car "trying it out."

At the first blush of dawn the corral gates were thrown open and in
a short time all the men engaged reported.  Some of them were put to
work dumping the heavy iron filings into the big oak gas generators
and Ned and Alan began the delicate work of laying out the bag,
bottom side up the thin silken folds of the golden shell were slowly
lifted and laid on the ground.  When the bottom filling valve had
been attached to the wooden gas conduits the mammoth sections of the
long gas receptacle were stretched out on top and then carefully
smoothed until an even inflation was assured.

This done, the rigging trunk was opened and the seine-like mass of
delicate hemp cords laid over the bag.  No "greasers" were permitted
to assist in this.  Ned and Alan, in bare feet, laboriously but
carefully drew the silk folds of the bag into the net.  When this
was completed the suspension cords reached out in all directions
like skeleton fingers.  In a quarter of an hour these had been
attached to the retaining bags with slip knots and then the boys
were surprised to find that it was already after six o'clock.  At
their best they could not now hope to reach the relief camp before
nine o'clock and after dark.

Mrs. Buck came with a huge pot of coffee for all, and then followed
the last step.  One by one, borne on the shoulders of the curious
workmen, the dangerous carboys of sulphuric acid were emptied into
the generating tanks.  The boys guided each step of the men,
explaining the danger, and the work was finally completed without
hitch or accident.

At the first bubble of gas the boys felt like doing another war
dance.  But they were "business men" now and had to put on dignity
in the face of their employees.  In two hours the reaction of the
bubbling acid had sent enough hydrogen through the purifier to raise
the bag shoulder-high and everything was going splendidly.  The boys
had removed their working clothes and were now in the light but warm
canvas suits and caps they meant to wear in their flight.

Ned stole away a few minutes and at the bank secured bills to pay
off the men.  On his way back he stopped to invite Mayor Bradley to
lunch with them on the Cibola and to be present at the "let go."  By
noon the men had been paid and the articles of baggage and tools
that were to be left behind had been packed, tagged with shipping
directions and turned over to Buck's wife.

The cigar-like bag, 98.4 feet long and 17.4 feet in diameter, which
was to hold over 65,000 feet of gas, was now so far inflated that it
was nearly off the ground.  Then Mayor Bradley came.  With pride the
boys bade him climb into the cabin of the Cibola.

"You won't find anything hot in a balloon, Mr. Mayor," laughed Ned,
"except the reception.  Make yourself at home."

On the bridge of the craft the two boys and their guest had
luncheon.  Cold potted chicken and baked beans served on wooden
plates with hardtack and water, and sweet chocolate for dessert, was
the simple meal, but it tasted like a feast.

"Have you christened the craft yet?" finally asked the Mayor who had
absorbed some of the enthusiasm of the young aeronauts.

"That's for you to do," politely answered Ned.

The luncheon was hurried to a finish, for the boys could see that
the bag needed final attention.  It had risen higher and higher and
was now swaying and tugging at the suspension ropes.  Both boys
alighted and at once began straightening the extension ropes.  Here
and there where the cordage net was out of place they pulled down
the bag and adjusted the rigging.  Finally a little after three
o'clock, the great case had filled out until its smooth glistening
sides resembled the skin of a fat sausage.

"All ready!" ordered Ned as he shut of the valve of the cooling and
purifying box.  "Now, every man bear a hand."

One at a time the extension cords were untied from the retaining
bags, and each of the workmen was given four of the light but strong
lines.  The Mayor himself passed among the men with stern
injunctions to hold fast.  As the last cord was loosed the great
tugging bag was held wholly by the scared men.  Then, with slow and
measured steps, the double line of assistants advanced to the car
and along each side of it.

"All steady," commanded Ned when each man had been placed; "now hang
onto her."

Then he and Alan, springing into the car, began the work of making
it fast to the bag.  There was a place marked for each of the
extension ropes, and the air ship builders, beginning at each end of
the car, carefully adjusted and tied the end of each rope to the
frame of the ship.  As the cords were taken from the attendants the
men took hold of the lower framework of the car, and to make doubly
sure each man was cautioned to throw his entire weight into the
work.

At last the final rope was made fast, and three thousand pounds of
human flesh and muscle were holding the tugging balloon.  Ned,
covered with perspiration, and nervous but happy, was hastily
connecting the compensating balloon tube with the hand blower on the
bridge, and Alan had run astern to tie the new national colors to
the halyards swinging from the end of the bag.

"Hold on," cried Ned seeing that Alan was ready to run up the stars
and stripes. "Just a moment.  Are you all ready, Mr. Mayor?"

"All ready," came the answer from the town official, as he stood on
a box, his hat off and a revolver in his hand.

"With a western salute I christen this balloon the 'Cibola,'" he
exclaimed, and a shot punctuated his speech.  "Good luck and
goodbye!"

As the shot sounded Alan's flag ran fluttering upwards.  Ned's eyes
took one final look fore and aft and then he leaned over the car for
the last words for which all were waiting.

They were on his lips and the eyes of twenty straining men were
fixed on him to hear the command, "Let go."  One nervous attendant,
apparently thinking the order had been given, threw up his arms with
a shout.

At that instant there was a second sharp pistol shot, and a quick
cry from the street outside the corral.

"Hold on there, all of you!" shouted Ned.  His dream had rushed back
to him with a sickening chill.  Had some one shot at the towering
bag?  "Hold on!" he yelled.

At that moment there was another shout and Bob Russell, his face red
with the sun and his shirt wet with perspiration, walked into the
corral.  In his right hand was gripped a revolver and in his left a
repeating rifle.  In front of him, and prodded on by Bob's pistol,
was the Mexican, Domingo, Jack Jellup's tool and fellow thief.



CHAPTER XVIII

FREE AND AFLOAT AT LAST


This is what had happened.

At the time of the rain storm, two days before, Buck and his
cavalcade were in camp on the bank of the dry Chusco, sixty miles
north of Clarkeville.  The experienced scout knew that a water
supply was now assured, and he at once followed prearranged orders
by instructing Bob to return with the smaller wagon.  This was a sad
blow to the young reporter, but it was a part of his contract and he
knew that it was his duty to obey.  And with necessity before him,
he acted promptly.  Emptying the heavy casks, Bob started on the
back trail at five the following morning, and by night had made
thirty miles with the light wagon.  All day he wondered if it might
not be possible to reach Clarkeville again before the Cibola sailed.

The next morning, spurred on by the hope that he might do this, he
started at daybreak.  By the middle of the morning he was on the old
wagon trail and making better time.  Some time after two o'clock he
came up over the rise of the last foothills and saw, eight miles
away, the glistening shape which he at once knew was the inflated
balloon.  He hesitated a moment and then, unhitching the horses,
mounted one bareback and began a dash for the town.  The animals
were tired and worn, and progress was slow, but it beat walking, and
Bob urged them on.

As the young reporter came nearer and the balloon grew more distinct
he knew that it would be a close call.  From time to time as the
winded horses dropped into a walk Bob wondered why he was making
such a race.  "I can't go with them," he argued.  But, like the
trained reporter, he decided that no effort was wasted that gave him
new information.  And it was something out of the ordinary to see
the most complete balloon ever made start on a mysterious flight
into the wilderness.

So he spurred up the horses anew.  The hot sun reflected from the
yellow sands burnt his face and his muscles were sore, but he stuck
to it.  When half a mile from the town he could see the boys on the
bridge of the Cibola.  When a quarter of a mile away he decided that
he could beat the horses by going afoot, and, throwing himself to
the ground, he ran onward, knowing that the tired animals would
follow.  Out of breath he reached the edge of the town and stumbled
on toward the corral.

With head down he plunged forward.  Almost at his goal he threw his
head up for breath just in time to notice a kneeling man with a
rifle at his shoulder.

"Hey!" yelled Bob with what breath he had.

Then he saw that the man was aiming directly at the balloon swaying
above the nearby corral fence.  He also recognized the man instantly
as one of the sullen court spectators, and Jellup's crony.  The
rifleman dropped the muzzle of his gun and turned.

"I guess I am something of a gun man," explained Bob later to the
boys, "for I had that new revolver of mine on the 'greaser' before I
knew what I was doing myself.  I didn't even then realize what he
was about to do.  But I had the drop on him and when I figured out
that he meant to put a hole in the balloon, why, I just had him
right.  And here he is."

Alan looked at Ned.  Both boys were puzzled.  A few moment's talk
with Russell explained the whole situation.  The balloon was ready
and the relief expedition was undoubtedly now in camp awaiting them.
It needed only the words and they would be off with the inquisitive
reporter left safely behind.  And yet the word did not come.  Ned
and Alan stood looking at Bob, and the reporter gazed in turn at the
beautiful straining car.  Bob's face was a study.  He had now made
some return to Ned for possibly saving his own life, but none of the
boys was thinking of that.  In Bob's fine young face was the longing
of a child.  In Ned's and Alan's faces were the traces of boyish
sympathy.

The young aeronauts were very close to each other and all were
silent.  Then Alan turned slowly to Ned and with a little quaver in
his voice whispered, "Shall we?"

Ned made no answer.  A smile lit up his face and he sprang down the
little ladder into the engine cabin followed by his chum.  Almost
instantly the trap door in the floor of the car dropped down.  A
moment later three fifty-pound sacks of ballast tumbled through the
door to the ground beneath.  The bag tugged and strained as Ned
reappeared above.

"Hurry up, Bob, if you're going with us," he said quietly, leaning
over the net of the bridge, "and close the door as you come up."

Bob hesitated, as if he had not heard aright, but then he
understood, and with tears in his eyes be sprang forward.  There was
a jar and Ned knew the new passenger was aboard.

"All ready?" he called sharply from the bridge.

"Aye, aye, captain," came in a choking but jubilant voice from the
inside of the cabin.

"Stand by, everybody," sharply ordered Ned.  And then, as Bob's
shoulders appeared through the hatchway, the commander of the air
ship gave a final look about.

"Let go all," he cried sharply.  "Everybody!"

For a moment only one clinging workman careened the buoyant craft
and then, straight up, the Cibola bounded like a rubber ball.

"Good-bye, all," came from Ned, cap in hand, as he leaned from the
bridge.

There were cheers from below and the Cibola was at last free and
afloat.

"Sit down here and keep quiet," sharply ordered Ned as Bob crawled
out on deck.  Then the commander of the balloon disappeared below.

There were almost immediately several sharp, muffled explosions, and
then the white propeller began to turn.  The balloon was drifting
quickly toward the northwest and rising--Bob could see its shadow
following on the sandy plain.  Then the arms of the propeller turned
faster and faster and a velvet whirr in the cabin showed that the
engine was falling to work.  As the propeller blades settled into a
steady hum the vibration of the car indicated increased speed.  This
Bob could also detect from the more swiftly flying shadow.

The shadow was also growing smaller, and this meant that the Cibola
was still ascending.  Now the shadow paused and turned.  Alan had
thrown the rudder over and the balloon had responded instantly.  The
aeroplane arms stretched out horizontally on each side of the car.
Ned, reappearing, took a quick look at the altitude gauge and again
disappeared.  The aeroplane arms dipped in front almost forty-five
degrees and the current, blown back by the propeller, struck them
with a jar.  The craft again responded and slowly took a downward
slant.

Propeller, rudder and aeroplane being at work, Ned again appeared.

"Go below," he ordered sharply, "and bear a hand when needed."

Bob did so.  Alan was on the pilot platform with his hands on the
wheel controlling the rudder wires.  His eyes were fixed straight
ahead.

"See that lever," he said, jerking his head to the left.

Bob quickly discovered the aeroplane guider control and sprang to
it.

"Wait for orders," added Alan.



CHAPTER XIX

THE FIRST FLIGHT


The balloon was still sliding downwards and swiftly forward.  For
several minutes the three boys stood in silence.  Only the steady
whirr of the engine and a musical humming of vibrating wires could
be heard.  Bob wondered if they were headed earthward again, for he
could see the approaching foothills widening out beneath.  At last,
when they could not have been over five hundred feet from the
ground, came the quick order:

"Right the planes."

Bob was almost caught napping, for he was busy looking through the
window.  But his hands responded instantly, and he almost choked
with chagrin to find that he had started to throw the lever the
wrong way.  But his recovery of himself was instant and with a
desperate pull he forced the guiding planes back horizontally.  The
glide downward stopped and the Cibola shot forward with renewed
speed.

On the bridge Ned held a fluttering chart before him.

"How is she heading?" he called to Pilot Alan at the wheel.  With a
glance at the compass before him Alan promptly responded:

"Nor'nor'east."

"Make it north by east."

A quick slight movement and a strain told that the alteration had
been made.

"North by east it is," sang out Alan.

"Keep her there," was the echoing response.

Bob was thrilled.  Every word was to him a joy.  Everything had
happened so quickly that he hardly knew what it all meant, but he
was happy.  Even the sudden discipline pleased him and he was glad
to be a part of it.  The knowledge that a younger boy was giving him
orders did not bother him.  He had skill in his own line, but he saw
and realized that in the Cibola Ned Napier was in charge and meant
business.

For some time then no word was heard.  The Cibola, speeding, swiftly
onward, had crossed the low foothills and was pulling herself
through the almost breezeless air like a modern liner, five hundred
feet above the ground.  She was holding her course beautifully.
Then Ned appeared and tested the gas exhaust and oil feed of the
engine.

"Were you ever in a balloon before?" he said when he had finished,
turning sharply towards Bob.

"Never," answered Bob, glad enough for a chance to say something.

"Have you any matches?" somewhat sternly asked the commander of the
Cibola.

"Sure," replied Bob reaching in his pocket and finding one.

"Any more?  All of them."

Surprised, Bob searched his clothes and discovered a few more which
he obediently handed over to his superior officer.  Noting the look
of surprise in the reporter's face Ned laughed.

"The first rule in a balloon is 'No fire.'  But beginners forget,
sometimes; we can't take this chance with you."

"Take anything I have got," answered Bob with his old smile, which
had now been in eclipse for some time, "and if I can speak at last I
want to say that you boys are white, clean white, through and
through.  Didn't you need that ballast?"

"We may need it badly," said Ned, laughing.  "If it should become
necessary I suppose you won't mind if we throw you overboard."

"No," retorted Bob, "not if it is a little at, a time.  But you're
bricks--both of you--if I thank you I'll cry."  The tears were again
in his eyes.

"Well, it wasn't the thing to do, I suppose," said Ned turning away,
"but you looked so hungry to go, and I knew what it meant.  So I
thought we'd just give you a little ride up to the camp."

"Yes, of course," answered Bob slowly as his hopes fell.  "Put me
out wherever you like," he added.

"You can go up now and have a look around," said Ned at last, "both
of you.  I'll take the wheel."

The relieved boys scrambled onto the bridge deck.  Night was coming
on and the mountains to the west were already black.  Evening
shadows were lengthening on the sloping plains beneath and a gentle,
rising breeze flapped the flag and pennant and swayed the bag above
them.  Beneath, the Chusco wound its half dry course and off to the
east a blue haze, melting into the unending sand, told of a treeless
and waterless waste.

"And there," exclaimed Alan at last, pointing off to the northwest
where snow-capped, ragged peaks rose out of a black jumble of
mountains, "are the Tunit Chas and the land of our dreams.
To-morrow--"

"One moment," interrupted Bob quickly.  "I think you are forgetting.
That is your secret and not mine."

Alan flushed.  "I forgot," he said with a stammer, "and I thank
you."

"I can't afford to make you sorry you brought me," added Bob, "and
you are not going to be."

There was a little jar.  The propeller slackened a trifle, and Alan
explained that Ned had headed the Cibola another point into the
freshening breeze.

"Steward," said Ned from below, "it's seven o'clock and I'm hungry.
Besides, it's getting pretty dark down here."

Alan and Bob looked at each other and laughed.

"That certainly means me," exclaimed Bob, and both boys clambered
below.  With Alan's help Bob made his first examination of the store
room.

The meal was rather haphazard, as the boys, carried away by the
excitement of their new flight, had neglected to eat when it was
light.  But water and hardtack were easily accessible, and Alan,
taking the first two cans at hand, found happily that they contained
sardines and veal loaf.

"We'll eat on deck," suggested Ned, as he set the wheel and had
another look at the engine, which had not missed a revolution.

The night that greeted them was magnificent.  The moon was not yet
up, but the stars were scintillating in the inky sky and the deep
silence of the clouds and desert was about them.  Bob gazed as if
spellbound.  The charm of the night appealed to him as it did to Ned
and Alan; but with it his brain formed phrases--"cloudland by
night," "a dash to the stars."  The reporter in him was thinking
"copy."

"Hey, there, wake up!" cried practical Ned.

Bob flew to his task; with a turn he had the veal loaf can open and
had dumped its contents in the wooden plate held by Alan.

In another moment he would have thrown the empty can overboard but
the watchful Ned, ready for another lesson in aeronautics, caught
his hand.

"Don't you like the route we are taking?" laughed Ned.

Bob's face showed he did not understand.

"The loss of the weight of that can might send us sparing upward a
thousand feet," explained Ned dryly, "so don't cast over ballast
until you get orders."

Bob shook his head.  "Well doesn't that beat all," he exclaimed.

As night fell and the air grew heavier, the barometer showed that
the Cibola had a tendency to rise.  The aeroplanes were readjusted
and then for an hour the craft sped on untouched.  At eight o'clock
Ned said:

"We haven't traveled over eighteen miles in an hour and we've been
afloat four hours.  If we are still over the Chusco and Elmer and
Buck are at the appointed place we may be within ten or twelve miles
of them."

"They are going to burn three small camp fires set in a triangle,
you remember," remarked Bob.

"Therefore," suggested. Ned, "all keep a sharp lookout."

At half past eight Ned showed some concern.  No lights had been
sighted and the reckoning showed that they must be within two or
three miles of the probable location of the camp.  Another fifteen
minutes went by, and yet no signal fires were seen.  They had now
passed over the junction of the two rivers, if their calculations
were right, and Ned and Alan were in a quandary.

"It's no use to go on," commented Ned; "so we'll just make a wide
circle and see what we can find."

It was also useless to look below.  In the darkness there was no
sight of either river or desert.

"It we don't pick them up in that way," continued Ned, "we'll
descend and tie up for the night."

Both Ned and Alan went below, and with the engine shut down to half
speed the Cibola was turned on her course in a wide sweep.  Bob
alone watched with anxious eyes, until he was joined in a short time
by Ned.  There was no sound but the soft chug-chug of the engine,
and for some time neither spoke.  The breeze of the early evening
had died and there was not a breath of air.  Alan in the dark cabin
below held the wheel and Ned and Bob alone, hanging over the side
net, watched and listened in vain.



CHAPTER XX

FIGHTING INDIANS WITH A SEARCHLIGHT


"Stop her!"  It was Ned's voice in quick command.  The young
aeronaut, peering over the side of the car of the Cibola into the
black night, had suddenly seen something that prompted the order.
It was a distant flash of light.  This was followed by an echoing
explosion.  The other boys heard the explosion and all instantly
knew that it was a shot from a firearm.  Almost before Alan could
shut off the power Ned had disappeared into the cabin to help head
the balloon in the direction of the spurt of fire.  The Cibola
slackened speed and they waited, drifting slowly toward the east.
Then, suddenly, and almost together came two streaks of fire and two
more explosions.

"One of them might mean a signal," said Ned gravely, "but they were
not from the same spot.  If it were Elmer he would have the three
fires.  If it is Elmer and Buck and they can't make a fire and are
shooting I am afraid it means trouble."

"It may mean Indians," suggested Bob, "and they may have put out
their fires for safety."

"They might even be holding off an attack of some kind," added Alan
anxiously.

Just then there was another crack of a firearm now a little nearer.
The Cibola was drifting directly toward the sound, but very slowly,
and would soon have lost all headway.

"I don't want to be presumptuous," said Bob in a low voice, "but
can't we land and find out what the trouble is?"

"We can find out without landing," replied Alan.

It was so dark in the cabin that the boys could only dimly see each
other, but Ned was groping about near the silent engine.  In a
moment he had secured from the ammunition case a storage electric
light, and cautiously shading the lens with his cap he asked Bob to
hold it.  Then he turned to his chum.

"I didn't know just how we would use our little drop light," he
began; "but it seems that the idea wasn't half bad.  There is a
tribe of Indians not far from here that would steal a horse or cut a
man's throat quickly enough--the renegade or Southern Utes."  As he
spoke he was digging in a chest extracting various small parcels.
"Not even the other Indians have any use for the Utes.  And there is
only one thing to do.  We must first find out if our friends are
below."

With the help of the flashlight Bob could we that Ned held in his
hand a large, high candle-power incandescent bulb and was adjusting
it in a silver reflector.

"With an electric light?" exclaimed Bob.

"Why not?" replied Ned.  "And the help of our little dynamo."

Ned took the flashlight, held it under his coat, and crawled around
in front of the silent engine.  "It's here," he explained for Bob's
benefit, "and I am just throwing the gear onto the propeller shaft."

"Well, if you are afraid to show this little light why aren't you
afraid to show a brighter light?" asked the observing reporter.

Alan answered him.

"We are only afraid because it might draw an attack from some
observer.  Balloonists are never safe from meddlesome persons or
worse.  But there isn't the same danger if the light isn't on the
balloon."

"Sure," said Bob. "I understand that.  But you can't hold it very
far away."

"No," answered Ned, "that's why we braided two good copper wires in
our drag rope."  As he said this he opened the trap door in the
floor of the cabin and feeling about in the dark soon had hold of
the coiled drag.

"I guess I'm dull," began Bob.

"No," interrupted Alan, "only you haven't given two or three years
to figuring out the possibilities of an air ship."

Ned was attaching the bulb, reflector down, to the end of the rope.

"That rope is three hundred feet long.  A light at the end of it is
quite a way from our bag.

"Oh, I see," exclaimed Bob at last.  "If we find Indians and they
shoot at our searchlight they are pretty sure to miss us."

"That is the theory," answered Ned.

And then the plan in Ned's mind was explained.  The engine was to be
started at quarter speed, which meant that the sound would be
imperceptible; and, lying on the floor of the cabin, Ned was to
direct the movements of the ship, with Alan at the rudder wheel and
Bob at the aeroplane guider.

"A quarter to ten o'clock," said Ned glancing at his watch as he
shut off the concealed flashlight, "and now start her up."

As Alan started the engine and it began to turn the propeller they
could tell by the light breeze that the car was moving again, but
very slowly.  The other boys could also hear Ned delicately paying
out the long drag rope.  At last it was all out.  Then Ned crawled
forward again to the dynamo and up to the partly open floor of the
car and whispered that he was ready.  The multiple gear was already
speeding the little generator swiftly.

"Lie down on the floor and watch," murmured Ned softly, "I'm going
to turn her on."

Alan and Bob did so.  As their two heads filled the open trap in the
cabin floor there was a click and then, as if some necromancy had
focused the sun on a part of the darkened world, a circle of light
seemed to spring out of the desert beneath.  Yellow, with here and
there a ragged rock and a sage brush or two, the shadows of the
rocks and brush black like spilled ink, and the sand glaring back at
them with almost quivering brightness, the circle shot back and
forth as the light followed the swinging rope.  But no living thing
was in sight.  A click and all was black again.

"Nothing doing," exclaimed Bob.

"Wait," suggested Ned, "persons we couldn't see may have seen them."

Almost as he spoke there was another quick report.

"Did you see the flash, Alan?" asked Ned eagerly, for he had been
busy with the dynamo.

But Alan was already at the wheel, and again the car swung from its
course.

"Wait," he exclaimed, "turn it on again when I give the word."

After perhaps two minutes he gave the signal and again Ned flashed
the gleaming bulb.  Again the circle sprang apparently out of the
black ground.  As the car drifted forward the black blotched golden
sand ran the opposite way like a whirling panorama.  A coyote
sprang, dazed,  from a clump of bushes and back again, but that was
all.

"Give him another chance," whispered Alan, and the light flashed
out.

"Listen," exclaimed Bob breathlessly, "wasn't that a cry?"

Another moment and the sound came again.

"Elmer!" exclaimed the two air ship boys together.

The Cibola swung instantly at Alan's quick touch.  Again the light
flashed.  Sand and rock and brush.  The brilliant circle of light
shot here and there, but the anxious watchers saw sign of neither
friend nor foe.  Then like a flash the level plain dropped into the
sudden slope of a coulee and the darker shadow of water blotted out
the glare of sand.

"The river," whispered Ned.  "Now watch sharp."

As the light was blotted out this time Alan swung the wheel again.
He knew instantly that they were on the wrong track, as they were
going east and crossing the Chusco.  Elmer and Buck would not cross
the river.  The camp was to be on the west side.

"Follow the river," ordered Ned quickly; "the west shore."

In order that the Cibola might be laid on the new course Ned threw
on the light switch again.  As he did so and the light flashed there
was the sharp crack of a rifle and the light was gone.

"Turn her on," exclaimed Alan; "I want to get a line on the river
bed."

Ned laughed. "I'll need a new bulb first.  Some one down below
turned it off."

"What?" exclaimed the other boys together.

"Shot out," calmly retorted Ned.



CHAPTER XXI

A CORDITE BOMB AND ITS WORK


In a moment the boys were hauling in the rope and Ned was back in
the cabin after a new bulb which he secured and attached in the
dark.

"Now give her a swing," he said as Bob again lowered the rope.  "It
will make it harder to hit."

When Bob announced that all the rope was paid out Ned snapped the
switch again.  In spite of the gravity of the situation all the boys
were tempted to laugh.  A brilliant green glow shot down.  An
emerald circle of light flooded the ground beneath.

"If anyone sees that they'll sure think it's a drug store,"
suggested Bob.

"'Or a sign of the Great Spirit, perhaps," added Ned soberly, "it
may help us in more ways than one, if Indians are--"

"Look," hoarsely shouted Alan, "there, over there!"

But his words were superfluous.  The three boys saw the same thing.
And then as the wide swaying of the bulb swept the gnome-like
picture in green from view Ned threw himself over and shut off the
engine.

Not a hundred feet beneath the brilliant bulb the precipitous bank
of the river had again shot into the circle of light.  At the very
edge of the cliff stood the big freight wagon.  Behind it, between
the wagon and the steep river bank, stood two horses.  At one end
two more lay prostrate on the ground.  In front a light barrier of
boxes and barrels rose a few feet from the ground.  And there, a
rifle at his shoulder, knelt Elmer Grissom, their friend and
servant.  Buck was nowhere in sight.

Their worst fears were realized.

As the dramatic picture flashed from view each boy knew that it was
time to act.

"What's to be done?" exclaimed Alan, his voice choking.

"There can't be many of them," answered Ned finally, as if thinking,
"or they would pushed their attack.  If we could locate them the
rest would be easy.  Let Bob take the wheel and try to get over the
wagon again; I have an idea."

The Cibola again answered the rudder and circled, Ned flashing the
bulb until the river came beneath them.  This required but a few
moments, but, before the craft had gathered momentum on the way
back, there were four shots almost together about three hundred
yards to the right of where they supposed the wagon stood, and a
quick reply from the river bank.

"Our light did it," exclaimed Alan, "they are rushing the
barricade."

"Indians don't rush together, if it is Indians," replied Ned.  "Keep
on up the bank, Bob.  It's risky for Elmer," he added with a husky
voice, "but we've got to take chances."

Again the light flashed.  Ned and Alan hurried to the bridge.

Within its circle and almost together, sealing the seamed and hard
bank of the river, were five dark figures.  As the powerful light
encircled them the crouching figures sprang backwards.  But they
were not quicker than the alert and prepared Ned Napier.  A small
round object shot downward from his hands.  The glare of flame as
the missile struck true and the thunderous roar that hurled the big
bag of the Cibola sideways told that the cordite bomb had done its
work well.

Bob was speechless.  Ned and Alan were already in hurried
consultation.  They could not count on fortunately finding the other
besiegers all together, "'and there are at least four more," said
Ned.  The rescue of the lone besieged lad was not an easy problem.
The boys believed themselves now just above the wagon again, but
they were afraid to draw possible fire to the barricade by showing
another light.

The hurling of the bomb overboard had shot the Cibola heavenward
like a bird.  Before they realized it the aeronauts had mounted up
at least two thousand feet.  They then began maneuvering to regain
their position.  But this was not so easy.  A flash of the suspended
searchlight gave them not a trace of their bearings and it was
plainly apparent they would have to use time and patience in
recovering the location of the besieged wagon.   Using their best
judgment, they put the aeroplanes to work, and, circling slowly, the
Cibola gradually came nearer and nearer to the ground.  After ten
minutes or more the car gave a sharp bound upward.

"The drag has touched the ground," exclaimed Ned.

The aeroplanes were righted, the engine was stopped, and again the
balloon was drifting.  There was not a sound to guide the aeronauts.
The contact with the ground had broken the bulb and it was not
replaced.  For aught the rescuers knew they might be again directly
over the wagon.  Not a shot had been fired since the roar of the
explosion, but there was no reason to believe that the yet living
besiegers had withdrawn.

"More likely planning a final attack," suggested Alan.

Again a council was held.

"We've got to take the risk," said Ned at last in desperation; "we
can't do anything up here."

And then, with Alan's approval, the propeller was set turning again,
but so slowly that the big balloon was just moving under control.
The aeroplanes were also set to bring the craft nearer the ground
and, as a precaution, Bob was sent onto the bridge with an open
knife to cut away ballast if sudden ascent were needed.  The drag
rope had been brought in.  There were no means of knowing how near
the car might be to the earth and the suspense was decidedly trying.

"I guess I can come a little nearer finding out," exclaimed Ned
finally to the others in a whisper.

Alan did not know what he meant, but he resumed his place at the
wheel.  Ned had disappeared in the dark.

"Where are you, Ned?" asked Alan anxiously at last.

The answer came from beneath the car.

"Only down here, but I'm going lower," Ned replied, again in a
whisper.  "Be ready with that ballast."

A perspiration of fear broke out on Alan's body.  He sprang to the
open trap door.

Just discernible in the darkness was Ned's slowly retreating form.

He was climbing down the twenty-five-foot rope landing ladder with
only his own strong grip and the spruce rungs to save him from
death.

There was nothing to be said or done.  Bob did not know what was
going on below, but he knew that he had a task set for him, and in
the long silence that followed while the Cibola settled lower and
lower and drifted on and on in the dark he stood, knife in hand, at
the ballast bags.



CHAPTER XXII

A THRILLING RESCUE IN MID-AIR


Buck, the guide, and Elmer Grissom had reached their appointed
rendezvous at two o'clock that afternoon.  The hot journey had been
tedious and uneventful.  Only at the half-breed settlement twenty
miles north of Clarkeville had they seen a human being.  Therefore,
after they had been in camp about an hour, even the vigilant,
experienced Buck was startled to observe suddenly a solitary
Indian--his horse as statuesque as himself--watching them from a
knoll some two hundred yards distant.

As the old scout raised both hands in signal of peace the Indian
rode forward.  The man was not in the Indian panoply of the old
days, except that he wore moccasins and had two bands of red and
yellow paint on his broad, dark face.  A black wide-brimmed hat, a
faded blue shirt and trousers completed his outfit.

"How?" exclaimed the Indian.

"Navajo?" answered Buck.

"Ute!" came the answer.  "Where go?"

"Right here," said Buck good-naturedly, pointing to the ground.

"Ute land!" retorted the Indian without a trace of expression in his
face.

"No," retorted Buck sharply, "not Ute land.  Ute land there,"
pointing north, "in Colorado."

"Ute land!" exclaimed the red man again, this time scowling.

Buck only shook his head.

Then the Indian suddenly threw himself from his horse, strode to the
wagon and threw up the tail curtain.  Safely stored therein he saw
the protected tins of gasoline.

"Whisky?" he exclaimed.

"No," laughed Elmer, "not whisky."

"Whisky," repeated the stranger turning towards Buck; "drink!"

But Buck shook his head.

With out another word the Ute walked haughtily to his horse, threw
himself upon it, and, clasping his heels to its sides, rode quickly
away.

"I'm sorry," exclaimed the veteran at last.

"I had no idea that there were Utes around here."'

"He doesn't seem dangerous," commented Elmer.

"No," answered Buck, "men who'd cut your throat for a horse never
do.  The chances are he isn't alone."

Elmer looked up in surprise.

"We'll just make sure," exclaimed Buck, making as light of the
affair as possible.  "I don't want to lose my horses and you don't
want to lose your freight.  We'll make ourselves ready in case our
friends come back to make us a little visit."

And as night came on and Elmer helped Buck draw the wagon close to
the river bank, where approach from the rear would be difficult, the
boy began to realize what it meant to get away from the telegraph
and policemen and law and order.  And when the experienced scout
unloaded a portion of their heavier freight and began to build a
small barrier Elmer's usual joviality cooled into silence.  The
three piles of brush and driftwood from the river were laid out some
distance in front of the camp in preparation for the agreed signal
fires and then, before the sun went down, the scout and his
companion made their camp fire and had supper.

"What do yo' expec' dey'll do?" asked the colored lad at last.

"Well, you can't tell.  Injuns are puzzles.  When they steal they
steal in the dark.  When they fight they fight at daybreak."

"What do yo' suggest?"

"To tell the truth, son," answered Buck, "there ain't much to do but
keep yer eyes open and pop it to the first red horse thief ye see
crawlin' around in the night."

"Hadn't we better light our signal fires?" asked Elmer.

"There won't be any signal fires to-night," replied Buck, slowly,
"if you want my advice.  It's one thing for a bluffin' Ute to walk
up in the daylight when you've got a fair chance to give him as good
as he sends, and its another thing for him to get a bead on you a
sittin' in the light o' yer camp fire--him in the dark."

Elmer saw and understood.

So night fell in silence with Buck and Elmer keyed up and ready to
meet any possible attack.

Nothing happened until several hours had passed.  Neither Elmer nor
Buck were any the less alert, however.  The old scout was pacing up
and down in front of the barricade and perhaps a hundred feet from
it.  Elmer could just hear his soft footfalls in the sand.  Suddenly
these ceased.  Almost at the same moment there was the crack of
Buck's rifle, a groan and a moment later the scout was inside the
barricade.

"I guess I got him all right," he whispered, "he was makin' too much
noise."

This was the shot Ned heard miles away in the Cibola.

Again for some minutes there was no sound and then, suddenly and
from the left, came a spit of flame in the dark.  Almost before
Elmer heard the explosion Buck's gun had spoken in reply.  Both
bullets went wild, but Buck explained that it was necessary to give
shot for shot, "and right at 'em," said Buck, "as it takes a little
o' the ginger out o' them."

But the besiegers had undoubtedly widened out.  The next signs of
them were two shots, almost together.  Elmer's rifle made quick
reply, but, to the boy's surprise, Buck failed to fire in return.
The scout had disappeared from his companion's side.  Before Elmer
could call out he heard a rush at the end of the barricade, and then
two explosions almost together and not ten feet away.  He could not
describe the sound that followed, but he knew that it meant the
convulsions of human beings in agony.  He whispered his companion's
name, but there was no answer--only a gasp.

In the black darkness the colored boy, revolver in hand, crawled
forward.  At the end of the barricade Buck's body was lying.  As the
boy's hand fell on the old man's breast he knew that it was blood he
felt.

"Buck," he whispered, "Buck!  Is yo' hurt?"

He put his arm under his friend's head.  For a moment the unconscious
form yielded and then convulsively straightened.  Elmer knew that his
companion and protector was dead.

With strength that he did not know he had Elmer laid Buck's dead
body behind the little wall of freight boxes.

Then, as if by intuition, he sprang forward and found what he
suspected--the unmoving form of an Indian.  Unable to see, Elmer
quickly felt over the adjacent ground with his hands and discovered
the dead Ute's rifle.  The revolver was gone.  In the same manner he
recovered both Buck's rifle and revolver, and then prepared to do
his duty--to protect his employer's goods so long as he could.

He was scarcely entrenched again, with the three magazine rifles
laid on the barricade before him, when his straining ears heard a
new sound.  Far away and faint, but meaning only one thing, the soft
chugging of a motor.  The Cibola!  There could be no doubt of it.
The instant feeling of relief was shattered even as it gave Elmer
new courage; to attempt to light the signal fires would probably
mean instant death.  And without them how would his friends know his
position or peril?  But one thing he could do; and even knowing that
it would mean an answering shot from the skulking horse thieves he
discharged his revolver into the air.

Then the sound of the motor died away and the long minutes dragged
by.  When it began again, and more softly, the sound was nearer.
Nearer, and nearer it came and then the circle of light fell on the
wagon and was gone.  "At least they know where I am," thought Elmer
to himself, and settled down courageously for renewed attack,
determined to hold out to the last.  At this moment came the shot
that put out the Cibola's light.

The nervy boy had been tempted to abandon the wagon and follow the
light, but his second judgment was against this.  "If they can, the
boys will come back," he argued, "and I'll only get out of this when
I have to."

To Elmer's surprise the attackers had been strangely silent for some
time.  With more experience he would have known that this meant even
greater danger, but he only hoped it was due to the distracting and
mysterious flying light.  Then the sepulchral green light burst out
in its funnel-like volume.  It was coming back.  It flared, went
out, shot over the distant sands again like a searching' eye and
then began moving straight up the river bank towards the wagon.
Then came the earth rending explosion.  Nor could the besieged boy
know even then that Ned's well-aimed bomb had sent five Utes to
their last sleep.

When the sound of the explosion had died away and Elmer had
recovered himself--for the shock had thrown him forward on the
barricade--the whirr of the Cibola's motor was again far away.  But
it was directly above him!

As if the attackers had been paralyzed by the explosion, the long
interval continued without a shot.  Then suddenly, from the right
and left and front, the real attack began.  One shot sounded as a
signal, and then from a half circle before him half a dozen bullets
tore their way towards the boy and his barricade.  Most of them went
wild.  Two hit the boxes and half stunned the lone guardian behind
them.  The assailants did not know that one of the two white men was
dead, and Elmer, in hopes temporarily to deceive them, fired two of
the rifles at the same moment.

But his enemies were closing in; the half circle was growing smaller
and the crash of the bullets in the wagon above him and in the
barricade in front told the boy that the end could not be far away.
To the right in the direction of the explosion there was a gap in
the fast closing circle.  It was folly to delay longer.  If escape
were possible, it was in that direction.  He would make one
desperate attempt.  One shot remained in his rifles.  Putting it
where he thought it would do the most good, and catching up the two
yet full revolvers, the colored boy crawled under the wagon and
crept hastily along the river bank.

And yet he did not dare to attempt to pass the end of the Indian
semi-circle.  It was one chance in a thousand.  Throwing himself on
the ground, he waited.  "Crack!"  It was the rifle of an Indian, not
fifty feet away and coming nearer.  The stealthy footfalls told
Elmer that his foe was heading straight for the river bank and that
he was in the Ute's path.  Then he could hear the Indian's deep
breathing.  Detection was inevitable.

One last thing remained to be done--to kill the Indian and make a
dash forward down the river bank.  And he must act before his foe
discovered him.  Elmer's revolver flashed fire and he saw his foe of
the red and yellow face bound into the air and then topple forward
with a cry of anguish.

The boy turned, but too late.  Directly in front he heard the sudden
shouts of other Indians.  The river at his back!  Flight down its
cement-like bank was impossible.  He might plunge forward and pray
that the water was beneath.

The death cry of the man he had shot and the echoing yells of the
Indians behind him had been taken up by others.  He knew the
determined savages were making a final rush.  Indian cries seemed to
come from the very ground at his feet.  He hesitated no lodger.

As he turned to the river a sudden and strange wave of cool air
struck down on him from above.  Without reasoning he paused.  That
pause saved his life.  In that swift moment he heard the low creak
of something straining.  His eyes pierced the black about him.  Was
it a shadow?  Something was brushing by him like a great bird asleep
on the wing.  Then it was on him.

"Ned?"  It was only a whisper but it was enough.

"Elmer, here, quick!"

Even the whisper had brought an instant shot, but the colored boy
had hurled himself toward the voice and an instant later a strong
young arm was about the besieged lad.

It was Ned Napier on the swaying ladder of the Cibola.

"Cut away," came the low quick order and before even the nearby
besiegers could locate the sound Bob Russell, high above, had
slashed the lashings of a bag of ballast.  The big balloon sprang
forward, Elmer dangling in the air, and then settled again to the
earth as the desperate colored boy found the last rung of the ladder
and clung fast opposite his rescuer.

"Another, another," called Ned springing up the fragile length of
the doubly laden ladder.

A thud on the ground told where another bag of ballast had fallen.
The crash of the fallen fifty-pound bag of sand probably saved the
Cibola.  Shot after shot poured in the direction of the sound,
although the Cibola, dragging forward, yet refused to rise.  Elmer,
at the bottom of the ladder, was helping the car onward in low
bounds by touching the ground with one foot.

Then the air craft settled again.  Elmer's weight was too much.  A
mad thought came into the boy's brain.  The Indians had located the
new invader and yells nearby told that hot pursuit was already being
made.  Then the spit, spit, of new shots showed the risk the boys
had taken.  Elmer realized it.  Should he hang on and endanger the
lives of his friends, or should he let go?

There seemed no time to think, but the boy's hand had already
loosened when out of the black came the hot breath of the foremost
pursuer.  As the savage sprang forward Elmer's free arm gave him a
blow full in the face.  At the same instant the Cibola sprang upward
like a bullet.  A volley of shots rang out below, but they were too
late.  The balloon had saved Elmer's life, and even before the lad
had made his way up the swaying ladder into the cabin it was a
thousand feet in the air.



CHAPTER XXIII

CAMP EAGLE IN THE MOUNTAINS


It seemed too wonderful to be true.  But words were proof enough
that Ned Napier and Alan Hope had found a new use for dirigible
balloons.  Faithful Buck's death was more than the loss of a
companion.  In the short time the boys had known him he had shown
that under his rough frontier bearing he was a brave and honest man.

"We can't go back now," explained Ned, "and we can't afford to land
and wait for day.  We can't all stay in the Cibola, and those of us
who are landed must be left in a safe place.  Our work," he
continued turning to Bob, "is in the Tunit Chas Mountains, thirty
miles west of here.  It seems as if you had to know it.  We'll go
there to-night and land, if we can, on some isolated and inaccessible
plateau.  We'll make that our new relief camp and you and Elmer must
take charge of it.  To-morrow Alan and I will return in the Cibola to
our abandoned wagon, bury Buck and bring away such of our stores as
may be left.  It's going to be a great loss, for I suppose the
Indians have stolen everything.  If the gasoline is gone it will cut
short our work in the mountains."

"I don't think it will be lost," said Elmer, quietly.  "We tried to
save it.  We rolled it into the river."

"But it will float away," exclaimed Alan.

"Unless de tins caught on in de drift in de bend jes' below,"
answered Elmer.  "I seen four ob de eight tins dar befo' dark."

"That's what I call genius," exclaimed Ned.  "Elmer, you're a brick!
And now our course is due east at half speed.  By daybreak we'll be
over the Tunit Chas.  Until then, the rest of you turn in.  I'll run
the ship."

Fifteen minutes later, despite the nerve-racking experiences of the
momentous day, Alan, Bob and Elmer were wrapped in their blankets
and sound asleep on the bridge deck of the Cibola.

The night passed slowly, but Captain Ned stood the long trick at the
wheel, happy and content.  To feel the Cibola, the product of his
youthful genius, at last moving forward in obedience to his
slightest touch drove all thought of fatigue and sleep from him.

But, above all, the early light of the coming day was to reveal to
him a sight of the land of his hopes.  There, before him, were the
Tunit Chas; peaks and chasms of unsolved mystery wherein the
centuries had held close their secret.  Many trials had blocked his
way.  Was he now about to reap the reward of his labors?  Did the
hidden city of Cibola lie somewhere below him?  Or were the Palace
of the Pueblos and the Turquoise Temple but empty myths?

The young aeronaut's present plans were simple enough.  The Cibola
had now been afloat twelve hours and nearly half her gasoline was
exhausted.  More than once in the night Ned had noticed that the
balloon was settling lower and he had been forced to maintain his
level by casting over ballast.  It was apparent that they were
already losing gas.

In boyish impulse and sympathy they had made Bob Russell, the young
reporter, a third and unexpected passenger, and accident had forced
them to add Elmer Grissom, their colored friend and servant.  And
these extra occupants of the car must be landed at the earliest
opportunity.

This became imperative now because, the relief and supply station on
the Chusco river having been destroyed, the Cibola must add enough
ballast and gasoline to make its exploring tour in the mountains in
one journey.   The original plan had been to make quick dashes to
the camp on the Chusco for gasoline and then return to the
mountains.  To provide for this new weight the two new passengers
and a good portion of the air ship's stores must be landed.  And the
most feasible plan seemed to be to set up a new emergency camp in
the heart of the mountains.

Many things might happen to the now perfectly working balloon.  And,
even if cast away in the mountains, it was no part of Ned and Alan's
plan to cease searching for the temple of treasure until dire
necessity drove them from it.  In case wreck and privation came it
would be comforting to know that somewhere in the same wilderness
food and friends awaited them.

The first glow of the sun painted for the ever watchful pilot a
picture beyond the possibilities of brush and canvas.  Here and
there out of the blackness below sprang rosy points, the sun-tinted
peaks of the Tunit Chas.  Down the mountain sides, like rivers of
silver pink, fell the sun's light.  Then the valleys began to open
out of the chasm of night-dark canyons wrought in the wilderness of
the mountain sides.  Here and there, oases left by the devastating
hand of time, rose high plateaus, tree-crowned and verdant.  And
then, higher up among the white peaks, sentinel-like, stood giant
tables whose brown tops and precipitous sides told of inaccessible
and arid wastes.  "And somewhere," said Ned to himself, "in this
Titanic chaos lies the object of our search."

Starting at half speed, Ned had soon reduced the engine to quarter
speed.  When he aroused his sleeping companions Wilson's peak, their
chief landmark, was just in sight far behind.  His calculations
placed the present location of the Cibola thirty miles from the
Chusco river and just over the eastern Tunit Chas Mountains.

"All hands turn to," shouted Ned cheerily, "and stand by to make a
landing."

There was a scramble, a rubbing of yet sleepy eyes and then an
outburst of admiring wonder.  The Cibola had sailed over two broken
ridges enclosing an irregular, broken valley and was now looking
down on a shelf-like plateau abutting on the second ridge and west
of it.  On three sides the plateau dropped precipitately into a
lower rock-strewn, valley.  On its eastern side it joined the still
higher ridge.  A pine forest crowned the top of the shelf-like
mountain side and then ran up to the higher slopes until the carpet
of green faded into the brown wastes of the timber line.  In the
very center of the wilderness of trees glistened a little lake of
mountain water.  From it the silver thread of a rivulet wormed its
way for a mile or more among the trees and then trickled over the
side of the cliff in a vapory waterfall.

Ned had swung the Cibola into a wide curve and the balloon and car
were soon directly over the mountain creek.  He threw the aeroplane
guides downward and the slowly moving car drifted lower until it was
but four hundred feet above the water and the overhanging pines.
Then, following the water course beneath, the air ship floated back
into the woods and the little lake widened out beneath them.  Two
deer, at the water's edge, stood unalarmed.  On the south of the
lake a grassy opening indicated Ned's destination.

"Here," he explained, "we can make a safe landing.  It is an ideal
place for a camp, with plenty of firewood and water."

"And meat, too," interrupted Alan, pointing to the deer.

"Venison and bear meat too, no doubt," laughed Ned.

From the top of a dead pine tree an eagle rose and soared lazily
away.

"It's like the camping out places you read about," exclaimed Bob.
"That eagle nest completes the picture."

"It does," interrupted Ned, "and I hope you won't forget the
picture.  That high, barren tree is your landmark.  Some day you may
need it.  Remember; from the valley below your camp can be found by
locating the little waterfall on the cliff.  From the timber line
above you will know it when you see the eagle's nest.  And now let
go the anchor.  We have no gas to spare, and can't afford to open
the valve."

To make a landing in a balloon without throwing open a valve and
wasting precious gas is almost impossible.  The craft could only be
kept near the ground by keeping it in motion or by causing the
propeller fans to depress currents of air on the aeroplanes.
Therefore, as soon as the engine stopped, the Cibola would mount
higher.  But resourceful Ned had long since thought out this
problem.

The engine's speed was reduced and the anchor was quickly lowered
until it caught hard and fast in a strong pine tree.  The contact
shook the fragile car and sent the bag bounding, but when it was
seen that the iron had fixed itself firmly three of the boys,
pulling on the anchor rope, gradually drew the great buoyant car
down until it floated just above the tree top.  To drag it lower
was, impossible, for one sharp branch might injure the bag beyond
repair.

When the ship was safely anchored just above the tree, the
twenty-five foot landing ladder was lowered and Ned himself made his
way down its fragile rungs into the tree. .

"Hold on tight," he continued, "I'm getting off."

As he did so and found footing in the tree branches the Cibola
tugged to free itself, as if, overjoyed to be rid of Ned's one
hundred and forty-five pounds of weight.  As soon as the young
commander was safely on the ground he ordered the other boys to pay
out the anchor rope and again the Cibola rose in the air.

"Now," ordered Ned, "start your engine and head the car over the
opening."

While Ned stood below directing, with hands to his mouth,
trumpet-wise, the Cibola strained at her anchor rope and then,
obeying her rudder, moved directly over the open space, her nose
pointing skyward at an angle of forty-five degrees.

"Hold her," yelled Ned, "and haul back."

The boys again strained at the taut anchor rope until the car stood
just clear of the trees and some two hundred feet in the air.

"Now lower your drag rope and an empty ballast bag," called Ned.

While this was being done the navigator of the Cibola was busy
carrying chunks of broken rock from the margin of the little lake,
and in a short time the boys above were hauling away on the rope and
lifting aboard new ballast.  With each bag of it the Cibola sank
lower and lower, until finally, when it was almost balanced in the
air, Ned easily drew the balloon to the ground.

But the landing was not yet finished.  Not a passenger in the craft
could step ashore until Ned had added more stone.  But when enough
of this had been lifted up to the hands above, and Elmer could
alight, the two willing workers on the ground soon made it possible
for the other boys to spring overboard.  Then the four of them
loaded enough more rock on the bridge to take the place of the
stores to be landed.

There were not many things that could be left: water, and half the
provisions and, preserved goods; a few cooking utensils; blankets,
an extra compass, two revolvers, a hatchet and saw; a light silk
tent; matches and candles, a medicine case, ammunition, and, to make
way for the gasoline that it was hoped might be recovered, all the
extra oil on board--for the reservoirs yet contained an ample supply
to make the trip back to the scene of Elmer's attack.

At a safe distance from the balloon Elmer had returned to his
favorite occupation.  He got a fire going and while the other boys
replaced the rocks on board with bags of sand from the margin of the
lake the colored lad made hot coffee and broiled some bacon.  It was
a luxury after the cold, dry food of the long night.

"When you come back this evening," exclaimed Bob jovially, "I'll try
to have a juicy venison steak."

"An' hot biscuits," chimed in Elmer.

"And a good bed of balsam boughs," added Bob, "and a fine camp fire,
and we can sit wound it and talk it all over."

"And if we don't get back to-night you'd better have your camp fire
anyway," said Ned.

"Ain't you goin' to git back to-night?" ruefully interrupted Elmer,
as he poured the smoking coffee.

"You never know what you are going to do in a balloon," answered Ned.
"If we can we will.  If we can't we won't.  If we are not back
to-night we may not be here for several days.  We've got work ahead
now, and plenty of it."

"We'll be here when you come," replied Bob earnestly, with a smoking
bit of bacon in his fingers, "whenever that is."

"No," replied Ned, "if we are not here in six days you must make
your way out to civilization.  You have food enough but you can't
wait longer than that.  As for directions, all I can say is that
from this ridge back of us you can see across the half desert valley
to the higher range of mountains.  Should you cross the valley
bearing almost due east and be able to get over or through that
second ridge you will be able to see the top of Mount Wilson, thirty
miles further east.  From Mount Wilson it is fifteen miles southeast
to the camp Elmer made.  There you should pick up the trail of
Buck's wagon back to the railroad eighty-five miles south."

Bob's eyes opened.

"Is it as bad as that?" he said half laughing.  "We'll certainly
have to get busy if the Cibola breaks down."

"Or," went on Ned, "any strewn in the valley below here flows
finally into the San Juan River to the north.  If you can make your
way to this river and then succeed in following its banks eastward
until you reach the plains, some time or other you'll find a
frontier settlement."

"Or Utes," interrupted Alan.

"Gib me de mountain road," exclaimed Elmer quickly.
"Nomo'Utesfo'me!"

"Yes," added Ned, "that's the trouble.  The route to the San Juan is
not only through a barren, broken mountain region, but it gets you
finally right into the Southern Ute reservation.  And, remember,
too, that this is Navajo land.  Your safety with them, should you be
discovered, will be in diplomacy.  And now good-bye--until we meet
again."

"And if we don't," replied Bob, huskily, taking the hands of the two
boys in turn, "I just want to say again that you boys have done for
me what I can't forget and what I can't repay.  I don't know why you
are here, and I don't want to know.  What I've seen will never be
revealed, when I get back to Kansas City and the Comet, until you
tell me I am free to tell it.  And you'd know what that means to me
if you knew what a cracking good yarn my experience has given me
already.  Good-bye and good luck!"

Ned and Alan clambered aboard; the rocks were cast overboard, and as
the Cibola shot skyward the boys could hear Elmer calling:

"Member, boys--we all'll be at Camp Eagle an' supper will be
awaitin'."



CHAPTER XXIV

A GRAVE IN THE DESERT


But Ned and Alan did not eat with their friends that night, nor for
some days to come.  And when they saw each other again one of
Elmer's juicy venison steaks would have seemed to all of them the
sweetest morsel ever eaten by man.

Ned only waited to help inflate the balloonet in the big balloon
with the little hand blower for the Cibola showed quite perceptibly
the loss of gas after her twenty hours of inflation.  Then, the
course having been laid, he left the wheel and engine to Alan's care
and turned in for his long needed rest.

Alan had determined on a record flight.  He allowed the Cibola to
rise higher than it had yet flown, about 5,000 feet, and then
setting the aeroplanes on a slight incline he headed the car on a
down slant for Mount Wilson's just visible peak, thirty miles away.

There was no economy in half speed, for time and the utilization of
their gas were more precious than gasoline.  "We can always float
without gasoline," the boys had said to themselves, "but we can't
move without gas."  Therefore the Cibola was soon at its maximum and
the enthusiastic Alan knew that Ned would have a short sleep.

In an hour and twenty-one minutes the swift dirigible was abreast of
the peak of Mount Wilson, and then, without slackening speed, Alan
altered her course southeast toward the scene of the previous
night's hair-raising experience.  Long before he reached the place
he was able to make the juncture of the two rivers his landmark, and
the ship pointed her course as straight as a railroad train.  After
thirty minutes sailing from Mount Wilson, Buck's rendezvous could be
made out, three miles beyond.

One glance told the whole sad story.  Two dead horses alone marked
the spot where their freight wagon had stood.  Alan aroused Ned, and
as the Cibola sailed low over the place the boys saw that the
thieving Utes had gone--with the wagon, horses, freight and their
dead companions.

Poor Buck's body was lying where the brave escort had fallen.

"We can't make two landings," suggested Ned.  "We'll find the
gasoline and then come back and bury our friend."

Disappointed, although they had really in their hearts expected
nothing less, the young navigators turned the Cibola and sailed
slowly down the river in the hope that the gasoline would be found
where Elmer had described it as lying.

They were as richly rewarded here as they had been previously
disappointed.  The drift, a tangled jumble of small mountain wood,
had caught and preserved seven of their eight tins of gasoline.

It was now noon, and broiling hot, but luncheon was not thought of
and the difficult work of recovering the heavy packages was begun.
This presented a new difficulty, for again the boys were determined
not to lose any gas in making a landing.

The drift was too light to hold their anchor although two trials at
this were made.  Not a bush or tree was to be found nearby.  In
despair at last, Alan was about to suggest opening the valve--for it
was imperative that they secure the gasoline--when Ned turned the
bow of the craft down stream.

"Perhaps we can find anchorage further down," he explained.

"But if will be pretty hard work carrying these tins," Alan began.

"They floated where they are, didn't they?" smiled Ned.  "What's the
matter with letting them float a little further?"

His hope was realized.  But the solution was fully a mile away.  On
a sandy bar, half buried in the sand, the stout end of a cottonwood
trunk, the flotsam of some extraordinary freshet, had come into
view.  The experience of the morning was repeated, but on a smaller
scale, for here were no dangerous tree limbs to threaten their
delicate silken bag.  After two trials and much pulling and hauling
the car of the Cibola was tied fast to the snag, half over the
shallow water and half over the sand.

Then, naked as when they were born, and suffering not a little from
the pitiless sun, the boys started afresh.  Alan made his way back
up the river and began to prod out the stranded tin casks.  All were
soon bobbing along in the slow current, with Alan behind them like a
lumber driver of the northwest dislodging logs left in the shallows.
Ned below soon had all of them in shallow water.

By means of a coil of the drag rope, looped in turn about the tins
of recovered fuel, Ned lifting below and Alan pulling above soon
transferred the gasoline to the bobbing Cibola.  As each cask
ascended, a portion of the extra ballast was dumped overboard.

Then, dressing themselves and improvising what tools they could, the
boys made their way sorrowfully to the scene of the previous night's
tragedy.  Buck's body was carefully removed and decently buried.  A
mound of boulders was made over the grave to designate the spot, and
with the hope that some day they might return and suitably mark the
desert tomb the boys took a mournful farewell.



CHAPTER XXV

BARTERING STORES A MILE IN THE AIR


"And now," said Alan, "it's ho, for Camp Eagle and our search at
last."

"I don't know about all that sentiment," answered Ned, thoughtfully.
"I've been--"

But he was interrupted.  The boys, aboard the Cibola again, were
just about to cast off when Alan cut short Ned's remark with an
exclamation.

"Isn't that a balloon?" he exclaimed pointing to an orange-like
object high in the heavens toward the west.

Ned caught up the binoculars and had a quick look at the rapidly
moving ball which was rushing toward them from over the distant
Tunit Chas Mountains.

"No question about it," answered Ned, handing Alan the glasses; "a
balloon, and a big one."

"And out here, too!" commented Alan in surprise.  "I guess the world
is pretty small after all."

"Everything ready?" asked Ned eagerly.  And then as the retaining
rope was untied from the frame of the car and slipped down and out
from under the cottonwood snag the Cibola shot upward.

"I have an idea," continued Ned, "and please don't object until you
think it over.  Let's make a little social call on the stranger!"

"A call!" exclaimed Alan, plainly showing his astonishment; "a call
on a balloon five thousand feet in the air?"

"Certainly.  We are going that high anyway.  And we have the means
of going where we like.  If we go up until we strike the same,
stratum of air the stranger is moving in we have our propeller and
aeroplanes to check and guide ourselves.  When it passes we can
easily run alongside!"

"Well, if that isn't the limit!" laughed Alan.  "And I suppose we'll
exchange greetings and messages like ships long at sea."

"And," added Ned, "we can send some word to Major Honeywell.  You
can see our fast flying friend isn't going to stop around here."

The Cibola was rising fast and the two air craft were coming closer
and closer.  As the dirigible reached the altitude at which the free
balloon was sailing Ned put the aeroplane in operation, stopped the
ascent of the Cibola and then, sweeping his own car into the same
direction with the other balloon he reversed the propeller and held
his own craft against the breeze until the stranger swept by.

Then, throwing on the propeller again at full speed, Ned made the
Cibola bound after the other craft, and in a few minutes, aided by
the favoring wind, they were within hailing distance.

Ned was on the bridge, his face flushed with the novelty of the
race.  A mile above the earth, the two air ships came closer until,
as if running on parallel tracks, they were nearly together and
abreast.

"Balloon ahoy!" exclaimed Ned at last and in true maritime style.

"The Arrow of Los Angeles, bound across the continent," came the
sharp answer.

"The Cibola from Clarkeville, New Mexico," called Ned in reply,
"exploring.  Please report us over Mount Wilson."

Then the two ships of the sky came closer.  The boys could see that
the Arrow was well equipped for its purpose.  Two determined looking
aeronauts were leaning from the heavily laden car.

"Need anything?" shouted the Arrow cordially.

"In good shape," answered Ned, "but a little short on provisions."

"Plenty here," came quickly from the Arrow, "glad to exchange
fifty-pound emergency rations for ballast."

"All right," responded Ned, "stand by to make a line fast."

Alan, at the engine, brought the air ship up as skillfully as a
pilot might a vessel, and as the two cars almost touched Ned passed
the end of his drag rope, and the occupants of the Arrow with a
quick turn made her basket fast to the bridge of the Cibola.  There
were handshakes, mutual congratulations and quick explanations.  The
Arrow, the property of a wealthy amateur balloonist, was attempting
to sail, from the Pacific to the Atlantic and was, so far, beating
the best calculation of her owner.  In reaching the desired height
that morning, however, much ballast had been used and the
possibility of a renewed supply was jumped at.

"These extra provisions were packed with the idea of possibly using
them as ballast and we don't really need them.  And, so," they
explained to the boys, "if you do you had better take them and give
us sand."

The exchange was quickly made, and then, having stored their new
food supply safely on the bridge, they said hasty farewells.

Ned had scribbled this note on a page from his note book: "Major
Baldwin Honeywell, Annex, Chicago.  By courtesy of Balloon Arrow.
Bourke, escort, killed by Indians.  Search begins at once.  Camp
established on plateau, second range Tunit Chas Mountains, thirty
miles due east Wilson's Peak.  Greetings.  Written 5,600 feet above
San Juan River, New Mexico.  Ned Napier and Alan Hope."

The case of provisions weighed a trifle more than the ballast given
in exchange, and as the line holding the two cars together was cast
off the Cibola sank slowly below the level of the Arrow.  Then, as
the Cibola's engines began to push the car ahead in a wide turning
circle, Ned called up to the disappearing Arrow:

"Great country, this New Mexico, where you can buy food with sand.
Good-bye and success to you!"

The answer was lost in space as the ships parted.

"And now," said Ned, after lashing the now case of provisions to the
bridge netting, "we've wasted some more precious time.  Do you still
think we had better lose a night at Camp Eagle?  We have all the
fuel we can carry."

Alan saw what was in the wind.

"We have extra provisions, water and gasoline.  My own judgment is
we had better make at once for our starting point."

"I guess you are right," answered Alan after long thought; "I don't
know what is to be gained by the trouble of a landing at the camp by
the lake."

"Nothing but that hot supper," smiled Ned, "and we'll have to put
that off a few days, I think."

"All right," agreed Alan, "set your course and with luck we'll do a
little treasure hunting before dark."

This being settled, the prow of the Cibola was pointed a little west
of northwest, and, dropping to a lower stratum to escape the lively
eastern breeze at the higher altitude, the boys started at last
directly for the and arid broken mountains of Northwestern Arizona.

This region, bordering on the great sand dunes lying beyond the
Chelly River, was to be the beginning point of their arduous and
momentous search.  From that place to a point nearly one hundred
miles to the southeast lay the secret fastnesses of mountain, canyon
and mesa wherein, somewhere, according to the Spanish soldier's
record, was the secret city of a dead race and the treasure that had
brought Ned and Alan half way across a continent.

What such a search meant one glance at the monotonous and unending
rock easily told.  On foot, only the compass could lead a man
forward in such wilderness of abrupt heights and winding chasms.  As
the boys meant to manage it, the attempt had possibilities, but it
might mean days of drifting, of watching, of doubling back and forth
over every possible site.  And that was now their task.

So far as they could, Ned and Alan meant to begin at the extreme
northern end of this unknown land and, sailing back and forth from
east to west, cover every foot of exposed ground with their powerful
glasses.

Both boys had long since agreed in this conclusion: the "city" meant
no more than one large structure similar to but on a larger scale
than those found in the Chaco Canyon at the extreme southern end of
the Tunit Chas Mountains.  This would be indicated now by nothing
more than rectangular lines of wall stones, probably in piles,
outlining the shape of the "city" or palace.  Prominent among these
ruins should be the more elevated temple, the object of their
search.  And beneath this should be found the underground "khivas"
or religious chambers.

That this "city" was secret or hidden was proof to Ned and Alan and
Major Honeywell that it would not occupy a prominent place such as
an exposed plateau or a high level mesa.  Only one other location
was left, the abutting shelf of some canyon.  And the young
navigators had pictured to themselves that, if this should prove to
be the location, the shelf would be so elevated as not to be visible
from the front or below and that it would be concealed from above by
an extended and overhanging cliff.

"Look for it as you would look for a bird's nest in the cliff,"
suggested Ned.  And that was the plan of search.

It was nearly three o'clock when the boys had bade farewell to the
Arrow and about half past five when the Cibola sailed over the
second ridge of the Tunit Chas.  But the course was far to the north
and there was naturally no sign of the waterfall plateau or Camp
Eagle.  For a time they thought of passing over the camp and
dropping a message, but this pleasant idea was given up.

"Although," as Alan expressed it, "one of Elmer's hot suppers and a
soft bed of balsam boughs to-night wouldn't be bad."

Ned thought of the four nights of hard floor and agreed, but he
said:

"You'll have to forget soft beds if we're ever going to find Cibola.
We'll come down to-night, though, and make a camp of our own with a
fire and a pot of coffee, and at daybreak we'll be off."

The boys had taken a light luncheon just after starting on the
return trip, and now, soaring over the Tunit Chas again, they began
to be anxious for night and supper.

At seven o'clock the peaks and ridges below them had begun to drop
into foothills and as the great sandy deserts of distant Utah and
nearer by Arizona came before their eyes the boys decided that it
was time to anchor for the night.  They were sailing over the
eastern slope of the last low ranges of hills, barren of trees or
vegetation.  The aeroplanes being given the proper depression, the
Cibola shot earthward and then, the propeller coming to a pause,
floated gently along above the jumble of rocks.  Making fast the
anchor in a ragged pile of these the boys soon drew the Cibola to
the ground and lashed her fore and aft to heavy boulders.

The firm ground felt delicious to the tired boys and they refreshed
themselves with a brisk race over the open space between the rock
piles.  Then came Alan's camp fire, a hot supper and preparations
for a good night's rest.  There were no pine needles of balsam
boughs, but fatigue made a fine mattress, and it was not long before
the tired boys, rolled up in their blankets, were fast asleep on the
soft sand.

"I hope," said Ned drowsily as they were dropping off to sleep,
"that we won't have any Jack Jellups or thieving Utes to-night.  My
nerves need rest."

Then the boys got eight good hours of health and strength giving
sleep in the tonic air of the Arizona Mountains.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE SECRET TUNNEL IN THE MESA


At five o'clock Ned and Alan were astir.  With regrets that they
were not at Camp Eagle for a plunge in the cool mountain lake, they
prepared another hot meal, ate it, and boarded the Cibola.

The balloon had now been inflated thirty-eight hours and was
noticeably showing the loss of its gas.  While the top of the bag
was yet round and firm in the heat of the sun the lower sides had
become a trifle flabby as the cool evening had come on.  Up to this
time all records for balloon flight had been broken a fact due to
the renewed buoyancy caused each day by the hot, Southwestern Sun.
And, exploration in and quick ascent from the canyons before them
would before long call for the use of ballast.  The boys agreed that
the time had arrived to utilize their liquid hydrogen.  The
shrinkage that night had been quite perceptible.

They regretted that but two-thirds of this remained--about eleven
cubic feet.  This when reconverted meant nearly twelve thousand
cubic feet of new gas at their present altitude.  As the work of
converting the gas involved care, preparation for it was made before
the Cibola was cut loose.

The reconverter, a reduced inversion of the apparatus used in making
liquid air, was made ready.  When the muffled explosions and the
heat of the tubes told the boys that the reconverter was working
perfectly and pumping new and needed gas into the shrunken Cibola's
long bag, the lashings were loosed and once more the faithful
dirigible mounted skyward.

With Major Honeywell's map of the region spread out on the deck of
the bridge and the binoculars in hand Ned began the long anticipated
search for the lost city.

All day the process of turning the liquid hydrogen back into buoyant
gas went on.  And all day the Cibola wound her devious course over
the peaks and chasms beneath.  By night half the hydrogen jars were
empty and Ned and Alan saw the evening close in on them without a
sign of the object of their search.  When darkness stopped further
work the balloon was brought to earth and camp made again.

The following day, as uneventful as the first, gave no indication of
the secret city.  The rest of the liquid hydrogen was transformed
into gas.  The sun seemed to enfold the craft in a fiery embrace.
When camp was made again that night the Cibola had been afloat
eighty hours.

"I think she is good for another forty-eight hours," said Ned that
night.  "If we find nothing in two more days we'll have our choice
of going out on foot or of quitting in time to pick up Elmer and Bob
and make a dash to civilization.  What do you say?"

"I don't know," replied Alan, "I'd hate to give up as long as we can
fly.  I think the boys can care for themselves.  Let's stick to it.
We have provisions and there is water in some places."

"Well," answered Ned, "we'll have two more days time in which to
decide."

The next morning the Cibola showed plainly that her gas was rapidly
escaping.   New life was given to the balloon by casting overboard
some empty hydrogen casks.  The fourth day broke hotter than ever.
In all the wilderness examined by the tired and strained eyes of the
searchers, not a human being had been seen--not even a wandering
Navajo.  This day they began the search with renewed vigor, but with
the same monotonous result--miles of hopelessly desert rock and sand
beneath them, with a little vegetation now and then, but so sign of
Indian remains.

At noon Ned said:

"If we were not in a balloon with a compass and sextant I should say
we were lost.  And if Indians ever lived and died hereabouts they
certainly left so signs of their bones."

By six O'clock, with the sun gratefully low, Alan expressed
discouragement.

"To-morrow at this time," he said, "if we see no indication of the
old palace or city or whatever it was--if it ever was--I think I'll
vote to try to find Camp Eagle and get out."

"We'll see to-morrow," answered Ned stoutly.

That night at dark, a landing was made on the ledge of a point of
land ending in a rounded cliff pointing south, selected because the
place was open to the breeze and cool.  The Cibola had approached
the height from the west, and the boys believed that the promontory
projected from yet higher ground beyond.  On those portions of the
cliff that they could see there was neither shelf nor projection of
any kind.  The walls rose almost like cut stone and were apparently
about three hundred feet high.  As the Cibola was about to descend,
Alan, who was taking a last survey from the bridge, called Ned's
attention to the fact that even the far side of the supposed
promontory was separated from the mountains beyond, and that a chasm
at least a half mile wide separated the two heights.

"It's a mesa," replied Ned with renewed enthusiasm, "and it will be
a good thing to look over it to-morrow.  These high and almost
unapproachable islands of rock were favorite dwelling places for the
Indians."

"But a temple up here wouldn't be a secret very long," replied Alan.
"We've seen this point all afternoon.  It's prominent enough."

"That's so," answered Ned, "but we are here, so let's make a landing
and eat, and dream over it."

The balloon had now lost so much gas that a landing was easy, and,
tired with four days' profitless search and its strain, the young
aeronauts were soon beyond even dreams.

It was with no small alarm that the boys saw, when they awoke with
the first rays of the sun, that the car of the Cibola, which had
been anchored fore and aft to heaped up rocks during the night, was
now resting on the ground. Gas, was rapidly escaping.  But fortunately
the aeroplanes and propeller had been left properly in a horizontal
position and no damage had been done.

The boys knew that by throwing over enough ballast and stores the
Cibola could be made good for one more flight, but that probably it
would be the last.  Therefore, the inevitable seemed forced upon
them.  They would fortify themselves with a good breakfast, look
over the mesa, make one more circling flight and then attempt to
find Camp Eagle.  While Alan made haste to prepare breakfast, Ned
determined first on an examination of the mesa point by daylight.

The rock had a top area of perhaps forty or fifty acres.  It had a
rolling surface and was coated with a carpet of dusty sand, except
in the northwest corner.  The northern end of the mesa, Ned could
see, widened and ended in a sharp rise almost wall-like in form.  At
the western end this wall-like elevation turned the corner and
extended south a short distance, finally dropping down to the
general level of the mesa.  In this protected comer grew a strange
grove of gnarled and twisted pines, ill nourished and apparently
very old.  Between this comer of the mesa and the sharper promontory
whereon the Cibola had come to anchor, was a wide, sandy, barren
depression.

The narrow portion of the rocky island where the boys had made camp
drew in abruptly to make the point that marked the southern end of
the mesa.  Ned turned first toward the point.

When he had advanced, making his way slightly upward all the time,
to where the narrow mesa was not over four hundred feet wide, the
lad was astounded to suddenly discover a deep and narrow fissure or
chasm.  It was dark, with sides as abrupt as the cliffs of the mesa,
and too wide to jump across.  A cold air was already rising from the
opening into the warmer atmosphere above.

In his astonishment Ned called to his chum.

"What surprises me," exclaimed Ned, "is the character of the
opening.  If it extended from cliff to cliff I should say that the
same freak of nature that made this solitary island of rock also
split off this end at some time.  But it is closed at each end."

Alan hastened to the end of the fissure, near the side of the mesa.

"It looks to me," he said, "as if it had extended entirely across at
some time and the ends walled up later."

The boys made a closer examination.

"You're right," said Ned when he discovered that each end of the
rift had been filled with closely fitted rock, "and human hands did
it."

Alan sprang up in excitement.

"That's the first sign we've had," he exclaimed.  "Do you suppose it
means anything?"

The edge of the cliff was so abrupt that the boys had to lie down to
look over in safety.

"It does," Ned answered.  "The reason you can't see that chasm from
below or from in front is because the face of it is walled up.  And
it is walled so skillfully that you can't detect it from even a
short distance."

"That's to hide something," quickly replied Alan, "but I don't see--"

Ned was standing on top of the short filled-in portion of the chasm.

"Look!" he exclaimed, suddenly interrupting his friend.  "These
stones are steps, and, they are worn!"



CHAPTER XXVII

THE TURQUOISE TEMPLE DISCOVERED


In another moment he had sprung forward and was quickly descending
into the narrow, dark pit, with Alan close behind.  A cave-like
smell and a rapidly, cooling air greeted them.  They were soon in
almost complete darkness.  When the walls had narrowed to but a few
feet, a thin ribbon of blue sky was all that could be seen above.

The steps had come to an end.  An ascending elevation began just in
front of them.  This they made out by the light of a match, which
flickered uncertainly in the bad air.  Bats dashed against the walls
and every movement was followed by a cloud of dust.

"Do you feel anything?" suddenly exclaimed Alan.  "Seems to me like
a current of air on my feet."

Ned lit another match.

Before them they again made out an ascending slant such as they had
come down.  But the base of it was hollowed out in the form of a
small cave.  As the light went out both boys stooped to look further
into this opening.

"Light!" they exclaimed almost together.

They were looking through a tunnel made, as they afterward found, in
the base of the filled-in portion of the chasm.  Reptiles, bats and
dust were forgotten now.  Plunging forward on their hands and knees,
the two boys advanced without difficulty to the distant mouth of the
tunnel.

It ended abruptly in the face of the mesa cliff, one hundred feet
above the valley below.  There was not the slightest ledge below it
and the side of the mesa dropped so precipitately that access to the
tunnel mouth from without seemed impossible.  The possibility of a
climb to that entrance to reach the mesa above was out of the
question.

The boys, panting for breath, lay on the floor of the tunnel with
their heads just out of the opening.

"Some one has used this place, but how did they ever get up here?"
asked Alan.

"I don't know and I don't care," said Ned with excitement.  "But I
do know that this entrance is concealed.  Why, you couldn't even see
it from below--it's so small.  And it was made that way for a
purpose.  That must mean Cibola.  Let's get busy."

There were one hundred and thirty-five steps to mount, and each was
about a foot and a half high.  When Ned and Alan were on top of the
mesa again they were out of breath and their clothes were white with
dust.  They were also choked, thirsty and hungry.

"Eat heartily," laughed Ned, when they began breakfast over again;
"we are going to have a busy day, I hope."

"What is your theory?"

"That our treasure is right here if it is anywhere," exclaimed Ned.

Alan laughed.  "The place is barren as a barn floor," he said; "I
don't see any very large palace or temple hereabouts."

"I don't either.  That's why I'm going to look for it--and look
hard."

"And our gas slipping away at a lively rate!" interrupted Alan
again.

"Let it all go," said Ned.  "We know how we can get down within a
hundred feet of the ground, anyway.  That's some consolation."'

"First we will make a circuit of the north end," continued Ned,
after breakfast, "and if nothing comes of that--no unseen hollows or
new crevices--we'll try this sandy hollow, even if it is smooth as a
plain."

The circuit of a fifty-acre area requires time and it was an hour
before the boys had traversed the edge of the precipitous cliff.  At
every few yards they examined the face of the mesa for gaps or shelves,
but there seemed hardly a resting place for a bird.

Tired and hot, the sun being now high above them, the young
aeronauts finally reached the north-eastern corner of the mesa
without finding a sign or suggestion of Indians, or even of animal
remains.

Alan had thrown himself on the ground at this point for a rest, when
with an exclamation Ned darted from his side.  As Alan's eyes
followed him he saw the cause of the exclamation.  From where they
stood--directly east from the ancient grove--they could see for the
first time that the trees stood in a wide double semi-circle, and,
directly in the center, perhaps fifteen feet in height, arose a
column of masonry.  It was snow white in color and glistened like
glass.

There was no question about it.

The fabled Temple of Turquoise, its deep blue glaze lost in the
whitening sun of three centuries, stood before them.  Almost
overcome with the emotion of success the two boys stood as if
transfixed.  Then cautiously, as if afraid the wonderful pile might
dissolve itself into a dream, they moved forward.

In this protected corner of the mesa where the winds of ages had
gradually deposited a thin sandy soil, the hand of man had planted
two almost complete circles of trees.  Therein, and generally
agreeing with the record of the long dead Vasquez, were the plain
outlines of a stone structure.  At places, where the walls crossed,
and at some of the corners, the masonry yet rose to the height of a
man.  And again, it fell into long irregular piles of jumbled
blocks.  Sifted sand filled each corner and crevice.

In the center of the ruins rose the turquoise column.  From this,
and in a line with the true east to where the boys stood, extended
an open approach.  Almost reverently Ned and Alan advanced up this
walk.

It was easily seen that the structure had contained a maze of
rooms--over three hundred, they afterwards discovered--and that the
white column stood in a hollow square.

"It's white," almost whispered Alan.

"Yes," answered Ned; "it ought to be blue."

They were now at the foot of the column.  Directly in front stood an
opening or door.  Bordering this was a framework of brick-like
squares or tiles, black, and ornamented with white figures.

"Just like pottery," said Alan, noticing the true geometrical design
and the still cruder outlines of animals.

"Look," exclaimed Ned, pointing to the top of the door.

Here, the small tiles were replaced with a large square of black
tile, in the center of which shone a dull yellow radiating design.

"A symbol of the sun," explained Alan, "and of gold!" he added
excitedly.

"Then it certainly is our secret city," said Ned.

As he said this he was busy with his knife, digging at the
glistening white bits with which the column was coated.  Finally one
came off. It fell into his hand and the back of it came into view.

The two boys broke out in an exclamation of delight.  The protected
portion of the piece was a deep sky blue.

"The Turquoise Temple!" they both cried together.  "Hurrah!"

When night came again Ned and Alan were almost too excited for rest
or sleep.  Nor did they taste food again until the dust of the ruins
warned them temporarily to abandon their search.  To walk into a
treasure house that the daring adventurers of two races had
overlooked for three hundred years was enough to turn the heads of
any two boys.

The "Doorway of the Sun" as Alan called it, led into a chamber about
fifteen feet square.  The walls of this were lined with smooth clay
squares of black tile, undecorated.  Eight feet above the floor,
which was also of clay tile and half buried under sand, rose a
ceiling of arched stones.  There was no opening in this, but steps
on the outside of the temple and in the rear led to a chamber above,
in the front of which, and also facing the sun, was another opening
about two feet from the floor.  In front of this window was a stone
bench or altar.  The meaning of it the boys did not know.  This room
was barren of either decoration or utensil and it was half full of
the debris of what had apparently been another arched stone roof.
Only the front or eastern side of the structure was coated with the
precious turquoise; the other sides of the column were of plain,
fairly well fitted, mortarless stone blocks.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE COLLAPSE OF THE CIBOLA


An opening in the paved court in the rear of the Temple, half filled
with drifted sand, led into a "khiva" or secret religious council
chamber beneath.  Herein the young adventurers discovered their
wonderland and the reward for all their labors.

Hastily returning to the balloon, they procured candles and
improvised scoops out of the sides of the tin emergency ration case
obtained from the Arrow.  Major Honeywell had warned the boys that
the floors of all closed chambers of this sort were covered with the
accumulated dust of ages.

The first examination of the "khiva" resulted in disappointment.
The immediate impression that the boys received was one of cave-like
barrenness.  In the half-light only a gray monotony met the eye.
Yet under this ghostlike pall, forms soon began to appear.  In the
center of the chamber stood what was apparently an altar.  In spite
of its burden of dust an elevation could be seen about eight inches
high and seven feet in diameter, on which was a boxlike structure
about three feet square and four feet high.  On top of this was a
dust-covered figure.  Beyond, in the deepest gloom, the mouths of
four radiating tunnels leading still further into the ground could
be seen.  The roof was supported by irregular round columns,
apparently of wood, arranged in two circles.

Before beginning an exploration of the chamber the boys decided to
ascertain the depth of the dust covering the floor, into which they
had already sunk over their shoe tops.  This was stifling work, for
the soft powder ran back as fast as it was dug away.  A half hour at
least was consumed in reaching the bard surface beneath.  The
coating of dust was nearly three feet deep.

As Ned climbed out of the little excavation Alan held the candle
down.  To the astonishment of the boys a beautiful blue sheen met
their gaze.

"Turquoise flooring!" shouted Ned.

It was true.  The entire "khiva," so far as the boys subsequently
uncovered its floor, was a crude mosaic of the most perfect
turquoise, the pieces, varying in size, being laid in a lime-like
cement.

A general survey of the room and its connecting tunnels showed that
each radiating arm led, with about twenty feet of passageway, into a
smaller room.  In each of these rooms were nine column placed in a
rectangle.  The main chamber was circular in form, forty-eight feet
in diameter, and the smaller apartments were twenty-four feet
square.

Ned while at work examining the floor, suddenly ceased and rushed to
one of the columns.

"You remember," he exclaimed, "the Spaniard said these columns were
of gold and silver."

But in this the ancient record was wrong.  The inner six supports
were painted a faded yellow and the second row, twelve in number,
was colored red, as the boys discovered later when they brushed and
cleaned some of them.  Around each of the inner columns, however,
there were two metal bands about two inches wide and thirty inches
apart.  The lower ones were six feet from the floor.  They were of
heavy gold with loops or hooks extending from each side, as if
festoons or connecting bands had once extended from pillar to
pillar.

"Not a bad substitute!" exclaimed Ned.

The second line of twelve columns had similar rings of silver, as
the boys discovered in good time.  The movable contents of the room
were not easily examined, as each object on the floor was buried
under a mound of heavy, suffocating dust.  Bats had made the place
an undisturbed refuge, and the repulsive flutter of these creatures
was disconcerting.

A preliminary examination of the four lateral passages and the rooms
at their far end showed that these were probably store rooms,
excepting the one on the east side.  Here, on shelves, fixed on
columns or posts similar to the colored supports in the principal
chamber, were eight oblong forms.  Even the dust and refuse could
not disguise the nature of these--they were unmistakably mummies,
the embalmed bodies of either chiefs or priests.  At the head and
foot of each were various dust covered receptacles and utensils.

The afternoon was too short for the boys to accomplish the removal
of anything.

"I feel like a grave robber," panted Alan, soberly, as the two boys
clambered out into the fresh air, finding, to their surprise, that
it was already night.

"Well, I don't," said Ned.  "These things are so old that they seem
to belong to Time itself.  I feel more like a gold miner who has at
last struck a rich vein--and it's our vein."

But, as so often happens, ill luck came close on good fortune.  The
first glance of the young aeronauts at the camp and the Cibola was
enough to chill their new happiness.  The big gas bag had settled so
low that it half concealed the car, which was resting flat on the
ground.  The buoyancy of the air ship was gone.  Without more gas
the Cibola could not make another flight.  It was a severe blow to
Ned and Alan; but they met the issue squarely.

"There is no use in worrying," said Ned, finally, when they realized
the exact situation, "and we've got to make the best of it.
Besides," he said, laughing, "we are not ready to go."

"That's right," replied Alan, thinking of the yet unexamined
contents of the Treasure Temple, "and when we are ready I guess
we'll be no worse off than Bob and Elmer.  I suppose we can manage
the one hundred foot descent some way."

Ned pointed to the hundreds of yards of net cordage.

"Right," exclaimed Alan, "that'll be easy--a rope ladder."

It was almost dark and the boys were covered with the penetrating
grime of the long undisturbed "khiva."  A meager wash up and supper
and rest were in order.  But Ned said:

"By morning the Cibola will be in collapse.  It is a valuable
machine, and it ought not be left out here on this point unprotected
from the seasons.  We shall probably never see it again, but while
we can move it let's tow it over in front of the temple and put the
bag and engine and instruments in the protected room."

It was not a difficult task.  With no great effort the car was half
carried and half dragged down the slope and then to the clearing in
the pine grove where the boys soon made a new camp.  To complete
their work the big bag of the balloon was untied from the car and
drawn, half inflated, into the pathway leading to the temple door.
Then, with no small regret, the boys opened the escape valve, and in
a few minutes the collapsed Cibola was stretched like the cast off
skin of a snake along the sandy pathway, ready to be rolled up and
compactly stored away.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE GOLDEN EAGLE OF THE AZTECS


In the morning the boys went at their task with renewed vigor.
Inventory was first taken of the stores and provisions.  There was
enough food for about six days, if used with care.  Of water there
was a supply apparently for a little longer period.  But the choking
dust of the "khiva" made bathing almost a necessity, and, used in
this way, even sparingly, the supply would not last over two days.

"No more baths until we go down into the valley," ordered Ned.
"Cleanliness would be a comfort, but we'll have to be uncomfortable."

Permanent camp was made in the cabin of the dirigible.  In arranging
this all the machinery, the engine, the blower, the dynamo, the
reconverter and the aeroplanes, the rudder and the propeller were
unmounted, and the smaller articles made ready for storing in the
temple entrance.  There were four casks of gasoline left unused.  As
these were being carried to the temple Ned suddenly exclaimed:

"Why not rig up the engine and dynamo and use an electric light down
in our cave of Mystery."

"Good," answered Alan, "and while we are at it, why not hook up the
balloonet blower with the engine and get fresh air?"

The stowing away of the machinery, the packing of the gas bag and
the setting up of the engine and dynamo and blower afforded plenty
of work until noon; and then, while the trusty little engine was
pumping volumes of good sweet air into the hot, almost suffocating
chamber below ground, the boys had luncheon.

Then began the real exhumation of the long buried articles in the
secret religious chamber of the almost forgotten race.  As
revelation succeeded revelation in the next two days the paralyzing
wonder that first came to Ned and Alan was succeeded by the dullness
of fatigue.  At intervals of not more than an hour they came above
ground for fresh air.  The absence of water soon converted them into
bronze-like human statues.  They could feel that their lungs were
becoming clogged with the almost impalpable dust.  But they
persevered.  The prize was too rich to be abandoned because of mere
physical discomfort.

By means of the wired drag rope the powerful incandescent light was
carried to all the chambers.  And one after another, as the blower
gave the boys air and helped sweep away the clouds of dust, the
remains which had lain buried for over three centuries were
uncovered and brought above ground.

Of the pottery itself, vases, jars, and religious ceremonial
utensils, perfect in shape and displaying ornamentation that would
have delighted Major Honeywell, the excavators could take little
note.  After removing the twelve gold hoops or bands from the
supporting columns and twenty similar silver rings from the second
row of pillars, the boys penetrated the elevation in the center of
the "khiva."

As the end of the blower pipe was directed against this square
column, the sediment of centuries disappeared.  Then the brilliantly
penetrating glare of the reflected electric light fell on the
elevation and both boys burst out in an exclamation of amazement.


On what had been a ceremonial dais stood the treasure of the secret
city of Cibola--an image of the sacred Golden Eagle of the Aztecs.
The revered bird of the Aztecs stood upright, its extended head
peering east.  The body of this aboriginal work of art, crude in
form, was of massive silver.  And to it were attached overlapping
plates of gold in the similitude of feathers.  The unfolded wings
were also of gold.  The head, beak and talons were of gold, and the
eyes were two polished bits of quartz.  The idol, for such no doubt
it was, stood forty inches in height and weighed about three hundred
pounds.

The base on which the precious eagle stood was completely covered
with the deepest blue turquoise.  At its foot and covering the dais
were the crumbled traces of many articles of cloth, feathers, bits
of wood and pottery, and the like, all, no doubt, fragments of
priestly utensils of worship.  The most ornate and best preserved of
these was a large flat bowl covered on the inside with skillfully
cut mother-of-pearl.  This was still iridescently beautiful, and the
more striking because its milk white exterior was unmarked by
decoration.

Each mummy, when hauled into the open air and examined, gave more
positive proof of the riches that had been collected in this sacred
retreat.  The funeral bowls placed at the feet of the bodies varied
in form and material.  Some of these were of plain black and white
pottery, others were coated with gold, silver, or mother-of-pearl.
The bowls apparently had once contained food.   In all there were
two golden bowls, four of silver, one of pearl and one of pottery.

Each mummy was wound with as much care as was ever bestowed on the
Egyptian royal dead.  The woven wrappings were coated with pitch and
beneath them were colored cotton cloths, affording proof of a high
civilization.  The richest treasures of the dead were the
breastplates and necklaces found on each.  These astounded the young
investigators.

These plates and beads had been strung on deer sinews, which, not
having been protected by pitch, were now only lines of dust.  But,
lying on the breast of each there was invariably a "body scraper,"
(as Major Honeywell afterwards termed them) of gold, silver or
mother-of-pearl.  Mother-of-pearl discs were the commonest neck
decoration.  Of these the boys discovered four.

On three of the bodies were pierced pearl bead necklaces.  On the
most elaborately wrapped figure, that of a head priest or high
chief, came the crowning discovery.  This was a necklace of pierced
amethysts.  And on the breast of this figure was a flat plate of
gold with sixteen radiating points, each of these terminating in a
large luminous unpierced and polished amethyst.

About the waist of this shriveled figure were the remains of a
jeweled belt.  The foundation or back of this had dissolved into
dust, but careful unwrapping of the cerements revealed the priceless
ornamentation.  This decoration was of alternating squares of
mother-of-pearl, in each of which glistened a perfect amethyst, and
of matchless turquoise squares set with great pearls.



CHAPTER XXX

A QUARTER OF A TON OF TREASURE


It was impossible for the boys even to venture an estimate on the
value of the immense mine of turquoise, although they realized that
the increasing scarcity of the jewel made the beautiful and unique
specimens everywhere about them worth a great deal of money.  Nor
had they any idea of the value of the mother-of-pearl bowls, nor of
the hundreds of beautiful and unique ceremonial and funeral urns and
vases.  Least of all, could they put even an approximate price on
the amethyst and pearl necklaces.  Even their most sanguine hopes of
discovering the hidden city of Cibola had not led the adventurers to
investigate the current prices of precious stones.

Knowing, however, what the prices of gold and silver were, they
could form some estimate of the worth of this part of the treasure.

By comparison with the known weights of certain articles in the car
the two boys made the following list of metal pieces discovered:

  GOLD                                                  POUNDS

  Twelve bands. Weight each 2 lbs. 1 oz.                  26
  Two bowls. Weight each 6 lbs                            12
  Two "body-scrapers." Weight each 9 oz                    1 1/2
  Wings, head and talons of Sacred Eagle                  82
  Breastplate                                              3
  Radiating sun over entrance                             12

  Total, 136 1/2, or 1,638 ounces.

  SILVER                                                POUNDS

  Twenty-four bands. Weight each 1 lb. 8 oz               40
  Four bowls. Weight each 5 lbs                           20
  Four "body-scrapers." Weight 10 oz..                     3 1/3
  Body of Sacred Eagle. Weight                           218
  Ninety-six miscellaneous rings, bands,
     anklets and wristlets, many set with
     mother-of-pearl and turquoise                        16 1/3

  Total, 297 2/3, or 3,580 ounces.


The market value of these precious metals was easily computed.  The
silver at sixty cents an ounce was worth $2,148.  The more valuable
gold, at twenty dollars an ounce, was worth $32,760.  Together, the
484 pounds were worth $34,908.

"And one-third of that," said Ned with a smile--almost discernible
beneath his dust--begrimed face, "is nearly $12,000.  And that is
$6,000 for each of us."

"But how about the amethysts and pearls?" said Alan.

"I suppose," answered Ned, "that they are worth a great deal more,
but I don't know.  I should think that those that have no holes in
them would be very valuable."

All this figuring was intensely interesting, but the boys, as the
revelation progressed, knew that they were now facing a new problem.
They could not possibly carry that gold and silver, to say nothing
of even a portion of the exquisite mother-of-pearl bowls or the
finest samples of the turquoise. When, in the end, nearly a quarter
of a ton of the metal treasure alone lay in a heap in the corner of
the temple vestibule they could come to but one conclusion.

This portion of the treasure would have to be removed at another
time.

"It has lain here undisturbed for over three hundred years," said
Ned hopefully, though sadly, "and we'll have to take a chance that
it can be left a while longer."

Sorrowfully enough Alan agreed.  It was to be no easy work getting
out of the wilderness, and food must be carried.  That might be more
precious to them than gold before they saw a railroad again.  The
boys agreed to take at noon the next day the exact latitude and
longitude of the mesa.  The latitude, on one slip of paper, was to
be carried by one boy and the longitude, on another piece, was to be
in the possession of the other.  This was a precaution against
accidental revelation of the treasure mesa.

The set jewels were removed.  There were two hundred and ninety-four
pierced pearls and ninety-eight pierced amethysts.  Among the whole
gems, eighteen magnificent pearls were extracted from the jeweled
belt.  Eighteen unpierced amethysts were also taken from the
alternating turquoise squares of the belt and sixteen magnificent
amethysts from the gold breastplate.

It was then that the sewing kit supplied by Alan's sister Mary came
into service.  A small piece of aluminum waterproof silk cabin
covering was converted into two flat bags and in these the stones,
equally divided, were enclosed and concealed under the clothing and
beneath the right arm of each lad.  In addition, each boy took half
of the mother-of-pearl and turquoise belt plates as the finest
specimens of each material.

"And to show that there is gold too," suggested Alan, "we might as
well take along, these gold 'scrapers,' which won't bother us much,"
So these two pieces were strung on cords and suspended about the
necks of the young treasure seekers.

"And to-morrow," exclaimed Ned joyfully when all this was done,
"we'll get down from here and get a bath."

"Amen," added Alan earnestly.

Until it was twelve o'clock, the time to take their observation, the
boys spent the next morning in last preparations and making
everything shipshape.  The framework of the car was left intact, but
weighted by stones to prevent injury by the wind.  Everything
movable was stored in the entrance room of the temple, including
three and one-half cans of gasoline.  The engine was oiled and
covered with blankets.  Underneath the smoothly folded balloon, in
the folds of which dry sand had been liberally sprinkled to prevent
possible adhesions of the varnish, lay nearly thirty-five thousand
dollars' worth of curiously wrought gold and silver.  This was first
completely covered with sand.

The two provision packs for the retreat to civilization had been
carefully arranged.  How long the journey might take they could not
estimate.  They had decided to their way east, in hope of falling in
with Elmer and Bob, and this meant the crossing of at least two
mountain ranges and thirty miles of barren foothills to Mount
Wilson.  Then, if they turned south, they would traverse eighty-five
miles of sandy plain in which water was infrequent.

Their own provisions were exhausted.  What they now depended on was
the emergency case secured from the Arrow.  This supply was intended
to be enough for two men for two weeks.

"It certainly ought not take us that long,"' complained Alan.  "Why
not leave half the supply and take a little gold?"

But Ned was obdurate.  He explained that they might fall in with the
other boys, and that if they did Elmer and Bob might be wholly out
of supplies.

"We can come back if we get out in good shape," explained Ned, "and
if we don't get out what'll be the use of a back load of gold?"

That settled it.  The food packs were made up of the following
supplies: Flour, 12 lbs; corn meal, 5 lbs; beans, 5 lbs; bacon, 7 1/2
lbs; rice, 5 lbs; oatmeal, 2 lbs; baking powder, 1/2 lb; coffee, I
lb; tea, 1/2 lb; sugar, 5 lbs; lard, 2 1/2 lbs; salt, 1/2 lb; pepper,
1/8 lb.  Each provision pack weighed twenty-one pounds.  In addition
there was an aluminum frying pan, a coffee pot and two aluminum
plates.  A water canteen, a blanket, a revolver and belt of
ammunition and a knife apiece completed the equipment.  Alan carried
in addition the "snake bite" case, the compass and small hatchet,
and Ned the money belt containing over five hundred dollars in gold.

The sealed glass tubes of matches were divided between the two boys
and then, as it was noon, the sextant that Ned had been so careful
to bring with them was used for the first and last time.  The
observation made and noted, and the record of it divided as planned,
Ned and Alan were ready to begin their attempt to make their way out
of the rock-bound wilderness.  With provisions, water, blanket and
arms each lad was carrying about thirty-five pounds.

"Would you still like a few pounds of Aztec treasure?" laughed Ned
as they stood with packs adjusted.

"I should say not," retorted Alan; "I'm satisfied."

The method of lowering themselves from the hole in the face of the
cliff to the ground, one hundred feet beneath, had been worked out
in detail and the apparatus made in the evenings by the light of
their camp fire.  And early that morning Alan had carried the long
rope ladder down the chasm and to the mouth of the tunnel.  Now, in
addition to their packs, the two boys carried between them a section
of one of the pine trees, about six feet long.

As they stood, ready to leave, Ned raised his cap.

"Good bye, old Cibola," he said with moisture in his eyes, "until we
meet again, if ever."

"If ever?" added Alan quickly with as much gaiety as he could
summon.  "You don't think we'll ever let anyone else lift that
little pile?" and he pointed to the well filled entrance room of the
temple.

"No," answered Ned, soberly, "if we have as good luck on the land as
we had in the air."

Ned and Alan meant to reach the earth by means of a rope ladder.
This they had constructed from the stout Italian hemp suspension
cords of the Cibola.  These ropes, each thirty feet in length, were
knotted and then doubled to insure strength.  For the last
twenty-five feet at the bottom the landing ladder of the balloon was
used.  The rungs, two feet apart, were of pine from a felled tree,
and were thirty-eight in number.

For anchorage, the six-foot length of tree was dragged to the mouth
of the tunnel and, five feet from the opening, wedged between the
floor and roof of the tunnel, slightly inclined forward.  The strain
on the bottom would thus only fix the supporting section more firmly
in place.  From the bottom of the pine shaft a loop of four of the
suspension cords reached just out of the tunnel opening.  To this
loop the top rang of the ladder was tied, with a separate
hundred-foot length of cord.  After the ladder had been made firm
with a running slip knot the hundred-foot length of cord was dropped
to the ground.

This arrangement had been provided in order that the rope ladder
might be removed after the descent.  By a jerk of the cord the slip
knot would be loosened and the ladder, released, would fall of its
own weight.  Another length of rope had been prepared, this one
somewhat over a hundred feet long and also doubled for strength.
This was for the lowering of the packs and other articles by one of
the boys after the other had descended.  To insure its free running
and to prevent its wearing through on the edge of the cliff, a six
inch section of the pine tree had been prepared, flattened on one
side and having a wide smooth groove in the top.  This, attached to
a short length of rope, which was made fast with the ladder loop to
the upright shaft in the tunnel, was fixed on the verge of the
opening.

Finally everything had been arranged and made fast.  Each of the two
boys insisted that he should go down first.  To solve the dispute,
they cast lots and the risk of testing the rope fell to Ned.
Slipping off his shoes and socks, which he hung about his neck, he
sprang to the ladder.  Alan hung over the edge and watched him with
apprehension, but Ned, feeling his way carefully, was soon on the
ground.

His shout was the signal to begin the work of lowering the packs.
And down they came, one after another; provisions, revolvers,
blankets, water bottles, and even the money belt, for Ned had made
himself as light as possible for his descent.

At last it was Alan's turn.  The last load had descended, the
lowering line had been released, drawn up and stowed away.  The slip
knot was examined anew and then Alan followed Ned down the slender,
fragile swaying rope ladder.  When he had reached the ground by
Ned's side and the strain was over, the boys shook hands jubilantly.

"--And now," shouted Ned with a laugh, "last chance!  If you want to
go back for a new load say so before it is too late."

Alan, exhausted with the climb, shook his head.

"Then stand from under," cried Ned.

As he jerked the slip knot cord the boys sprang aside and the long
ladder, wriggling, crashed at their feet.

The only means of reaching the towering elevation had been removed
and the only visible sign of their brief occupancy of the secret
mesa had been destroyed.



CHAPTER XXXI

AN ADVENTURE WITH THE NAVAJOS


Three days later, Ned Napier and Alan Hope, worn and almost
exhausted with the steady climb and descent of countless rocky
heights, made their camp for the night at the foot of a rugged
slope.  Their shoes were torn so that a protection of rags was
necessary.  The hot and pitiless sun had seemingly dried up their
boyish spirits.  Silent with fatigue, having plodded steadily
forward since sunrise, they threw themselves on the sand.

The young adventurers were headed straight for the east.  And still
the last range of mountains was beyond them.  Led by the compass,
they held to their course, sometimes passing miles out of their path
to avoid some inaccessible mesa, but more often scaling ragged and
tiresome heights.

Eating had now become a matter of form and necessity.  There was no
longer the keen joy in making camp.  During the three days the boys
had seen no living object except birds, rabbits, many deer and two
bears, all of which they had left unmolested in their eagerness to
press forward.  But at noon on this day Alan, having occasion to
glance backwards, was positive that he saw a human head.  Whether
white man or Indian he could not determine.  The incident gave the
lads no little, concern, but as no further sign of a human being was
seen that day they finally forgot the matter.

That night, after making tea and taking a little more pains than
usual with their supper in an effort to revive their spirits as well
as their tired bodies, Ned and Alan spread their blankets at the
edge of a pine grove.  Almost before it was dark they were both
sound asleep.

Some hours later Alan awoke with the instant consciousness of an
unusual sound.  Motionless and straining his ears, he heard deep
breathing just behind him.  A new moon was just sinking below the
buttes on the far side of the little valley in which they had
stopped for rest, but under the pines the shadows were deep.  He
knew that danger was near and he did not move.  In another moment he
felt a soft hand on his waist, as swift and as silent as a snake,
and he knew that the hand was extracting his revolver.

Then, from his half-opened eyes, he saw a figure crouching over his
chum just opposite.  Some one no doubt was also removing Ned's
weapon.  Then there was the pressure of stealthy footsteps on the
pine needles and Alan moved his head until he could see two
indistinct forms moving from the shadows of the timber across the
open space to the dying embers of their little fire.  There he could
easily discern five or six figures.  He was about to put his hand on
Ned's face to awaken him gently when he saw the entire group coming
directly toward their sleeping place.  Their movements now revealed
plainly that they were Indians.

With cold beads of perspiration covering his body Alan again
pretended sleep.  It was now apparent that they had been followed,
and, no doubt, by Navajos.  Perhaps this was the end of their
toilsome retreat.  With visions of death presenting themselves, he
wondered again whether he ought to arouse Ned.  Then he realized the
futility of such action.  As the moccasined feet drew near Alan
could read death in each approaching sound.  But at the edge of the
trees there was another pause, and then he knew that the Indians had
scattered.

Straining every muscle in an effort to breathe naturally, like one
asleep, the boy counted the seconds while he waited for the clutch
of a savage hand.  And as the moment passed and the attack did not
come he tried to speculate on what the strangers were doing.  A
guttural half exclamation soon allowed him a quick breath of
temporary relief.  The Indians were only after their supplies.

The savages had found the half-concealed packs of the two boys.
Alan knew this by the location of the sounds that now came to him,
and then, as the prowlers withdrew again into the open and the faint
moonlight, it could be seen that they were bearing all the
belongings of the two lads.  For perhaps ten minutes Alan lay
without moving and watched the Indians.  He could make out that they
were hastily looking over the packs and dividing what yet remained
among themselves.  Then ponies were led to the place of the camp
fire and the members of the band quickly threw themselves on their
animals and disappeared into the night.

Almost paralyzed with the knowledge of what this meant Alan now
softly put his hand on Ned's face:

"Are you awake?" came instantly from Ned.

"Are you?" retorted Alan in surprise.

"Yes," whispered Ned, "I saw it all.  But I didn't move, because I
was afraid of arousing you."

"Here, too," exclaimed Alan.  "Did you feel them take your
revolver?"

Ned's band flew to his belt.

"Is yours gone too?  I saw them when they came up from the fire.
But you did right to keep still.  If we had moved I expect we'd have
had our throats cut."

"That was one of them I saw to-day," added Alan, "and I guess we're
lucky to be alive."

"Yes," added Ned rising to his feet, "we are.  They are satisfied, I
suppose, to let us starve."

The prospect was a trying one.  If the range behind them was the one
they hoped it was, there was only one more valley between its summit
and the outer ridge of the Tunit Chas.  If they could reach this
ridge they believed they might see Mount Wilson's peak.  But even
that meant another thirty miles to the scene of the attack on Buck's
camp on the banks of the Chusco.  And from that place it was
eighty-five miles to a railroad and help!

The boys sat in the edge of the pines as the new moon disappeared,
leaving them in utter darkness, and tried desperately to encourage
each other.  Both had the grit to set themselves stoutly to the
apparently hopeless task.  Without food or firearms and possibly
without water, they knew they would find the task gigantic.  But
nothing was to be gained by waiting for starvation and death in the
wilderness, and their decision was to do what they could, to try the
almost impossible, and if they failed to fail with their faces
toward the east.

"Why not start now?" urged Alan.  "Let's use what strength we have."

But Ned showed him the folly of this.

"A night's rest will enable us to make better time to-morrow.  And
besides, we can't make headway when we can't follow the compass."

Retiring a little further into the woods the boys composed
themselves again and before long were once more fast asleep.



CHAPTER XXXII

ALAN SUCCUMBS TO EXHAUSTION


The boys were up at dawn.  Not an article had the marauders left but
the two water canteens which had fortunately been left hanging from
the low branches of a pine.  It was useless to look for more--there
was nothing more to be found.

"Anyway," laughed Ned, "it leaves us in light marching order and we
can make better time.  I'm glad we had a good supper."

As no breakfast was in sight the two boys filled the water bottles
at the creek in the valley, and at five o'clock, taking their
bearings due east, Ned and Alan struck upwards through the pine
woods.  It was a not unpleasant climb while the boys were fresh, but
as the slope grew more precipitous the work began to tell.  At one
o'clock the crest was reached.

"How would you like a piece of broiled bacon, some pancakes and a
cup of coffee, Ned?" asked Alan as they paused to rest.

"In the middle of the day and on the top of a mountain I always
prefer plain water," laughed Ned in reply.  "Here's to you!"

With a big drink from the lukewarm canteens the boys did not pause
long.

"To-night," continued Ned, "we ought to sleep high up in the
foothills over there."

With that inspiration the sore-footed and jaded lads made good time
going down the slope.  Then another rivulet was encountered, in
which they bathed and by which they rested a spell.  Alan would have
been glad to pass the night here, but Ned urged him on, and as night
fell again the hungry, exhausted boys found themselves far up on the
new slope.  Then they slept again, restlessly and on the rocky
ground, for they had abandoned their blankets.

The boys did not wait for daylight.  In the half dawn they were
afoot.

"Take another hitch in your belt, chum, and don't think of the
Placida." laughed Ned.  "We'll make it all right, somehow."

Stiff in limb, their feet twitching with the pain of blisters, Ned
and Alan toiled slowly through the last of the pines and out into
the rocky higher slopes of the range.  It was like climbing an
upright wall, Alan said, but the pain of going on was less than the
despair of giving up.  A little after six o'clock Ned, ahead, pulled
himself breathless to the highest point.

Alan stopped a little below and waited in anxiety.  Before he could
ask whether it was the last ridge, Ned's voice broke out into a
shout.

"Come on, old man, we're all right.  There's old Wilson, the
grandest mountain peak in the world.  Hurrah for Mount Wilson!"

But there was no echo to his exclamation.  Poor Alan, succumbing to
pain and exhaustion, had sunk insensible to the ground.  In another
moment Ned was at his chum's side.  Forcing some water between
Alan's lips and bathing his face with some more of the precious
liquid, Ned soon brought him back to consciousness.  Alan sprang up
in chagrin, and with tears in his eyes insisted that he had only
stumbled and fallen.  But Ned knew the truth.  His friend's bright
eyes and feverish skin told that his condition was grave.

The unseen tears came to Ned's eyes, for it was at least thirty
miles to more water and the plains.  And should they even reach the
Chusco, he could see only death in the desert.

"You'll feel better in the cool of the woods down there," said Ned
gently, "and maybe we can kill a rabbit.  Hurrah, come on, Alan!
Brace up.  It's all down hill, now.  Here's for the woods and
broiled rabbit!"

In a new spurt of life another start was made and the two chums set
out down the slope.  In one of Ned's hands was a rock.  It was to be
the death warrant of any small animal, and his eyes were busy
examining each sheltered rocky nook and bush.  Suddenly a feverish
hand caught his.

"Look," whispered Alan.

Ned's eyes followed his chum's gaze.

It was a spiral of thin smoke in the trees below.

With a shout, Ned sprang forward.  Then he turned.  Alan was
standing still.  Ned's heart grew cold:

"See the smoke," Alan was repeating, "see the nice smoke.  Maybe
it's a house on fire."

His friend was delirious.  Ned flew to his side once more and again
his touch revived the exhausted boy.  Almost five days of wandering
and the exhausting toil on the mesa had proved too much for the more
delicate Alan, and Ned realized with sickening horror that the
situation was critical.

"I'm all right, Ned," answered Alan when his chum was once more with
him; "just a little lightheaded.  But that's all."

What was to be done?  The smoke might be that of a forest fire.  And
it might mean Indians.  But even an enemy is welcome when starvation
and death confronts one.  Almost at the end of his own resources,
the determined Ned forced himself into a last effort.  He used no
words of persuasion, for Alan allowed Ned to take his hand, and
thus, silently and slowly, the two moved forward again.  Perhaps
another half mile was made between rocks and down gullies and then
Alan exclaimed pitifully:

"It's no use, Ned, I can't, I can't.  My feet."  Burying his
fevered face in his hands, the boy wept, partly in pain and partly
because he knew that he was holding back his chum.

At such periods Ned Napier was at his best.  With kind words he
sought to encourage his friend.  He used the little water left to
bathe Alan's face, and the last of his shirt in binding anew his
friend's bleeding feet.  He tried to joke and speculated on the
possibilities of the smoke beyond them, but it was without avail.
Poor Alan could not rise again.  The fever of exhaustion was on him
and with a last appeal to Ned to leave him the boy threw himself on
the ground and fainted away.

There was no doubt now as to what was to be done.  Unless he could
bring help to his friend in a short time Ned knew it would mean
death.  And that meant death for both, for young Napier would never
abandon his friend.  Like a drunken man Ned turned and stumbled
forward.



CHAPTER XXXIII

A FORLORN DASH FOR HELP


Am hour later Alan Hope, carried by the faithful Elmer Grissom and
the jovial Bob Russell, was laid gently on a blanket by the fire
whose smoke had attracted the attention of the ragged, worn
wanderers.  Not until the sun had set did the exhausted lad open his
eyes again.  But water and food had been forced through his lips and
when reason came back strength was not far behind.

Ned sat by his chum's side all day, bathing his face and making him
as comfortable as possible; from Elmer's medicine packet.  A few
mouthfuls of food had sufficed Ned.  But that night, when Alan came
again to his senses, the four boys held a thanksgiving about a
cheerful fire and ate together.  But it was no banquet.

What had happened was soon repeated to the weak but happy Alan.
Elmer and Bob had waited and watched for ten days, using their
stores sparingly and ready always for the return of Ned and Alan.
Two days they had seen the Cibola a speck in the sky far to the
west, and had watched it from the little waterfall on the edge of
the plateau.  Then it disappeared and they never saw it again.  This
was three days after the boys departed from Camp Eagle.

Husbanding their provisions as well as they could, they at last
decided to start on their return to the outside world.

This was two days before.  The tent and the heavier articles were
hidden in a cache.  Their food had been reduced to a meager
quantity.  They had two pounds of bacon, six pounds of flour, two
ounces of tea and a little over a pound of beans.  In addition they
had a half dozen bouillon tablets, a little salt, pepper and sugar,
and a complete and unopened medicine packet in which were quinine,
adhesive plaster, cotton, bandages, morphine, and other needed and
compact drugs.  With this light pack each boy had a rifle and a
revolver, a few cooking utensils and a blanket.

Elmer had his own water bottle, and Bob improvised two out of the
empty baking powder can and a lard pail.

Thus equipped, Camp Eagle was abandoned, and led by their compass
Elmer and Bob had set out bravely for Mount Wilson and the Chusco.
But it was with no small regret that they made their way up the long
slope behind them and then across the valley beyond.  But, fresh and
strong of limb, they pushed forward and with Mount Wilson as a
landmark made camp on the second night in the timber on the slope of
the outer range.

Never wholly despairing of meeting Ned and Alan again, the two boys
were frugal both of their strength and their stores.  The food they
carried would have been sufficient for a healthy man for perhaps a
week.  They could not count on reaching civilization again within
that time, even with good luck.  That meant half rations at the
best.  But if accidents came and delay even half rations would be
cut down.  So, that night, in camp, there was no feasting.  A little
tea, and a cake of dough apiece made their supper; and then they
slept.

In the morning as they were about to breakfast and be off again Bob
caught sight of a deer.  A little jerked venison would not come
amiss, he thought, and as the ammunition was plentiful he darted
through the woods in pursuit.  The fact that Bob was a poor hunter
probably saved Alan's life.  He was gone an hour and a half and when
he returned it was after seven o'clock.

The two boys had just extinguished their fire and were about to
shoulder their packs when a well-known but strained call arrested
them.

"Camp ahoy?"

It was their leader, Ned Napier, his cheeks sunken, and his body
swaying from weakness, but cheery as of old, advancing slowly
through the trees.

Food and a night's rest restored Ned's strength.  "And now, my
friends," said he in the morning, "these bandages and a little food
and good companionship have worked wonders.  We are all ourselves
again.  But we can't stay here, pleasant--as it is.  Alan ought not
to travel for another day and then he ought to have some husky
attendant.  Bob, you are nominated for that job.  Elmer and I will
take a few pinches of tea, the soup tablets, one revolver and a
rifle and--"

"And what?" exclaimed Alan, suspicious of Ned's suggestion.

"And," continued Ned, "We'll just dash on ahead and bring you some
help."

"No, siree," shouted Alan.  "Do you think get back to Clarkeville,
one hundred and fifteen miles or more, on six soup tablets?  And for
me?  If you think you ought to go, all right.  But you'll take half
of the food."

"Or more," interrupted Bob, "give us a little flour and salt and
some matches.  I reckon I can get a deer before night."

But Ned convinced them in the end that he was right.  He argued that
each mile he and Elmer made in advance was nearer help.  Alan must
advance slowly.

"All you've got to do," he explained to Bob and Alan, "is to reach
the Chusco, where Elmer camped, and take care of yourselves for
seven or eight days.  And we'll be there to help you, unless
something happens.  You won't have much to eat but you'll have water
and you have ammunition."

And at seven o'clock that morning they parted.  Just before the
farewells Alan called Ned to one side and said:

"Hadn't you better take my bag?" indicating the jewel case under his
arm.

"Why?" answered Ned.

"Well, you know we may never see each other again."

Ned took his chum's hand.

"Alan," he said, "we were not born to lose ourselves in the woods,
much less to die there.  We'll meet again all right.  Don't you have
any fears on that point.  But if we shouldn't, I won't care for
amethysts or pearls.  If I don't see you again it'll be because I'm
beyond the need of those things."

There were handshakes and cheering, good wishes, and the relief
section was off.

"Elmer," said Alan, after the two had been trailing through the
trees Indian fashion some time, "it is daylight at four o'clock and
dark at seven--that's fifteen hours.  Can you walk two miles an
hour?"

"Sho'ly," smiled Elmer, showing his white teeth.

"Well, that's thirty miles a day.  If we could do that for four days
we'd be in Clarkeville!"

"Clarkeville in fo' days it am den," echoed Elmer, "or bust."

"We've got six soup tablets.  If we dine on one at ten o'clock in
the morning and one at seven o'clock in the evening we'll have
regular meals for three days."

"And de las' day we won't need none, we'll be in such a hurry,"
added the colored boy, happy again in Ned's company.

That was the spirit in which the expedition started.  Late that
afternoon they emerged from the timber and were on the sandy
foothills where progress was faster.  Ned's feet bothered him and he
was in constant pain, but the adhesive plaster and cotton had been
of the greatest help.  There was no pause.  The first day's schedule
he was determined to make and at about eight o'clock the relief
expedition gave a shout.  The Chusco lay before them.

A little fire, some tea and bouillon--made in the pan after the tea
was consumed--and the two boys found a bed on the soft sand with no
covering but the deep Mexican sky.  At dawn they were up and away
after a bath in the muddy river.  Elmer was now the guide and he
readily picked up Buck's old wagon trail.  Sharp at ten o'clock a
halt was made for breakfast, bouillon now without tea.  Ned, his
face a little more sunken and his legs a little more unsteady than
the day before, was sitting on the ground resting his burning feet,
when Elmer suddenly touched him on the shoulder, set the soup pan
quickly on the sand and drew his revolver.

Far down the trail a horseman was approaching.  Behind him in the
distance followed a wagon.  What did this mean?

"Well, whoever it is, we'll have the soup," said Ned.

This consumed, Ned and his friend started forward.

"If it's good luck we'll meet it sooner this way," said Ned, "if
it's bad we'll know the worst quicker."

But it was good luck.  The rider soon galloped up and swung his wide
hat in the air.  It was Curt Bradley, the mayor of Clarkeville.



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE RESCUE


They told Ned afterwards that he keeled over in the sand and fainted
dead away, but he always insisted that he didn't faint, that he knew
everything that was going on.  Yet he did not hear a word of the
long story told by Elmer.  When he roused himself he was lying in
the shade of the big freight wagon and a couple of cowboys were
getting breakfast ready.

Then Mayor Bradley explained his presence in that mysterious way in
which bad news always travels friendly Indians had sent him word of
the attack on Buck's outfit and of the death of the veteran
plainsman.  This news had just reached Clarkeville and Mayor Bradley
had at once set out to find the body if possible, and assist those
who escaped.

Of course all speed was made toward the foothills and that evening
Alan and Bob, the former only a shadow of the lively youngster who
had left Clarkeville but two weeks before, were found and rescued.
That night there was a new camp on the Chusco and meat and hot
bread.  The only shadow to dim the happiness of the rescued boys was
the recollection of the murdered Buck.

The return to Clarkeville was made by easy stages in four days, and
even Alan was nearly his old self when that town was reached.  One
night's rest in real beds, with fresh linen from the baggage they
had left behind them, and baths, removed the traces of privation and
suffering.  There was little more to detain Ned and Alan.

A telegram was dispatched to Major Honeywell at Kansas City, where
the boys and their patrons had agreed to meet.  Then Ned's tool
chest was forwarded by freight to Chicago.  In company with Mayor
Bradley Ned and Alan visited Mrs. Bourke, Buck's widow.  Retaining
enough to cover the costs of transportation to Kansas City he gave
the widow what remained of his funds, nearly five hundred dollars,
and all the heavy stores remaining in the corral.

At midnight of that day four wide-awake and alert boys, neatly clad
in summer suits, boarded the local train bound east for Albuquerque.
The last hand they shook was that of Mayor Bradley.

"Mr. Mayor," said Ned as he parted from his friend, "I'm sorry I
can't tell you why we were here, or what we were doing.  But you
were our friend and we'll never forget you.  Some day I'm going to
show you how highly we regard you.  And some day I hope I'll be able
to tell you what our mission was."

Three days later the quartette of boys sprang from the Limited in
the Union depot at Kansas City.  The parting had come.  None of the
boys knew what that meant until the last moment.

"'Ned," said Bob Russell, once again in the field of his profession,
"I've had many a strange assignment in my work and I expect to have
many another, but I'll never have one like this.  I've got the story
of my life, but I haven't got yours.  If the time ever comes when I
can write it, when you are free to tell it, just remember your best
friend, Bob Russell, reporter, Kansas City Comet."

"Bob," answered Ned wringing his hand, "you have missed a good
story.  I'm sorry.  It wasn't because you were not a good reporter.
It was just our good luck. But if things work out the way I hope,
I'm going to give you something better than a good story."

"And," broke in Alan, "just want to say this: if chance ever throws
adventures my way again I hope that the companions I share it with
will always include Bob Russell."

The details of how Ned and Alan, just one day late, kept their
engagement with major Honeywell and Senor' Oje in the Coates House,
and of the almost unbelievable report they made and the rich
evidence of its genuineness that they submitted do not really belong
in an account of the flight of the Cibola.  Two things were done at
once, however.  A handsome gold watch was purchased and sent to
Mayor Bradley with the compliments of Ned and Alan, and Senor Oje
forwarded an additional check for a thousand dollars to Buck's
widow.

The report on the value of the stones carried from the treasure
temple by the two boys was such that Senor Oje gave them his check
for $25,000.  Out of this each boy contributed part of his share
toward a sum sufficient to give Elmer a business education.  Finally
the two boys bought a draft for a thousand dollars, payable to
Robert Russell.  With it went this note: "Please accept this as some
slight compensation for the story you did not get."

But in good time Bob Russell did get his story.  For, otherwise,
this narrative would never have been written.

How it came about that Bob got his story; how the treasure left in
the Turquoise Temple was finally lifted; how the young aeronauts in
doing it battled successfully with a maelstrom in the clouds, were
driven far out over the Pacific, cast away on a derelict and finally
made an escape with their "sneering idol" by aeroplane into the
wilds of Mexico, is a later and more remarkable chapter in the
adventures of Ned Napier and Alan Hope, to be told in "The Air-Ship
Boys Adrift, or Saved by an Aeroplane."

THE END





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