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- The Boy Aviators' Treasure Quest - 3/34 -
"Oh, Eben something--let's see--Eben--it began with a J. I've got it--Eben Joyce, that's it--Eben Joyce."
"Queer name that--Eben Joyce," was Sanborn's comment. "Well, good-night."
"Good-night. You won't fail us."
"Not I," responded the machinist, as he slipped into the aerodrome and was soon wrapped in slumber as profound as if the thought of committing a treacherous act had never entered his mind.
BILLY'S STRANGE TALE.
The next morning, as soon as the alarm clock rang out its summons at four-thirty, the boys were up and stirring, dashing the sleep out of their eyes with plenty of cold water. Le Blanc and Sanborn soon joined them, the latter heavy-eyed and sleepy-looking from the late hours of the night before. He was smoking a cigarette.
"Look here, Sanborn, I don't want to be too strict, but you know there's too much gasolene around here for it to be safe to smoke in the shed," said Frank, with some irritation, as he spied him.
Sanborn threw the cigarette away with an ill-tempered exclamation.
"Gee! It's a wonder you don't start a Sunday-school in here," he said.
"Well, I don't think it would do you any harm to attend one for a while," answered Frank, "and by the way, can't you make it possible to come in a little earlier? You are a valuable man to us and you can't do your best work if you are sitting up till all hours at the village hotel."
"You ain't got no complaint about my work, have you?" was the surly rejoinder.
"No, I think that you are a very capable mechanic but I hate to see you wasting your time and opportunities this way," replied Frank. The boy was in some doubt as to the wisdom or the utility of calling Sanborn's attention to the latter's bad habits, but having embarked on his admonition he was not going to quit just because the man was surly.
"When are you going to go up?" asked Sanborn, changing the subject abruptly.
"Right after breakfast," was the boy's reply, as he looked out of the big sliding doors and surveyed the cloudless sky. "There doesn't seem to be a breath of wind and it's ideal weather for a good long flight."
But if the boys were up early they were not the only ones astir. Gladwin, who was an experimenter and who, although he had only been up a few times, meant to compete in the big race, was already busy outside his aerodrome, lovingly adjusting the engine of his queer-looking monoplane which had already been wheeled out. Malvoise, his hands in his pockets and a red sash about his waist, was also studying the sky. As Frank gazed about in the crisp morning air a dozen other aviators opened up their sheds and the day-life of the aviation camp began.
After breakfast had been despatched the boys at once went to work on their engine, a hundred horse-powered, eight-cylindered machine which was capable of driving their twin-screwed craft through the air at a rate of sixty miles an hour. One of the cylinders needed a new gasket and they were engaged on the task of fitting it when a sudden hail outside the shed made them look up inquiringly. A short, fat youth with a pair of spectacles bestriding his round good-natured face stood in the doorway. The boys recognized him instantly.
"Why, hullo, Billy Barnes!" they cried, "come on in."
"Hullo, Frank, hullo, Harry," grinned the newcomer, frantically shaking hands. "I'm an early caller, but I slept at the village hotel last night and the beds there are as hard as a miser's heart. So I decided to get out early and take a chance on finding you fellows up and about."
After the first hearty greetings between the boys and the young reporter--with whom the readers of the other volumes in this series have already formed an acquaintanceship--the boys started asking questions.
"What are you doing here anyhow?" demanded Frank.
"Yes, you mysterious scribe, tell us what you are after--a scoop or a story of how it feels to ride in an aeroplane?"
"Well," laughed Billy in response, "I've had so many flights in the Golden Eagles--both one and two--that I really believe I've had too much experience to write a story about it from the novice's standpoint. No, the fact is that I am down here on a story--a good one too."
"You can't keep away from the newspaper field, can you?" laughed Frank.
"No, that's a fact," agreed Billy ruefully; "I've tried to, but it's no good."
"Well, you ought to be 'a man of independent fortune' now, as the papers say," cried Harry.
"You mean with the percentage I got of the recovered ivory?"
The others nodded.
"I always felt I didn't really deserve that money," urged Billy. "You fellows did most of the work in Africa, I just trailed along."
"Oh, get out, Billy Barnes!" cried Frank. "You did as much as any of us in overreaching old Barr."
"Go ahead and tell us about this story of yours," demanded Harry.
"Well, it sounds like a weird dream and perhaps you fellows will laugh at me for taking it seriously, but a few days ago an old fellow in a tattered blue suit called at the Planet offices and said he wanted to see the city editor. Of course nobody ever does see the city editor, so I was sent out to ascertain what the visitor wanted. I saw at once he had been a seafaring man. He told me his name was Bill Hendricks, known better as Bluewater Bill. He beat about the bush a good while before he would tell me what he was after, and finally he unfolded the wildest tale about buried treasure you ever heard--that is, I don't mean buried treasure--floating would be a better word to describe it. He told me that he had been one of the crew of a sailing vessel that had drifted, after being dismasted in a storm, into the Sargasso Sea."
"You might tell us where the Sargasso Sea is," struck in Harry. "I never heard of it."
"Why, it's a vast expanse of floating seaweed brought together by circling ocean currents," explained Billy. "There are hundreds of miles of seaweed in it and from the name of the weed it gets its title of Sargasso. It is in the north Atlantic, just about off the Gulf of Mexico roughly speaking, though many hundred miles from land. It is shifting all the time though, I understand, and a ship that once gets into it never gets out. The weed just holds her in its grip till she rots. Bluewater Bill told me that, after his ship drifted into it, he counted ten steamers and four sailing vessels drifting idly about on the brown expanse that spread like a desert on all sides. But the most remarkable of all, according to his story, was a high-pooped, castle-bowed affair with three masts that the tattered sails still hung to. According to him she was a real, sure-enough galleon. One of the old treasure vessels that used to ply the Spanish Main."
"Oh, I say, Billy, you don't believe such a yarn as that, do you?" burst out Frank and Harry, both at once.
"Well, I don't know," replied Billy, "the fellow seemed serious enough and I am half inclined to believe he was telling the truth. He wanted to get somebody to finance an expedition to go down there and prove that he was not falsifying, and give him a small share of the treasure he is sure the vessel is laden with, in return for his information."
"In other words he is seeking a backer for an enterprise that looks ridiculous on the face of it," commented Frank.
"I'm not so certain of that," went on Billy. "Look here," and with the air of a conjurer producing a card from the empty air, he dived into his pocket and then, after a moment's fumbling, held out a round gold coin for the boys' inspection.
"A Spanish pistole!" exclaimed Frank, as his eyes fell on the dull yellow metal of the golden coin.
"That's right," said Billy. "I took it to a coin-dealer and had him give it a name. Of course the paper laughed at the story, so I'm after it now on my own hook. I got a leave of absence to dig it up. Bluewater Bill lives in Mineola and I'm going to see him later to-day and get more details from him. The more I think it over the more I think it's worth looking into."
The boys, whose opinion of the old sailor's story had been much altered by Billy's production of the indisputable evidence of the gold coin, agreed with him that it was indeed worth investigating further.
"But you haven't told us half the story, Billy," objected Frank. "How did Bluewater Bill escape? What became of the other men on the ship? How did he get aboard the galleon and get the coin? Oh, and heaps of other hows? and whys?" he broke off, laughing at Billy's serious face.
"I haven't got time to tell you all that now, and besides I am not clear on many of those points myself," replied Billy. "Suppose, if you are not doing anything this evening, you come round with me to Bluewater Bill's home and talk to him about it yourselves."
"Say, are you trying to lure us into any fresh adventures?" said Frank with mock seriousness. "Didn't we have enough of them in Africa?"
"I don't see how we could get at the galleon, supposing there is one there, even if we did go after it," chimed in Harry, whose active mind had already jumped ahead of the boys' conversation.
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