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   Chapter 1 THE DEPARTURE OF THE OVERLAND LIMITED

The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 12101

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


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?"

Befor

e 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.

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