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   Chapter 28 THE COLLAPSE OF THE CIBOLA

The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 6515

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


An opening in the paved court in the rear of the Temple, half filled with drifted sand, led into a "khiva" or secret religious council chamber beneath. Herein the young adventurers discovered their wonderland and the reward for all their labors.

Hastily returning to the balloon, they procured candles and improvised scoops out of the sides of the tin emergency ration case obtained from the Arrow. Major Honeywell had warned the boys that the floors of all closed chambers of this sort were covered with the accumulated dust of ages.

The first examination of the "khiva" resulted in disappointment. The immediate impression that the boys received was one of cave-like barrenness. In the half-light only a gray monotony met the eye. Yet under this ghostlike pall, forms soon began to appear. In the center of the chamber stood what was apparently an altar. In spite of its burden of dust an elevation could be seen about eight inches high and seven feet in diameter, on which was a boxlike structure about three feet square and four feet high. On top of this was a dust-covered figure. Beyond, in the deepest gloom, the mouths of four radiating tunnels leading still further into the ground could be seen. The roof was supported by irregular round columns, apparently of wood, arranged in two circles.

Before beginning an exploration of the chamber the boys decided to ascertain the depth of the dust covering the floor, into which they had already sunk over their shoe tops. This was stifling work, for the soft powder ran back as fast as it was dug away. A half hour at least was consumed in reaching the bard surface beneath. The coating of dust was nearly three feet deep.

As Ned climbed out of the little excavation Alan held the candle down. To the astonishment of the boys a beautiful blue sheen met their gaze.

"Turquoise flooring!" shouted Ned.

It was true. The entire "khiva," so far as the boys subsequently uncovered its floor, was a crude mosaic of the most perfect turquoise, the pieces, varying in size, being laid in a lime-like cement.

A general survey of the room and its connecting tunnels showed that each radiating arm led, with about twenty feet of passageway, into a smaller room. In each of these rooms were nine column placed in a rectangle. The main chamber was circular in form, forty-eight feet in diameter, and the smaller apartments were twenty-four feet square.

Ned while at work examining the floor, suddenly ceased and rushed to one of the columns.

"You remember," he exclaimed, "the Spaniard said these columns were of gold and silver."

But in this the ancient record was wrong. The inner six supports were painted a faded yellow and the second row, twelve in number, was colored red, as the boys discovered later when they brushed and cleaned some of them. Around each of the inner columns, however, there were two metal bands about two inches wide and thirty inches apart. The lower ones were six feet from the floor. They were of heavy gold with loops or hooks extending from each side, as if festoons or connecting bands had once extended from pillar to pillar.

"Not a bad substitute!" exclaimed Ned.

The second line of twelve columns had similar rings of silver, as the boys discover

ed in good time. The movable contents of the room were not easily examined, as each object on the floor was buried under a mound of heavy, suffocating dust. Bats had made the place an undisturbed refuge, and the repulsive flutter of these creatures was disconcerting.

A preliminary examination of the four lateral passages and the rooms at their far end showed that these were probably store rooms, excepting the one on the east side. Here, on shelves, fixed on columns or posts similar to the colored supports in the principal chamber, were eight oblong forms. Even the dust and refuse could not disguise the nature of these-they were unmistakably mummies, the embalmed bodies of either chiefs or priests. At the head and foot of each were various dust covered receptacles and utensils.

The afternoon was too short for the boys to accomplish the removal of anything.

"I feel like a grave robber," panted Alan, soberly, as the two boys clambered out into the fresh air, finding, to their surprise, that it was already night.

"Well, I don't," said Ned. "These things are so old that they seem to belong to Time itself. I feel more like a gold miner who has at last struck a rich vein-and it's our vein."

But, as so often happens, ill luck came close on good fortune. The first glance of the young aeronauts at the camp and the Cibola was enough to chill their new happiness. The big gas bag had settled so low that it half concealed the car, which was resting flat on the ground. The buoyancy of the air ship was gone. Without more gas the Cibola could not make another flight. It was a severe blow to Ned and Alan; but they met the issue squarely.

"There is no use in worrying," said Ned, finally, when they realized the exact situation, "and we've got to make the best of it. Besides," he said, laughing, "we are not ready to go."

"That's right," replied Alan, thinking of the yet unexamined contents of the Treasure Temple, "and when we are ready I guess we'll be no worse off than Bob and Elmer. I suppose we can manage the one hundred foot descent some way."

Ned pointed to the hundreds of yards of net cordage.

"Right," exclaimed Alan, "that'll be easy-a rope ladder."

It was almost dark and the boys were covered with the penetrating grime of the long undisturbed "khiva." A meager wash up and supper and rest were in order. But Ned said:

"By morning the Cibola will be in collapse. It is a valuable machine, and it ought not be left out here on this point unprotected from the seasons. We shall probably never see it again, but while we can move it let's tow it over in front of the temple and put the bag and engine and instruments in the protected room."

It was not a difficult task. With no great effort the car was half carried and half dragged down the slope and then to the clearing in the pine grove where the boys soon made a new camp. To complete their work the big bag of the balloon was untied from the car and drawn, half inflated, into the pathway leading to the temple door. Then, with no small regret, the boys opened the escape valve, and in a few minutes the collapsed Cibola was stretched like the cast off skin of a snake along the sandy pathway, ready to be rolled up and compactly stored away.

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