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   Chapter 33 A FORLORN DASH FOR HELP

The Air Ship Boys : Or, the Quest of the Aztec Treasure By H. L. Sayler Characters: 7911

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Am hour later Alan Hope, carried by the faithful Elmer Grissom and the jovial Bob Russell, was laid gently on a blanket by the fire whose smoke had attracted the attention of the ragged, worn wanderers. Not until the sun had set did the exhausted lad open his eyes again. But water and food had been forced through his lips and when reason came back strength was not far behind.

Ned sat by his chum's side all day, bathing his face and making him as comfortable as possible; from Elmer's medicine packet. A few mouthfuls of food had sufficed Ned. But that night, when Alan came again to his senses, the four boys held a thanksgiving about a cheerful fire and ate together. But it was no banquet.

What had happened was soon repeated to the weak but happy Alan. Elmer and Bob had waited and watched for ten days, using their stores sparingly and ready always for the return of Ned and Alan. Two days they had seen the Cibola a speck in the sky far to the west, and had watched it from the little waterfall on the edge of the plateau. Then it disappeared and they never saw it again. This was three days after the boys departed from Camp Eagle.

Husbanding their provisions as well as they could, they at last decided to start on their return to the outside world.

This was two days before. The tent and the heavier articles were hidden in a cache. Their food had been reduced to a meager quantity. They had two pounds of bacon, six pounds of flour, two ounces of tea and a little over a pound of beans. In addition they had a half dozen bouillon tablets, a little salt, pepper and sugar, and a complete and unopened medicine packet in which were quinine, adhesive plaster, cotton, bandages, morphine, and other needed and compact drugs. With this light pack each boy had a rifle and a revolver, a few cooking utensils and a blanket.

Elmer had his own water bottle, and Bob improvised two out of the empty baking powder can and a lard pail.

Thus equipped, Camp Eagle was abandoned, and led by their compass Elmer and Bob had set out bravely for Mount Wilson and the Chusco. But it was with no small regret that they made their way up the long slope behind them and then across the valley beyond. But, fresh and strong of limb, they pushed forward and with Mount Wilson as a landmark made camp on the second night in the timber on the slope of the outer range.

Never wholly despairing of meeting Ned and Alan again, the two boys were frugal both of their strength and their stores. The food they carried would have been sufficient for a healthy man for perhaps a week. They could not count on reaching civilization again within that time, even with good luck. That meant half rations at the best. But if accidents came and delay even half rations would be cut down. So, that night, in camp, there was no feasting. A little tea, and a cake of dough apiece made their supper; and then they slept.

In the morning as they were about to breakfast and be off again Bob caught sight of a deer. A little jerked venison would not come amiss, he thought, and as the ammunition was plentiful he darted through the woods in pursuit. The fact that Bob was a poor hunter probably saved Alan's life. He was gone an hour and a half and when he returned it was after seven o'clock.

The two boys had just extinguished their fire and were about to shoulder their packs when a well-known but strained call arrested them.

"Camp ahoy?"

It was their leader, Ned Napier, his cheeks sunken, and his body swaying from weakness, but cheery as of old, advancing slowly through the trees.

Food and a night's rest restored Ned's strength. "And now, my friends," said he in the morning, "these bandages and a little food and good companionship have worked wonders. We are all ourselves again. But we can't stay here, pleasant-as it is. Alan ought not to travel for another day and then he ought to have some husky attendant. Bob, you are nominated for that

job. Elmer and I will take a few pinches of tea, the soup tablets, one revolver and a rifle and-"

"And what?" exclaimed Alan, suspicious of Ned's suggestion.

"And," continued Ned, "We'll just dash on ahead and bring you some help."

"No, siree," shouted Alan. "Do you think get back to Clarkeville, one hundred and fifteen miles or more, on six soup tablets? And for me? If you think you ought to go, all right. But you'll take half of the food."

"Or more," interrupted Bob, "give us a little flour and salt and some matches. I reckon I can get a deer before night."

But Ned convinced them in the end that he was right. He argued that each mile he and Elmer made in advance was nearer help. Alan must advance slowly.

"All you've got to do," he explained to Bob and Alan, "is to reach the Chusco, where Elmer camped, and take care of yourselves for seven or eight days. And we'll be there to help you, unless something happens. You won't have much to eat but you'll have water and you have ammunition."

And at seven o'clock that morning they parted. Just before the farewells Alan called Ned to one side and said:

"Hadn't you better take my bag?" indicating the jewel case under his arm.

"Why?" answered Ned.

"Well, you know we may never see each other again."

Ned took his chum's hand.

"Alan," he said, "we were not born to lose ourselves in the woods, much less to die there. We'll meet again all right. Don't you have any fears on that point. But if we shouldn't, I won't care for amethysts or pearls. If I don't see you again it'll be because I'm beyond the need of those things."

There were handshakes and cheering, good wishes, and the relief section was off.

"Elmer," said Alan, after the two had been trailing through the trees Indian fashion some time, "it is daylight at four o'clock and dark at seven-that's fifteen hours. Can you walk two miles an hour?"

"Sho'ly," smiled Elmer, showing his white teeth.

"Well, that's thirty miles a day. If we could do that for four days we'd be in Clarkeville!"

"Clarkeville in fo' days it am den," echoed Elmer, "or bust."

"We've got six soup tablets. If we dine on one at ten o'clock in the morning and one at seven o'clock in the evening we'll have regular meals for three days."

"And de las' day we won't need none, we'll be in such a hurry," added the colored boy, happy again in Ned's company.

That was the spirit in which the expedition started. Late that afternoon they emerged from the timber and were on the sandy foothills where progress was faster. Ned's feet bothered him and he was in constant pain, but the adhesive plaster and cotton had been of the greatest help. There was no pause. The first day's schedule he was determined to make and at about eight o'clock the relief expedition gave a shout. The Chusco lay before them.

A little fire, some tea and bouillon-made in the pan after the tea was consumed-and the two boys found a bed on the soft sand with no covering but the deep Mexican sky. At dawn they were up and away after a bath in the muddy river. Elmer was now the guide and he readily picked up Buck's old wagon trail. Sharp at ten o'clock a halt was made for breakfast, bouillon now without tea. Ned, his face a little more sunken and his legs a little more unsteady than the day before, was sitting on the ground resting his burning feet, when Elmer suddenly touched him on the shoulder, set the soup pan quickly on the sand and drew his revolver.

Far down the trail a horseman was approaching. Behind him in the distance followed a wagon. What did this mean?

"Well, whoever it is, we'll have the soup," said Ned.

This consumed, Ned and his friend started forward.

"If it's good luck we'll meet it sooner this way," said Ned, "if it's bad we'll know the worst quicker."

But it was good luck. The rider soon galloped up and swung his wide hat in the air. It was Curt Bradley, the mayor of Clarkeville.

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