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   Chapter 22 A THRILLING RESCUE IN MID-AIR

The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 13082

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Buck, the guide, and Elmer Grissom had reached their appointed rendezvous at two o'clock that afternoon. The hot journey had been tedious and uneventful. Only at the half-breed settlement twenty miles north of Clarkeville had they seen a human being. Therefore, after they had been in camp about an hour, even the vigilant, experienced Buck was startled to observe suddenly a solitary Indian-his horse as statuesque as himself-watching them from a knoll some two hundred yards distant.

As the old scout raised both hands in signal of peace the Indian rode forward. The man was not in the Indian panoply of the old days, except that he wore moccasins and had two bands of red and yellow paint on his broad, dark face. A black wide-brimmed hat, a faded blue shirt and trousers completed his outfit.

"How?" exclaimed the Indian.

"Navajo?" answered Buck.

"Ute!" came the answer. "Where go?"

"Right here," said Buck good-naturedly, pointing to the ground.

"Ute land!" retorted the Indian without a trace of expression in his face.

"No," retorted Buck sharply, "not Ute land. Ute land there," pointing north, "in Colorado."

"Ute land!" exclaimed the red man again, this time scowling.

Buck only shook his head.

Then the Indian suddenly threw himself from his horse, strode to the wagon and threw up the tail curtain. Safely stored therein he saw the protected tins of gasoline.

"Whisky?" he exclaimed.

"No," laughed Elmer, "not whisky."

"Whisky," repeated the stranger turning towards Buck; "drink!"

But Buck shook his head.

With out another word the Ute walked haughtily to his horse, threw himself upon it, and, clasping his heels to its sides, rode quickly away.

"I'm sorry," exclaimed the veteran at last.

"I had no idea that there were Utes around here."'

"He doesn't seem dangerous," commented Elmer.

"No," answered Buck, "men who'd cut your throat for a horse never do. The chances are he isn't alone."

Elmer looked up in surprise.

"We'll just make sure," exclaimed Buck, making as light of the affair as possible. "I don't want to lose my horses and you don't want to lose your freight. We'll make ourselves ready in case our friends come back to make us a little visit."

And as night came on and Elmer helped Buck draw the wagon close to the river bank, where approach from the rear would be difficult, the boy began to realize what it meant to get away from the telegraph and policemen and law and order. And when the experienced scout unloaded a portion of their heavier freight and began to build a small barrier Elmer's usual joviality cooled into silence. The three piles of brush and driftwood from the river were laid out some distance in front of the camp in preparation for the agreed signal fires and then, before the sun went down, the scout and his companion made their camp fire and had supper.

"What do yo' expec' dey'll do?" asked the colored lad at last.

"Well, you can't tell. Injuns are puzzles. When they steal they steal in the dark. When they fight they fight at daybreak."

"What do yo' suggest?"

"To tell the truth, son," answered Buck, "there ain't much to do but keep yer eyes open and pop it to the first red horse thief ye see crawlin' around in the night."

"Hadn't we better light our signal fires?" asked Elmer.

"There won't be any signal fires to-night," replied Buck, slowly, "if you want my advice. It's one thing for a bluffin' Ute to walk up in the daylight when you've got a fair chance to give him as good as he sends, and its another thing for him to get a bead on you a sittin' in the light o' yer camp fire-him in the dark."

Elmer saw and understood.

So night fell in silence with Buck and Elmer keyed up and ready to meet any possible attack.

Nothing happened until several hours had passed. Neither Elmer nor Buck were any the less alert, however. The old scout was pacing up and down in front of the barricade and perhaps a hundred feet from it. Elmer could just hear his soft footfalls in the sand. Suddenly these ceased. Almost at the same moment there was the crack of Buck's rifle, a groan and a moment later the scout was inside the barricade.

"I guess I got him all right," he whispered, "he was makin' too much noise."

This was the shot Ned heard miles away in the Cibola.

Again for some minutes there was no sound and then, suddenly and from the left, came a spit of flame in the dark. Almost before Elmer heard the explosion Buck's gun had spoken in reply. Both bullets went wild, but Buck explained that it was necessary to give shot for shot, "and right at 'em," said Buck, "as it takes a little o' the ginger out o' them."

But the besiegers had undoubtedly widened out. The next signs of them were two shots, almost together. Elmer's rifle made quick reply, but, to the boy's surprise, Buck failed to fire in return. The scout had disappeared from his companion's side. Before Elmer could call out he heard a rush at the end of the barricade, and then two explosions almost together and not ten feet away. He could not describe the sound that followed, but he knew that it meant the convulsions of human beings in agony. He whispered his companion's name, but there was no answer-only a gasp.

In the black darkness the colored boy, revolver in hand, crawled forward. At the end of the barricade Buck's body was lying. As the boy's hand fell on the old man's breast he knew that it was blood he felt.

"Buck," he whispered, "Buck! Is yo' hurt?"

He put his arm under his friend's head. For a moment the unconscious form yielded and then convulsively straightened. Elmer knew that his companion and protector was dead.

With strength that he did not know he had Elmer laid Buck's dead body behind the little wall of freight boxes.

Then, as if by intuition, he sprang forward and found what he suspected-the unmoving form of an Indian. Unable to see, Elmer quickly felt over the adjacent ground with his hands and discovered the dead Ute's rifle. The revolver was gone. In the same manner he recovered both Buck's rifle and revolver, and then prepared to do his duty-to protect his employer's goods so long as he could.

He was scarcely entrenched again, with the three magazine rifles laid on the barricade before him, when his straining ears heard a new sound. Far away and faint, but meaning only one thing, the soft chugging of a motor. The Cibola! There could be no doubt of it. The instant feeling of relief was shattered even as it gave Elmer new courage; to att

empt to light the signal fires would probably mean instant death. And without them how would his friends know his position or peril? But one thing he could do; and even knowing that it would mean an answering shot from the skulking horse thieves he discharged his revolver into the air.

Then the sound of the motor died away and the long minutes dragged by. When it began again, and more softly, the sound was nearer. Nearer, and nearer it came and then the circle of light fell on the wagon and was gone. "At least they know where I am," thought Elmer to himself, and settled down courageously for renewed attack, determined to hold out to the last. At this moment came the shot that put out the Cibola's light.

The nervy boy had been tempted to abandon the wagon and follow the light, but his second judgment was against this. "If they can, the boys will come back," he argued, "and I'll only get out of this when I have to."

To Elmer's surprise the attackers had been strangely silent for some time. With more experience he would have known that this meant even greater danger, but he only hoped it was due to the distracting and mysterious flying light. Then the sepulchral green light burst out in its funnel-like volume. It was coming back. It flared, went out, shot over the distant sands again like a searching' eye and then began moving straight up the river bank towards the wagon. Then came the earth rending explosion. Nor could the besieged boy know even then that Ned's well-aimed bomb had sent five Utes to their last sleep.

When the sound of the explosion had died away and Elmer had recovered himself-for the shock had thrown him forward on the barricade-the whirr of the Cibola's motor was again far away. But it was directly above him!

As if the attackers had been paralyzed by the explosion, the long interval continued without a shot. Then suddenly, from the right and left and front, the real attack began. One shot sounded as a signal, and then from a half circle before him half a dozen bullets tore their way towards the boy and his barricade. Most of them went wild. Two hit the boxes and half stunned the lone guardian behind them. The assailants did not know that one of the two white men was dead, and Elmer, in hopes temporarily to deceive them, fired two of the rifles at the same moment.

But his enemies were closing in; the half circle was growing smaller and the crash of the bullets in the wagon above him and in the barricade in front told the boy that the end could not be far away. To the right in the direction of the explosion there was a gap in the fast closing circle. It was folly to delay longer. If escape were possible, it was in that direction. He would make one desperate attempt. One shot remained in his rifles. Putting it where he thought it would do the most good, and catching up the two yet full revolvers, the colored boy crawled under the wagon and crept hastily along the river bank.

And yet he did not dare to attempt to pass the end of the Indian semi-circle. It was one chance in a thousand. Throwing himself on the ground, he waited. "Crack!" It was the rifle of an Indian, not fifty feet away and coming nearer. The stealthy footfalls told Elmer that his foe was heading straight for the river bank and that he was in the Ute's path. Then he could hear the Indian's deep breathing. Detection was inevitable.

One last thing remained to be done-to kill the Indian and make a dash forward down the river bank. And he must act before his foe discovered him. Elmer's revolver flashed fire and he saw his foe of the red and yellow face bound into the air and then topple forward with a cry of anguish.

The boy turned, but too late. Directly in front he heard the sudden shouts of other Indians. The river at his back! Flight down its cement-like bank was impossible. He might plunge forward and pray that the water was beneath.

The death cry of the man he had shot and the echoing yells of the Indians behind him had been taken up by others. He knew the determined savages were making a final rush. Indian cries seemed to come from the very ground at his feet. He hesitated no lodger.

As he turned to the river a sudden and strange wave of cool air struck down on him from above. Without reasoning he paused. That pause saved his life. In that swift moment he heard the low creak of something straining. His eyes pierced the black about him. Was it a shadow? Something was brushing by him like a great bird asleep on the wing. Then it was on him.

"Ned?" It was only a whisper but it was enough.

"Elmer, here, quick!"

Even the whisper had brought an instant shot, but the colored boy had hurled himself toward the voice and an instant later a strong young arm was about the besieged lad.

It was Ned Napier on the swaying ladder of the Cibola.

"Cut away," came the low quick order and before even the nearby besiegers could locate the sound Bob Russell, high above, had slashed the lashings of a bag of ballast. The big balloon sprang forward, Elmer dangling in the air, and then settled again to the earth as the desperate colored boy found the last rung of the ladder and clung fast opposite his rescuer.

"Another, another," called Ned springing up the fragile length of the doubly laden ladder.

A thud on the ground told where another bag of ballast had fallen. The crash of the fallen fifty-pound bag of sand probably saved the Cibola. Shot after shot poured in the direction of the sound, although the Cibola, dragging forward, yet refused to rise. Elmer, at the bottom of the ladder, was helping the car onward in low bounds by touching the ground with one foot.

Then the air craft settled again. Elmer's weight was too much. A mad thought came into the boy's brain. The Indians had located the new invader and yells nearby told that hot pursuit was already being made. Then the spit, spit, of new shots showed the risk the boys had taken. Elmer realized it. Should he hang on and endanger the lives of his friends, or should he let go?

There seemed no time to think, but the boy's hand had already loosened when out of the black came the hot breath of the foremost pursuer. As the savage sprang forward Elmer's free arm gave him a blow full in the face. At the same instant the Cibola sprang upward like a bullet. A volley of shots rang out below, but they were too late. The balloon had saved Elmer's life, and even before the lad had made his way up the swaying ladder into the cabin it was a thousand feet in the air.

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