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The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 6780

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

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 ga

ve 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.

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