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The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 10704

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

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 abou

t 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?"


"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.

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