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   Chapter 32 ALAN SUCCUMBS TO EXHAUSTION

The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 5770

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The boys were up at dawn. Not an article had the marauders left but the two water canteens which had fortunately been left hanging from the low branches of a pine. It was useless to look for more-there was nothing more to be found.

"Anyway," laughed Ned, "it leaves us in light marching order and we can make better time. I'm glad we had a good supper."

As no breakfast was in sight the two boys filled the water bottles at the creek in the valley, and at five o'clock, taking their bearings due east, Ned and Alan struck upwards through the pine woods. It was a not unpleasant climb while the boys were fresh, but as the slope grew more precipitous the work began to tell. At one o'clock the crest was reached.

"How would you like a piece of broiled bacon, some pancakes and a cup of coffee, Ned?" asked Alan as they paused to rest.

"In the middle of the day and on the top of a mountain I always prefer plain water," laughed Ned in reply. "Here's to you!"

With a big drink from the lukewarm canteens the boys did not pause long.

"To-night," continued Ned, "we ought to sleep high up in the foothills over there."

With that inspiration the sore-footed and jaded lads made good time going down the slope. Then another rivulet was encountered, in which they bathed and by which they rested a spell. Alan would have been glad to pass the night here, but Ned urged him on, and as night fell again the hungry, exhausted boys found themselves far up on the new slope. Then they slept again, restlessly and on the rocky ground, for they had abandoned their blankets.

The boys did not wait for daylight. In the half dawn they were afoot.

"Take another hitch in your belt, chum, and don't think of the Placida." laughed Ned. "We'll make it all right, somehow."

Stiff in limb, their feet twitching with the pain of blisters, Ned and Alan toiled slowly through the last of the pines and out into the rocky higher slopes of the range. It was like climbing an upright wall, Alan said, but the pain of going on was less than the despair of giving up. A little after six o'clock Ned, ahead, pulled himself breathless to the highest point.

Alan stopped a little below and waited in anxiety. Before he could ask whether it was the last ridge, Ned's voice broke out into a shout.

"Come on, old man, we're all right. There's old Wilson, the grandest mountain peak in the world. Hurrah for Mount Wilson!"

But there was no echo to his exclamation. Poor Alan, succumbing to pain and exhaustion, had sunk insensible to the ground. In another moment Ned was at his chum's side. Forcing some water between Alan's lips and bathing his face with some more of the precious liquid, Ned soon brought him back to consciousness. Alan sprang up in chagrin, and with tears in his eyes insisted that he had only stumbled and fallen. But Ned knew the truth. His friend's bright eye

s and feverish skin told that his condition was grave.

The unseen tears came to Ned's eyes, for it was at least thirty miles to more water and the plains. And should they even reach the Chusco, he could see only death in the desert.

"You'll feel better in the cool of the woods down there," said Ned gently, "and maybe we can kill a rabbit. Hurrah, come on, Alan! Brace up. It's all down hill, now. Here's for the woods and broiled rabbit!"

In a new spurt of life another start was made and the two chums set out down the slope. In one of Ned's hands was a rock. It was to be the death warrant of any small animal, and his eyes were busy examining each sheltered rocky nook and bush. Suddenly a feverish hand caught his.

"Look," whispered Alan.

Ned's eyes followed his chum's gaze.

It was a spiral of thin smoke in the trees below.

With a shout, Ned sprang forward. Then he turned. Alan was standing still. Ned's heart grew cold:

"See the smoke," Alan was repeating, "see the nice smoke. Maybe it's a house on fire."

His friend was delirious. Ned flew to his side once more and again his touch revived the exhausted boy. Almost five days of wandering and the exhausting toil on the mesa had proved too much for the more delicate Alan, and Ned realized with sickening horror that the situation was critical.

"I'm all right, Ned," answered Alan when his chum was once more with him; "just a little lightheaded. But that's all."

What was to be done? The smoke might be that of a forest fire. And it might mean Indians. But even an enemy is welcome when starvation and death confronts one. Almost at the end of his own resources, the determined Ned forced himself into a last effort. He used no words of persuasion, for Alan allowed Ned to take his hand, and thus, silently and slowly, the two moved forward again. Perhaps another half mile was made between rocks and down gullies and then Alan exclaimed pitifully:

"It's no use, Ned, I can't, I can't. My feet." Burying his fevered face in his hands, the boy wept, partly in pain and partly because he knew that he was holding back his chum.

At such periods Ned Napier was at his best. With kind words he sought to encourage his friend. He used the little water left to bathe Alan's face, and the last of his shirt in binding anew his friend's bleeding feet. He tried to joke and speculated on the possibilities of the smoke beyond them, but it was without avail. Poor Alan could not rise again. The fever of exhaustion was on him and with a last appeal to Ned to leave him the boy threw himself on the ground and fainted away.

There was no doubt now as to what was to be done. Unless he could bring help to his friend in a short time Ned knew it would mean death. And that meant death for both, for young Napier would never abandon his friend. Like a drunken man Ned turned and stumbled forward.

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