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   Chapter 2 NED'S MEETING WITH MAJOR BALDWIN HONEYWELL

The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 7766

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


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."

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