MoboReader> Literature > The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure


The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 13677

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

In spite of his fatigue Ned did not sleep soundly. It had been threatening a thunder storm all evening and the increasing oppressiveness of the air made the young, aeronaut wakeful. The long whistle and jarring stop of the midnight local train finally fully aroused him. In the west the thunder was rumbling and great sheets of heat lightning promised a storm in a short time. After slipping out into the corral and seeing that the waterproof silk sides of the car were securely buttoned around the engine Ned returned and again tried to go to sleep.

But his restlessness continued. In his early sleep he had had a vivid dream about the wagon expedition. In this he thought that Marshal Jack Jellup had followed Elmer, Bob and Buck and set fire to the wagons while his friends were asleep in camp. It was a relief to awaken and find that the flash of light was lightning and not, as he had imagined in his dream, an explosion of the gasoline carried in Buck's big wagon. He lay awake awhile regretting the quarrel with Jellup, and then he sank into a doze again.

But his active brain would not rest. Again he fell into a dream. This time the picture was very real. The big balloon had been finished and launched. A thrill ran through him as he felt the monster craft poise and waver and then slowly rise above the corral. He could hear the cheers of those gathered about. But in the midst of them he heard the sudden crack of a revolver. Jack Jellup had put a bullet through the silken bulk of the bag. The cold perspiration broke out on Ned's forehead.

The dream was so real that he thought he could hear the taunting voice of Jellup. In feverish excitement Ned sprang upright, to find a pair of strong arms clasped about him. He did not cry out. A wave of cold fear seemed to benumb his tongue and brain. He knew this was no dream.

Forced onto his back, his face and eyes partly covered by the shoulders of his sudden captor, Ned's returning consciousness made him aware that there was a dim light in the office.

"It's Jellup, Ned," exclaimed in a whisper a sudden voice which Ned instantly recognized as Alan's.

"No more from you," exclaimed a rough voice in quick reply. "Here's the rope, Domingo."

The man on top of Ned knew his business. Almost before the boy realized what was being done his hands and feet were caught in dexterous knots and he was helpless.

"Now," continued the other voice, "let's have a few minutes' talk."

Ned's assailant had arisen, and for the first time the boy could look about. In the center of the room, with a sputtering candle in his hand, stood the revengeful Jellup. His companion Ned at once remembered as one of the noisy court room spectators of the day before. Between the two, clad in his pajamas and similarly bound, was poor Alan.

"Ye can stand or set, jist as ye like," began Jellup. "Me and me deputy hev made this little visit to ye fur a purpose. The citizens of this town is tired of yer carryin's on and they've just delegated me to ascertain what it all means. We got a purty good idee."

"Well, what is your idea?" interrupted Ned, slowly regaining his composure and his natural defiance.

"My idee is that ye don't need no flyin' machine anywhar except to git away quick and what we want to know is what air ye goin' to take with you when ye fly away?"

"Nothing that doesn't belong to us," answered Ned, "if that is what you mean."

"Ye ain't, eh? I suppose ye don't know that thar's enough cow money in our bank to be worth stealin'?"

Both Ned and Alan looked at each other astounded.

"You don't think we look like safe robbers, do you?" began Alan.

"Ye look just slick enough fur that and more," retorted the marshal who had placed the candle on the table and roughly pulled Ned to his feet. "But I didn't come here to argy. Ye began by vilatin' the law and ye didn't come the way down here for no fun. Ef that ain't yer game, and we don't put it above ye, what's yer lay?"

"There's only one answer," said Ned. "None of your business."

The marshal shoved Ned nearer the table.

"Mebbe ye want to apologize fur that little bluff of yers yesterday-"

"No," said Ned, "but I'll accept yours."

Jellup's right hand was on his revolver.

"I ain't hyar to make no threats," he exclaimed, "and ye don't need to be afeered that I'm going to shoot ye. But I've got just one other little proposition. Ef ye don't cotton to that, why, thar ain't agoin' to be no Fourth o' July balloon ascension around hyar."

Ned straightened up.

"Your proposition can't be a fair one or you wouldn't come like a thief at this time of night-"

Jellup's pistol flashed in the air but fell back again as the marshal's left hand shot upward and struck Ned full in the face. Even as the tears sprang into the bound boys eyes and pain and anger flushed his pallid face, the cowardly Jellup fell backward and stumbled to the floor. Alan, standing just behind the man, had shot his knees forward, striking Jellup's legs in the hollow of his knees, and, thrown off his balance, the westerner lay sprawling on the floor. Before the marshal's confederate could interfere, Alan, tightly as he was bound, had flung himself on top of Jellup and with all the power he could throw into the act had butted his head into the marshal's face.

Am oath and a cry of pain indicated how true the stroke had been. Both Ned and the companion of Jellup sprang forward at the same time and the four fell in a silent distorted heap. But the encounter was unequal. In another moment both boys were lying side by side on the floor and their captors stood over them. Even in the half light of the little room both boys could see the blood-smeared cheek of the marshal.

Jellup's hand was on Domingo's arm holding him back from further attack on the helpless boys and the marshal was restraining his anger as a snake withholds its venom until it strikes.

"Purty good," sneered the marshal, "and the funny thing is ye hain't got a bullet through ye fur it. But my business ain't with dead ones. Onct more, air ye goin' to say what ye'r a plannin' to do?"

"Since it doesn't concern you in the least," said Ned, slowly, "no."

Jellup was silent a moment.

"Fur kids ye seem to have plenty o' money. Ye'r purty free spenders. I'll give ye one more chance. Ef ye've got a thousand dollars handy fur a kind of a bond as it were I guess that'll sort o' protect us."

"You mean for bribery?" exclaimed Alan.

"No, just instead of stealing," angrily added Ned. "We haven't a thousand dollars and if we had you couldn't get a cent of it. And to save you some trouble I'll say that what we have is in your bank."

Another half-uttered oath sounded on Jellup's lips.

"In thet case," retorted the marshal, "we'll jest show you that we mean business. That's a li

e about the bank. Produce or take the consequences."

"Help yourself," replied Ned, "if you think we are lying."

"I ain't no pickpocket," retorted Jellup, "this is official. I tell ye it's a bond and this is yer last chanct to make good."

The boys remained silent.

But Jellup's companion was already busy. Leaving the marshal to stand guard over the boys he made a quick search of their clothing. But Ned was not so used to money as to be careless in the handling of it and the six hundred dollars that he had in gold was in a belt carefully concealed in the top of the liquid hydrogen crate, which, for safety, had been stored in a corner of the room.

When the silent Domingo threw down the working garments of the boys he took up the candle and began a tour of the room. The big black liquid hydrogen crate attracted his attention and he approached it. The red "Explosive-no fire" letters of warning apparently meant nothing to him, but Jellup halted him with a sharp warning, followed by a few words in Mexican. Domingo handed the candle to Jellup and the latter stepped toward the box.

"That means what it says," exclaimed Ned quickly and sharply.

The crate stood as it had been carried from Washington with the top on and the connecting hose extended upward through a hole made in the low roof in order that the slowly accumulating reconverted gas might escape in safety.

"Mebbe," said Jellup, "mebbe yes and mebbe no. I guess they ain't nothin' agoin' to explode that ain't set afire."

Ned noticed with satisfaction that the lid was properly locked. Jellup noticed it too. Without a word, he turned and easily found Ned's keys. Again he approached the crate, looking over the keys.

"Jellup," exclaimed Ned in alarm, "there's gas in that box, and if you go near it with a light you'll blow us all up."

"Gas, eh?" answered the eager Jellup. "Don't run no sich bluffs on me."

"I warn you," cried Ned as the man approached the box, "it's taking your life in your hands."

Something in the tone of Ned's voice must have alarmed Jellup, for he paused. Then he retreated a few steps and handed the almost burned out candle to the vigilant Domingo.

"I allow I kin jest hev a look without no light to oblige you. I've been purty curious about this precious package ever since I see it. And ye'r a sight too anxious consarnin' my safety."

What might really happen Ned did not exactly know. The gas generated from the liquid hydrogen was highly inflammable and explosive when confined. But the evaporation was exceedingly slow and the exhaust hose should easily carry the forming gas in safety to the air. But even a small accumulation might be in the partly depleted bulbs or the top of the crate and a fire would certainly ensue even if there was no violent explosion. And besides, just beneath the lid was their money-the cash Ned had secured for their further expenses and the return home.

"We are anxious for all of us," explained Alan.

"And mebbe anxious fur something else," sneered the marshal. "I reckon a peek in the dark ain't agoin' to hurt no one-an' it may help some."

"Drop on your face, Alan," whispered Ned, "and lie flat."

It was the only precaution they could take. Both felt that all their plans might end in a moment. But Ned could not resist watching-even though his face was close to the floor. He saw Jellup examine each key, guess the right one at once and then insert it in the lock. Yet, despite his assumed bravado, it was apparent that the man had considerable apprehension. For, before he turned the lock, he motioned to Domingo to retire further with the candle.

Finally, as if summoning his courage, the avaricious marshal snapped the key, threw back the catches on each end of the crate and then slowly and gingerly and at arm's length began to lift the lid. With the top an inch ajar he paused, waited a moment or two, and then began sniffing as if searching for an odor.

Ned saw him.

"It doesn't smell," he explained quickly, "but it's there. Look out!"

"Don't smell!" retorted Jellup. "Gas as don't smell? Well, that's agoin' some, I guess."

Nevertheless, he had dropped the lid.

But as quickly recovering himself he reached forward again and with a quick motion threw the top up and sprang back.

To Ned's relief nothing happened. Either the light was too far away or the gas had all been removed by the hose. But this relief was quickly succeeded by another alarm. There had been no explosion, but their financial means were now at the mercy of two thieves, and he and his churn, bound and helpless, were powerless to protect either themselves or their funds. There was nothing to be done but to grin and bear it. For Ned's new leather money belt, containing six hundred dollars in gold was stretched out conspicuously and at full length on top of one of the two rows of glass bulbs in the case.

"Lyin', as I thought," exclaimed Jellup. "Gimme' the light, Domingo." And the chuckle that followed almost instantly was indication enough that he had discovered the boys' small fortune.

"Dangerous, eh!" he laughed. "Now, we'll see if the city gits its bond."

Then he paused as if a thought had entered his head.

"But, jest to keep the record clean, I reckon ye'd better give it to me yerself, young 'un. Jack Jellup ain't no burglar. Loosen him up, Domingo. And fur fear ye might need persuadin' jest take a peek at this," and he drew his revolver.

When Ned had been liberated, Jellup pointed to the money belt.

"Jest be good enough to hand me whatever's in that," he exclaimed, "without no hesitation. Then we'll have a little talk about what else is agoin' to happen."

It was hard to surrender so easily but the risk of attacking two armed men single-handed was great. Ned walked slowly toward the crate.

"Get busy," ordered Jellup; "we've got other business yit to talk of."

Ned had a sudden impulse. The thing flashed on him and taking hold of the belt in the middle he lifted it until the two ends were just over an open-mouthed bulb of hydrogen, and then as if by accident dropped the belt into the jar. The clear, watery liquid splashed and the belt disappeared.

"Water," shouted the eager Jellup, "Jist plain water." And as Ned sprang back the gold-fevered marshal sprang forward and plunged his hand into the liquid.

He did not immediately know that his hand was in the depth of a liquid whose temperature was 423 degrees below zero. But the thin film of gas that instantly formed and protected his naked flesh dissipated in a moment and then one benumbing, paralyzing shock swept over Jack Jellup's body.

With a cry wrung from him by pain such as few mortals have ever experienced and survived, the stricken man fell unconscious to the floor-his arm frozen as solid as crystallized steel.

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