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The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 10461

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Old Buck's horse-corral had blossomed over night into a modern balloon factory. And the proprietor, with his bronco team, and the superintending Ned and Alan made big gaps the next day in the precious freight of the Placida. By noon the five casks for generating hydrogen, the cooling and purifying box, and the lead pipe and other equipment, had been transferred to the old horse yard. Three tons of iron turnings, forwarded by freight in advance, were found in the keeping of the railroad agent. It took Buck six trips to move this, and that consumed the afternoon.

A special trip was made by the wagon just after luncheon. This was to transport the tool chest-practically two chests, for it was a large one containing both wood and iron-working tools. With it rode the two boys, both in overalls and ready to begin the setting up and adjustment of the generating tanks.

After their arrival at the corral, the rest of the afternoon, in spite of the heat, slipped quickly away. But by night a foundation had been leveled in a corner of the yard and the five barrel-like generators were firmly anchored and connected by lead pipes with the cooling and purifying box.

"Looks purty much like a distillery," commented Buck, who had just made his last trip with the iron shavings, which were now piled close by the casks.

"And is," laughed Ned, "in a way."

But he volunteered no more. In fact the whole matter was a mystery to every one in the town, except Mayor Curt Bradley and Marshal Jack Jellup.

In the morning the first work accomplished was the removal, one at a time, of ten casks of sulphuric acid, each weighing four hundred pounds. It was a delicate job and not unattended with danger in case of a cask breaking. The boys began to realize the need of help of a higher grade than that of the "greasers" who had been thus far their only assistants except Buck.

Their usual good luck seemed to be with them, however, for just in the middle of the work of sliding a heavy carboy of acid from the wagon a stranger stepped from the group of onlookers, and without words gave a hand to the job.

Alan was about to thank him hurriedly, when the stranger said: "Wot's the game, son? Wot's doin'?"

Alan was at first inclined to resent this "tough" familiarity. Then he realized that the language of the man was in his natural manner of speaking, and he said:

"Who are you and where are you from?"

"Give you one guess," laughed the stranger. "No! Can't tell a 'bo'? Well, just tramp. Wot's dew name? I lost me card case. Me nom de plumb is Kid, Californy Kid. And me address is-well wot's de name o' dis munificent metropolis?"

"Clarkeville, New Mexico," answered Alan smiling.

"Well, den me address is dat. Wot's de nex' inquiry?"

The man was young. His clothing was worn and greasy, his shoes were patched, and those parts of his face and hands that could be seen between smears of coal dust were red from exposure and the sun.

"How do you happen to be here?" continued Alan.

"Well, cul-beg pardon, son-de fact is I lost me purse and de brakeman on de fast freight wouldn't take me check. I was dumped. And I can't get away exceptin' I walk."

"Then you wouldn't care to work?"

"Will dis beautiful city give me coin and chuck widout work?"

"I'm afraid not," laughed Alan.

"Den' it's work for yours truly," answered the tramp with a sort of cheery humor. "But, say, boss, ye couldn't stake me to a drink and some chuck afore I loosen up me muscles?"

"Your pay will be two dollars a day," said Alan, "but no drinking goes. Here's a note that will get you something to eat." And writing a message to Elmer the tramp was soon hurrying to the car for a meal. A half hour later, with his sleeves rolled up, he returned, riding alongside Buck on the wagon.

Ned had given the new hand little attention.

Now he looked him over and asked:

"What's your real name?"

"Gus, boss; or, spellin' it out, Gustave Lippe. How's dat for a handle-Lippe?"

Ned looked at the young man long and sharply.

"One name, they say, is as good as another out here. But I didn't know tramps got this far west."

"Sure," answered the tramp, "It's long jumps and hard ones. It's me last excursion dis way."

"Well," said Ned slowly, "you can work for us as long as you are not too inquisitive."

"Dat's me, boss. I'm de clam till me two dollars per will git me to de next whistle."

"Then you'd better arrange to board with Buck."

"Dat's me lay, boss, already booked. Now show me some work. Me trunk was checked t'roo and I ain't nuttin' on me mind but me job."

"Well, you had better spend the rest of the afternoon in cleaning up a bit," suggested Ned. "Here's five dollars in advance. Report early in the morning."

"Tank's, boss," said Gus, the tramp. But he took the bill slowly.

"But, you can't spend it on beer and whisky and work for us," added Ned.

Gus shifted uneasily.

"You'd better have a bath and a shave. And if you need clothes and can get them here," continued Ned, "I'll advance more to-morrow-if you show up all right."

"I kin work widdout a shave," the man said, "ain't der nuttin' doin' to-day?"

Assured that to-morrow was when he was want

ed the tramp slowly and apparently reluctantly turned and slouched away toward the stores.

"What do you make of him, Ned?" asked Alan as the two toys resumed work.

"Too slangy, I think," commented Ned.

But the final stowing of the acid soon drove the tramp from the minds of the boys.

When the young aeronauts finally closed the corral and returned to the car, the sun a great red ball, was just dropping behind the serrated mountains of the western horizon. On the car steps, Ned turned and pointed to the north. Far away the dusky gray of the plains deepened into darker and darker shadows that ended in a low black mass. But here and there from the black wall rose irregular spires, their tops pink-tipped by the red sun.

"Yes," exclaimed Alan, "the Tunit Chas-our mountains."

And even though the vigilant Elmer called from within, the boys stood and gazed in silence until the last glow had died away and the land of their hopes was lost under the stars.

Important as was the work to be done in Buck's corral, there was another vital thing to be accomplished while this progressed. That was the creation of a base of supplies near the navigator's field of work. This was preferably to be at the junction of the Amarilla and Chusco rivers, and that point lay just eighty-five miles to the north. Between Clarkeville and that spot there were no roads and, at this time of the year, perhaps, no water. With the best wagon and team they might be able to get, this trip over the desert would require not less than five days.

It was impossible for either of the boys to go on this important errand, as both were needed on the spot to set up the balloon. So it had long since been decided that Elmer was to have charge of this secondary expedition. And since it was Elmer who would have to conduct the expedition safely to its destination and establish a relief camp, the colored boy had been thoroughly coached in his coming task.

"Kin I?" the boy had said more than once. "When de Cibola gits dar I'll be dar. And ain't no Indians nor rattlesnakes nor hot weather goin' to break up dat camp."

And the camp meant gasoline, water, food and a stepping stone back to civilization, whether the expedition ended in failure or success. As the boys had already planned that Buck should furnish the wagon and horses and guide Elmer's caravan, they had asked him to call that evening to talk it over.

"I'm ready to start, yes, right now," Elmer had said as he served the good supper over which he had been laboring, "but I does jes nach'elly hate to turn you young gemmen over to dese greaser cooks."

The boys laughed. "You don't think we can keep this up all summer, do you?" exclaimed, Ned. "Even 'greaser' cooks are better than having nothing to eat. And up there," nodding toward the north, "there won't be any cooks."

"Don't forget," interrupted Elmer, "camp-camp-well, my camp. When you get dar dar'll be a good meal waitin' you and when you git outen de mountains I'll still be dar waitin' wid eatin's."

The boys laughed again.

"Like as not," suggested Alan, "if you get all that truck up there. You'll certainly have enough. But don't you bother about the eating. You just watch the water and the gasoline."

"Till de snow flies," exclaimed Elmer with emphasis.

"Which, right there," dryly remarked Ned as he disposed of the last of a generous slice of melon, "is rather indefinite."

When Buck, whose real name they had discovered to be William Bourke-easily corrupted into "Buck"-appeared, the boys had a delicate job before them. Inquiry had quickly shown them that Buck's twenty-five years on the old Santa Fe trail as guide and an active service in the army as scout easily made him the man to conduct Elmer to the north.

To all their long explanations and reasons Buck listened in silence. When there seemed nothing more to be said, Buck smothered the still glowing end of a cigarette between his dark weather-beaten fingers and said slowly:

"When do we start?"

It was arranged that on the second morning Buck should be ready for a journey of uncertain length; that the general direction should be north; that the final destination should be revealed by Elmer on the second morning out.

"Soldier-like," Buck had commented, "and that's the way I like it."

Buck and an assistant were to take an outfit of two wagons, each drawn by four horses. In the lighter wagon six barrels of water were to be carried for use in case the usual "water holes" were dry. In case of an accident, the lighter wagon and horses were to be sent south by the second man and Elmer and Buck were to make a quick dash forward with what water and supplies could be carried on the other wagon.

Old Buck made rather light of the matter.

"Injuns ain't nothin' nowadays," he had explained, shrugging his shoulders, "ye jest want to keep yer bearin's and git used to drinkin' atmosphere and ye'r all right."

The contract with Buck called for thirty dollars a day in money and food for himself and a helper. Both parties to the contract were satisfied and after Buck's fresh cigarette disappeared in the direction of the town the boys lost no time in turning in for a good night's rest.

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