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The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 6364

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Three days later, Ned Napier and Alan Hope, worn and almost exhausted with the steady climb and descent of countless rocky heights, made their camp for the night at the foot of a rugged slope. Their shoes were torn so that a protection of rags was necessary. The hot and pitiless sun had seemingly dried up their boyish spirits. Silent with fatigue, having plodded steadily forward since sunrise, they threw themselves on the sand.

The young adventurers were headed straight for the east. And still the last range of mountains was beyond them. Led by the compass, they held to their course, sometimes passing miles out of their path to avoid some inaccessible mesa, but more often scaling ragged and tiresome heights.

Eating had now become a matter of form and necessity. There was no longer the keen joy in making camp. During the three days the boys had seen no living object except birds, rabbits, many deer and two bears, all of which they had left unmolested in their eagerness to press forward. But at noon on this day Alan, having occasion to glance backwards, was positive that he saw a human head. Whether white man or Indian he could not determine. The incident gave the lads no little, concern, but as no further sign of a human being was seen that day they finally forgot the matter.

That night, after making tea and taking a little more pains than usual with their supper in an effort to revive their spirits as well as their tired bodies, Ned and Alan spread their blankets at the edge of a pine grove. Almost before it was dark they were both sound asleep.

Some hours later Alan awoke with the instant consciousness of an unusual sound. Motionless and straining his ears, he heard deep breathing just behind him. A new moon was just sinking below the buttes on the far side of the little valley in which they had stopped for rest, but under the pines the shadows were deep. He knew that danger was near and he did not move. In another moment he felt a soft hand on his waist, as swift and as silent as a snake, and he knew that the hand was extracting his revolver.

Then, from his half-opened eyes, he saw a figure crouching over his chum just opposite. Some one no doubt was also removing Ned's weapon. Then there was the pressure of stealthy footsteps on the pine needles and Alan moved his head until he could see two indistinct forms moving from the shadows of the timber across the open space to the dying embers of their little fire. There he could easily discern five or six figures. He was about to put his hand on Ned's face to awaken him gently when he saw the entire group coming directly toward their sleeping place. Their movements now revealed plainly that they were Indians.

With cold beads of perspiration covering his body Alan again pretended sleep. It was now apparent that they had been followed, and, no doubt, by Navajos. Perhaps this was the end of their toilsome retreat. With visions of death presenting themselves, he wondered again whether he ought to arouse Ned. Then he realized the futility of such action. As the moccasined feet drew near Alan could read death in each approaching sound. But at the edge of the trees t

here was another pause, and then he knew that the Indians had scattered.

Straining every muscle in an effort to breathe naturally, like one asleep, the boy counted the seconds while he waited for the clutch of a savage hand. And as the moment passed and the attack did not come he tried to speculate on what the strangers were doing. A guttural half exclamation soon allowed him a quick breath of temporary relief. The Indians were only after their supplies.

The savages had found the half-concealed packs of the two boys. Alan knew this by the location of the sounds that now came to him, and then, as the prowlers withdrew again into the open and the faint moonlight, it could be seen that they were bearing all the belongings of the two lads. For perhaps ten minutes Alan lay without moving and watched the Indians. He could make out that they were hastily looking over the packs and dividing what yet remained among themselves. Then ponies were led to the place of the camp fire and the members of the band quickly threw themselves on their animals and disappeared into the night.

Almost paralyzed with the knowledge of what this meant Alan now softly put his hand on Ned's face:

"Are you awake?" came instantly from Ned.

"Are you?" retorted Alan in surprise.

"Yes," whispered Ned, "I saw it all. But I didn't move, because I was afraid of arousing you."

"Here, too," exclaimed Alan. "Did you feel them take your revolver?"

Ned's band flew to his belt.

"Is yours gone too? I saw them when they came up from the fire. But you did right to keep still. If we had moved I expect we'd have had our throats cut."

"That was one of them I saw to-day," added Alan, "and I guess we're lucky to be alive."

"Yes," added Ned rising to his feet, "we are. They are satisfied, I suppose, to let us starve."

The prospect was a trying one. If the range behind them was the one they hoped it was, there was only one more valley between its summit and the outer ridge of the Tunit Chas. If they could reach this ridge they believed they might see Mount Wilson's peak. But even that meant another thirty miles to the scene of the attack on Buck's camp on the banks of the Chusco. And from that place it was eighty-five miles to a railroad and help!

The boys sat in the edge of the pines as the new moon disappeared, leaving them in utter darkness, and tried desperately to encourage each other. Both had the grit to set themselves stoutly to the apparently hopeless task. Without food or firearms and possibly without water, they knew they would find the task gigantic. But nothing was to be gained by waiting for starvation and death in the wilderness, and their decision was to do what they could, to try the almost impossible, and if they failed to fail with their faces toward the east.

"Why not start now?" urged Alan. "Let's use what strength we have."

But Ned showed him the folly of this.

"A night's rest will enable us to make better time to-morrow. And besides, we can't make headway when we can't follow the compass."

Retiring a little further into the woods the boys composed themselves again and before long were once more fast asleep.

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