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The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 7795

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

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 you

ng 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.

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