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- The Air Ship Boys - 1/34 -


Produced by Sean Pobuda

The Air Ship Boys or The Quest of the Aztec Treasure

By H. L. Sayler

CHAPTER I

THE DEPARTURE OF THE OVERLAND LIMITED

The Overland Limited, aglow with lights, stood in the Dearborn Street station in Chicago waiting for eight o'clock and the last of its fortunate passengers. Near the entrance gates, through which perspiring men and women were hurrying, stood the rear cars of the train. Within these could be seen joyous passengers locating themselves and arranging bags and parcels.

In fifteen minutes the long journey of Ned Napier and his chum Alan Hope to the far southwest was to begin.

At the other end of the big shed, where the cars of the long train seemed to fade almost out of sight, four persons were anxiously awaiting the approach of the hour of departure. One of these, the conductor of the train, consulted his watch, as he had done several times already, holding it close within the glow of his green-shaded lantern.

"It's getting pretty close to time, Major Honeywell," he said with some concern. "You're sure he'll be here?"

The man addressed, who stood leaning lightly on a cane and whose soft dark hat and clothes indicated his military calling, showed similar concern, but replied confidently:

"We have nearly fifteen minutes. Young Napier has a reputation for never failing. I'm sure he'll be here in time."

"Here's the telegram," interrupted young Alan Hope, as he drew a yellow sheet from his pocket. "It is from Youngstown, Ohio, and says Ned's train is on time. He left Washington yesterday and if everything is all right he reached the Union Depot a half hour ago. He'll be here."

"Well, you know we can't wait, much as I'd like to," replied the conductor. "You'd better have everything ready."

"She's dat, sah," interrupted the fourth person of the group, a young negro, who, as he spoke, placed his hand on the side door of the car, and moved it on its easy running bearings.

"You see, there isn't much time left," continued the sympathetic train official. "We're coupling up." And he nodded toward the gloom beyond the train shed out of which the big compound locomotive was already emerging. The military man with the cane became more apprehensive.

"What shall we do if Ned fails to get here?" he said suddenly after peering down the long platform toward the busy end of the station.

"Oh, we didn't go into this to fail," cheerily responded the youth by his side. "If we 'fall down' it won't be on a simple thing like this. He'll be here. It won't take us but three minutes to transfer the stuff when it gets here. Never fear. I'll just take another look in the car to make sure."

As he did so the colored boy exclaimed:

"It's all right. Here's de screws as he done tole us to git and here's de screw-driver outen de box as he done writ us to have ready and dar's de door all ready fur to fly open."

To prove it the lad gave the wide door in the side of the car a shove, and as it ran back on its track a portion of the inside of the car was exposed. It was a peculiar car and worth description, for in it, next to the big engine and ahead of all the other cars of the almost endless train, Ned Napier, his friend Alan Hope, and their servant, Elmer Grissom, were to be the sole passengers on a most mysterious and, as it proved, most eventful journey. In railroad parlance the car was what is known as a "club" car. Half of the interior was bare and unfinished, like the compartment in which, on special and limited trains, baggage is carried. This part of the car, now exposed to view, was dimly lighted with one incandescent bulb. In the half-light it could be seen that the space was almost wholly filled with tanks, boxes, casks, crates and bundles, all systematically braced to prevent jarring or smashing. It was plainly not the luggage of ordinary travelers. Except for a narrow passageway in the center of the car and a space about five square next the open door, every inch, to the very ventilators of the car, was crowded with bound or crated, numbered and tagged packages. In the open space next the door Alan Hope now appeared.

"Coming yet?" he asked with apparent confidence as he peered outside.

The colored boy Elmer shook his head.

Just then the conductor returned and again his watch.

"Eight minutes," he said; "time's getting along and I've got to go back and see about my train. I don't want to make you nervous, but do you want us to take this car if fails to get here with the stuff?"

"I suppose there's no need," replied the military man, beginning to show irritation. "But there's eight minutes yet."

"I know," replied the conductor, "but after we are coupled up and it is time to leave we can't stop to cut this car out. We've got to have five minutes for that. At five minutes of eight you'll have to decide whether it is go or stay. I'm sorry--but you'll have to decide in a minute or two."

"Decide it now," interrupted Alan from the open car door. "We're going and he'll be here."

The Major appeared to be in doubt as to the wisdom of this, but before he could say anything Alan continued:

"Couple up whenever you want to, Mr. Conductor, we'll be ready," and he sprang out of the car, his face set with determination.

By that time the throbbing engine had silently moved up next the car and two grimy depot men with smoky torches had swung off the footboard to make the connections.

"Got to know," repeated the sympathetic conductor. "Only five minutes." He looked at the Major for the final word.

The latter peered down the long almost vacant platform. There was no one in sight but the late arrivals being helped aboard the cars in the far end of the station. Then he gave another look of appeal at his own watch as if in doubt what to say. To send a special car half way across the continent was no inexpensive project. And to send it without the person or the precious material that it was intended seemed not only a waste of money but foolish. Although the anxious man had both confidence and nerve it could be seen that he was in a quandary.

"Five minutes," exclaimed the railway official. "Does she go or stay?"

Before the man could answer, Alan faced him and with a hand on the Major's arm exclaimed:

"Ned will be here, he can't fail; tell him we're going."

The Major smiled. "That's it," he exclaimed suddenly. "Take her along. It's up to us to take care of ourselves."

"Good," said the conductor, "I hope he'll make it."

With a signal to couple on the engine he hurried away for a final inspection of his train.

For a moment the three persons left behind stood in silence. There was a hiss of the engine as it pushed the connecting blocks together and then those waiting so anxiously could hear the jar of connecting valves as the brake hose were snapped. Confident as Alan was, it gave him a sinking feeling. Then, as the swish of tests sounded and the gnome-like figures of the depot men crawled from under the car, the Major looked again at his watch in despair.

"Four minutes--"

Before he could say more Alan caught sight of a movement among those gathered around the last car at the far end of the depot.

"There he is!" he shouted and darted forward.

"He sho'ly is," exclaimed Elmer, his white teeth showing, "and Yar's de screw driver and yar's de screws all ready."

A slowly moving truck had carefully turned the end of the waiting train and, drawn by two baggage-room employees, was making its way along the platform. By its side walked a boy--a lad of about seventeen. One of his hands rested on the truck and his eyes were carefully fixed on the load it bore. This was a black, iron-bound case about four feet long, three feet deep and perhaps a yard in height. On each side in red letters were the words:

"Explosive; no fire." Beneath this ominous legend were two large iron handles.

When the men drawing the truck quickened their pace the boy spoke to them sharply and they fell again into a steady walk. For the curious onlookers through whom the strange little caravan passed the


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