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   Chapter 24 A GRAVE IN THE DESERT

The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 4864

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


But Ned and Alan did not eat with their friends that night, nor for some days to come. And when they saw each other again one of Elmer's juicy venison steaks would have seemed to all of them the sweetest morsel ever eaten by man.

Ned only waited to help inflate the balloonet in the big balloon with the little hand blower for the Cibola showed quite perceptibly the loss of gas after her twenty hours of inflation. Then, the course having been laid, he left the wheel and engine to Alan's care and turned in for his long needed rest.

Alan had determined on a record flight. He allowed the Cibola to rise higher than it had yet flown, about 5,000 feet, and then setting the aeroplanes on a slight incline he headed the car on a down slant for Mount Wilson's just visible peak, thirty miles away.

There was no economy in half speed, for time and the utilization of their gas were more precious than gasoline. "We can always float without gasoline," the boys had said to themselves, "but we can't move without gas." Therefore the Cibola was soon at its maximum and the enthusiastic Alan knew that Ned would have a short sleep.

In an hour and twenty-one minutes the swift dirigible was abreast of the peak of Mount Wilson, and then, without slackening speed, Alan altered her course southeast toward the scene of the previous night's hair-raising experience. Long before he reached the place he was able to make the juncture of the two rivers his landmark, and the ship pointed her course as straight as a railroad train. After thirty minutes sailing from Mount Wilson, Buck's rendezvous could be made out, three miles beyond.

One glance told the whole sad story. Two dead horses alone marked the spot where their freight wagon had stood. Alan aroused Ned, and as the Cibola sailed low over the place the boys saw that the thieving Utes had gone-with the wagon, horses, freight and their dead companions.

Poor Buck's body was lying where the brave escort had fallen.

"We can't make two landings," suggested Ned. "We'll find the gasoline and then come back and bury our friend."

Disappointed, although they had really in their hearts expected nothing less, the young navigators turned the Cibola and sailed slowly down the river in the hope that the gasoline would be found where Elmer had described it as lying.

They were as richly rewarded here as they had been previously disappointed. The drift, a tangled

jumble of small mountain wood, had caught and preserved seven of their eight tins of gasoline.

It was now noon, and broiling hot, but luncheon was not thought of and the difficult work of recovering the heavy packages was begun. This presented a new difficulty, for again the boys were determined not to lose any gas in making a landing.

The drift was too light to hold their anchor although two trials at this were made. Not a bush or tree was to be found nearby. In despair at last, Alan was about to suggest opening the valve-for it was imperative that they secure the gasoline-when Ned turned the bow of the craft down stream.

"Perhaps we can find anchorage further down," he explained.

"But if will be pretty hard work carrying these tins," Alan began.

"They floated where they are, didn't they?" smiled Ned. "What's the matter with letting them float a little further?"

His hope was realized. But the solution was fully a mile away. On a sandy bar, half buried in the sand, the stout end of a cottonwood trunk, the flotsam of some extraordinary freshet, had come into view. The experience of the morning was repeated, but on a smaller scale, for here were no dangerous tree limbs to threaten their delicate silken bag. After two trials and much pulling and hauling the car of the Cibola was tied fast to the snag, half over the shallow water and half over the sand.

Then, naked as when they were born, and suffering not a little from the pitiless sun, the boys started afresh. Alan made his way back up the river and began to prod out the stranded tin casks. All were soon bobbing along in the slow current, with Alan behind them like a lumber driver of the northwest dislodging logs left in the shallows. Ned below soon had all of them in shallow water.

By means of a coil of the drag rope, looped in turn about the tins of recovered fuel, Ned lifting below and Alan pulling above soon transferred the gasoline to the bobbing Cibola. As each cask ascended, a portion of the extra ballast was dumped overboard.

Then, dressing themselves and improvising what tools they could, the boys made their way sorrowfully to the scene of the previous night's tragedy. Buck's body was carefully removed and decently buried. A mound of boulders was made over the grave to designate the spot, and with the hope that some day they might return and suitably mark the desert tomb the boys took a mournful farewell.

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