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   Chapter 30 A QUARTER OF A TON OF TREASURE

The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 11754

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was impossible for the boys even to venture an estimate on the value of the immense mine of turquoise, although they realized that the increasing scarcity of the jewel made the beautiful and unique specimens everywhere about them worth a great deal of money. Nor had they any idea of the value of the mother-of-pearl bowls, nor of the hundreds of beautiful and unique ceremonial and funeral urns and vases. Least of all, could they put even an approximate price on the amethyst and pearl necklaces. Even their most sanguine hopes of discovering the hidden city of Cibola had not led the adventurers to investigate the current prices of precious stones.

Knowing, however, what the prices of gold and silver were, they could form some estimate of the worth of this part of the treasure.

By comparison with the known weights of certain articles in the car the two boys made the following list of metal pieces discovered:

GOLD POUNDS

Twelve bands. Weight each 2 lbs. 1 oz. 26

Two bowls. Weight each 6 lbs 12

Two "body-scrapers." Weight each 9 oz 1 1/2

Wings, head and talons of Sacred Eagle 82

Breastplate 3

Radiating sun over entrance 12

Total, 136 1/2, or 1,638 ounces.

SILVER POUNDS

Twenty-four bands. Weight each 1 lb. 8 oz 40

Four bowls. Weight each 5 lbs 20

Four "body-scrapers." Weight 10 oz.. 3 1/3

Body of Sacred Eagle. Weight 218

Ninety-six miscellaneous rings, bands,

anklets and wristlets, many set with

mother-of-pearl and turquoise 16 1/3

Total, 297 2/3, or 3,580 ounces.

The market value of these precious metals was easily computed. The silver at sixty cents an ounce was worth $2,148. The more valuable gold, at twenty dollars an ounce, was worth $32,760. Together, the 484 pounds were worth $34,908.

"And one-third of that," said Ned with a smile-almost discernible beneath his dust-begrimed face, "is nearly $12,000. And that is $6,000 for each of us."

"But how about the amethysts and pearls?" said Alan.

"I suppose," answered Ned, "that they are worth a great deal more, but I don't know. I should think that those that have no holes in them would be very valuable."

All this figuring was intensely interesting, but the boys, as the revelation progressed, knew that they were now facing a new problem. They could not possibly carry that gold and silver, to say nothing of even a portion of the exquisite mother-of-pearl bowls or the finest samples of the turquoise. When, in the end, nearly a quarter of a ton of the metal treasure alone lay in a heap in the corner of the temple vestibule they could come to but one conclusion.

This portion of the treasure would have to be removed at another time.

"It has lain here undisturbed for over three hundred years," said Ned hopefully, though sadly, "and we'll have to take a chance that it can be left a while longer."

Sorrowfully enough Alan agreed. It was to be no easy work getting out of the wilderness, and food must be carried. That might be more precious to them than gold before they saw a railroad again. The boys agreed to take at noon the next day the exact latitude and longitude of the mesa. The latitude, on one slip of paper, was to be carried by one boy and the longitude, on another piece, was to be in the possession of the other. This was a precaution against accidental revelation of the treasure mesa.

The set jewels were removed. There were two hundred and ninety-four pierced pearls and ninety-eight pierced amethysts. Among the whole gems, eighteen magnificent pearls were extracted from the jeweled belt. Eighteen unpierced amethysts were also taken from the alternating turquoise squares of the belt and sixteen magnificent amethysts from the gold breastplate.

It was then that the sewing kit supplied by Alan's sister Mary came into service. A small piece of aluminum waterproof silk cabin covering was converted into two flat bags and in these the stones, equally divided, were enclosed and concealed under the clothing and beneath the right arm of each lad. In addition, each boy took half of the mother-of-pearl and turquoise belt plates as the finest specimens of each material.

"And to show that there is gold too," suggested Alan, "we might as well take along, these gold 'scrapers,' which won't bother us much," So these two pieces were strung on cords and suspended about the necks of the young treasure seekers.

"And to-morrow," exclaimed Ned joyfully when all this was done, "we'll get down from here and get a bath."

"Amen," added Alan earnestly.

Until it was twelve o'clock, the time to take their observation, the boys spent the next morning in last preparations and making everything shipshape. The framework of the car was left intact, but weighted by stones to prevent injury by the wind. Everything movable was stored in the entrance room of the temple, including three and one-half cans of gasoline. The engine was oiled and covered with blankets. Underneath the smoothly folded balloon, in the folds of which dry sand had been liberally sprinkled to prevent possible adhesions of the varnish, lay nearly thirty-five thousand dollars' worth of curiously wrought gold and silver. This was first completely covered with sand.

The two provision packs for the retreat to civilization had been carefully arranged. How long the journey might take they could not estimate. They had decided to their way east, in hope of falling in with Elmer and Bob, and this meant the crossing of at least two mountain ranges and thirty miles of barren foothills to Mount Wilson. Then, if they turned south, they would traverse eighty-five miles of sandy plain in which water was infrequent.

Their own provisions were exhausted. What they now depended on was the emergency case secured from the Arrow. This supply was intended to be enough for two men for two weeks.

"It certainly

ought not take us that long,"' complained Alan. "Why not leave half the supply and take a little gold?"

But Ned was obdurate. He explained that they might fall in with the other boys, and that if they did Elmer and Bob might be wholly out of supplies.

"We can come back if we get out in good shape," explained Ned, "and if we don't get out what'll be the use of a back load of gold?"

That settled it. The food packs were made up of the following supplies: Flour, 12 lbs; corn meal, 5 lbs; beans, 5 lbs; bacon, 7 1/2 lbs; rice, 5 lbs; oatmeal, 2 lbs; baking powder, 1/2 lb; coffee, I lb; tea, 1/2 lb; sugar, 5 lbs; lard, 2 1/2 lbs; salt, 1/2 lb; pepper, 1/8 lb. Each provision pack weighed twenty-one pounds. In addition there was an aluminum frying pan, a coffee pot and two aluminum plates. A water canteen, a blanket, a revolver and belt of ammunition and a knife apiece completed the equipment. Alan carried in addition the "snake bite" case, the compass and small hatchet, and Ned the money belt containing over five hundred dollars in gold.

The sealed glass tubes of matches were divided between the two boys and then, as it was noon, the sextant that Ned had been so careful to bring with them was used for the first and last time. The observation made and noted, and the record of it divided as planned, Ned and Alan were ready to begin their attempt to make their way out of the rock-bound wilderness. With provisions, water, blanket and arms each lad was carrying about thirty-five pounds.

"Would you still like a few pounds of Aztec treasure?" laughed Ned as they stood with packs adjusted.

"I should say not," retorted Alan; "I'm satisfied."

The method of lowering themselves from the hole in the face of the cliff to the ground, one hundred feet beneath, had been worked out in detail and the apparatus made in the evenings by the light of their camp fire. And early that morning Alan had carried the long rope ladder down the chasm and to the mouth of the tunnel. Now, in addition to their packs, the two boys carried between them a section of one of the pine trees, about six feet long.

As they stood, ready to leave, Ned raised his cap.

"Good bye, old Cibola," he said with moisture in his eyes, "until we meet again, if ever."

"If ever?" added Alan quickly with as much gaiety as he could summon. "You don't think we'll ever let anyone else lift that little pile?" and he pointed to the well filled entrance room of the temple.

"No," answered Ned, soberly, "if we have as good luck on the land as we had in the air."

Ned and Alan meant to reach the earth by means of a rope ladder. This they had constructed from the stout Italian hemp suspension cords of the Cibola. These ropes, each thirty feet in length, were knotted and then doubled to insure strength. For the last twenty-five feet at the bottom the landing ladder of the balloon was used. The rungs, two feet apart, were of pine from a felled tree, and were thirty-eight in number.

For anchorage, the six-foot length of tree was dragged to the mouth of the tunnel and, five feet from the opening, wedged between the floor and roof of the tunnel, slightly inclined forward. The strain on the bottom would thus only fix the supporting section more firmly in place. From the bottom of the pine shaft a loop of four of the suspension cords reached just out of the tunnel opening. To this loop the top rang of the ladder was tied, with a separate hundred-foot length of cord. After the ladder had been made firm with a running slip knot the hundred-foot length of cord was dropped to the ground.

This arrangement had been provided in order that the rope ladder might be removed after the descent. By a jerk of the cord the slip knot would be loosened and the ladder, released, would fall of its own weight. Another length of rope had been prepared, this one somewhat over a hundred feet long and also doubled for strength. This was for the lowering of the packs and other articles by one of the boys after the other had descended. To insure its free running and to prevent its wearing through on the edge of the cliff, a six inch section of the pine tree had been prepared, flattened on one side and having a wide smooth groove in the top. This, attached to a short length of rope, which was made fast with the ladder loop to the upright shaft in the tunnel, was fixed on the verge of the opening.

Finally everything had been arranged and made fast. Each of the two boys insisted that he should go down first. To solve the dispute, they cast lots and the risk of testing the rope fell to Ned. Slipping off his shoes and socks, which he hung about his neck, he sprang to the ladder. Alan hung over the edge and watched him with apprehension, but Ned, feeling his way carefully, was soon on the ground.

His shout was the signal to begin the work of lowering the packs. And down they came, one after another; provisions, revolvers, blankets, water bottles, and even the money belt, for Ned had made himself as light as possible for his descent.

At last it was Alan's turn. The last load had descended, the lowering line had been released, drawn up and stowed away. The slip knot was examined anew and then Alan followed Ned down the slender, fragile swaying rope ladder. When he had reached the ground by Ned's side and the strain was over, the boys shook hands jubilantly.

"-And now," shouted Ned with a laugh, "last chance! If you want to go back for a new load say so before it is too late."

Alan, exhausted with the climb, shook his head.

"Then stand from under," cried Ned.

As he jerked the slip knot cord the boys sprang aside and the long ladder, wriggling, crashed at their feet.

The only means of reaching the towering elevation had been removed and the only visible sign of their brief occupancy of the secret mesa had been destroyed.

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