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- The Air Ship Boys - 2/34 -
lad by the side of the truck seemed to have no concern. A traveling cap was pushed back from his young face and his keen and alert eyes and the tone of his voice indicated a quality that goes with those born to command.
"Hello, Ned," came a ringing greeting from Alan as he ran forward. "They were afraid you wouldn't get here. But I knew you would. It's only a minute or two. Hurry."
"Four," said the new arrival cheerfully and confidently.
He gave his left hand to Alan and a better welcome in a cheery word of greeting, but his right hand did not leave the truck. Nor did his eyes leave it except for a moment.
"And the Major?" asked the new arrival as the truck rumbled on.
"Waiting to bid us good-bye."
"Everything aboard and shipshape?"
"Everything but this," and Alan glanced at the black case on the truck.
"I've carried it a thousand miles like a baby," laughed Ned. "Rode with it all the way in the express car."
"Then you didn't sleep last night?"
Ned laughed. "It was too interesting," he answered, "and I can sleep to-night. But I'm glad it's here with no one killed and not a drop spilled."
Advancing leaning heavily on his cane, the military man had hurried forward, his face radiant.
"Welcome, my boy, and congratulations. But for goodness' sake hurry," he began hastily.
Ned smiled again. "I think we had better not hurry this," and he pointed to the truck load. "That's the reason I'm late. I walked the horses from the Union Depot. You see we can't afford to spill our supplies. It was too hard to make and cost too much."
In another moment the truck was abreast of the open car door.
"Back her up," exclaimed Ned giving a hand himself to the tongue of the truck. Then, as the top of the truck came up flush with the car door and floor he sprang lightly on the truck and motioned the men to do likewise. For a moment they hesitated, but being reassured, Ned and Alan and the truck men lined up on either side of the big case. Slowly and carefully, with a brawny truck man on each side to help the less stoutly muscled lads, the case slid forward and with a "yeo-ho" or two from Ned it was soon in the car. Without a pause it was pushed at once into a space outlined on the floor.
"And about two minutes to spare,"' cried the Major from the platform jubilantly and thankfully.
"Not quite," laughed Ned, "but it'll be a half a minute and that's as good as an hour. The screws, Elmer."
The colored boy, who had been busy keeping out of the way, sprang forward to perform his part of the apparently ticklish job. It was then seen that each bottom corner of the mysterious box had an iron flange. In the center of' each of these was a small hole.
"Major," called out Ned as the truck men climbed out of the car, "these men were very obliging and careful."
The Major understood him, and as he began searching his pockets for a bill Ned quickly inserted four screws in the waiting holes and with a few sharp turns of the screw driver made the case hard and fast to the floor of the car. Almost as quickly he threw the door into place and bolted it, and then with Alan hurried out for a last word to the friend who was so much interested in his success.
"Was I right?" he exclaimed. "Half a minute?"
"To the dot," enthusiastically answered the Major. "Now, boys, good-bye. Everything in that car is exactly as you planned and asked. From now on it is subject to your orders alone. What mine are you know. God bless you both and good luck to you!"
As the boys took his hand Ned handed him a letter. "I'm sorry I couldn't have seen my mother again, but please send her this. I wrote it to-day on the train."
Far down the line of cars came the words, "all aboard," and Elmer, cap in hand, sprang onto the steps.
"Good-bye," exclaimed Alan, "and thank you for the great chance you're giving us."
"Good-bye," said Ned, "if we fail in our work it won't be your fault, Major."
And then, as the train began to move, the boys stepped aboard, off at last, after six weeks preparation, in search of the lost Cibola and the treasure of the Turquoise Temple.
NED'S MEETING WITH MAJOR BALDWIN HONEYWELL
Six weeks before Ned Napier and Alan Hope had set out on this trip Ned had been the surprised recipient of a mysterious note. In this message, written on the stationery of the Annex Hotel, he was urged to call on the writer the next morning at ten o'clock. With his mother's approval he had kept the engagement. The events which followed will explain how Ned came to take his momentous journey to the far southwest.
Promptly on the hour Ned presented himself at the office desk. A clerk with a handful of letters gave him a half glance and turned away.
"I say," began Ned in a voice that made the clerk turn quickly, "I want some information."
The man stepped forward, leaned over the counter far enough to get a full view of his questioner, and answered:
"All right, sonny. What can I do for you?"
"You can tell me if Major Baldwin Honeywell is staying here."
"Friend of Major Baldwin's?" asked the clerk, his smile broadening.
"If Major Honeywell is stopping here I suppose he is paying well for his entertainment," replied Ned after a moment's pause.
"Sure," answered the facetious clerk, "regular rates."
"Perhaps that ought to include civil attention to those he has business with. I have an appointment with him at ten o'clock. I wish you would see at once that he knows I am here."
The clerk's smile was not quite so broad now but he was still amused.
"What name shall I give, son?" He was about to repeat the "sonny" that had grated a little on Ned's sense of the proprieties but he stopped short--and added: "Have you a card, Mr.--?"
"I have no card and I don't call myself 'Mr.'," answered Ned, "but you can say that Ned Napier is here and will be glad to see Major Honeywell whenever it is convenient."
At the mention of "Ned Napier" the clerk's airiness disappeared. A certain respect seemed to take its place. Then he leaned forward and said a good deal more politely: "You are not the Ned Napier?"
"I never heard of any other one of that name," answered the boy. "But I think we are losing time. Please say I'm here."
A moment later a page announced that Major Honeywell, in suite 8 A, desired Mr. Napier to be shown up at once. Reaching the apartment the page knocked and there was a quick "Come in."
Hat in hand, and with all the manliness and dignity his seventeen years afforded, Ned stepped into the room. At a table a man had just risen as if from work on some papers. As the man turned to come forward and his eyes fell upon the lad he paused as if surprised. Ned Napier was neither large nor small for his age. But his circumstances had been such, financially, that his attire was plain and perhaps old fashioned--much of it the handiwork of his frugal and fond mother; and the absence of smart and up-to-date ideas in clothes and shoes made him look, perhaps, even younger than his years. Other lads of his acquaintance--those in his classes in high school--aped their elders. Ned's time and interests were too much given up to his boyish ambition to permit this.
Ned saw a man of about sixty years, with snow-white moustache, dressed in blue. The man had every appearance of being both a soldier and an officer. His face was tanned as if by much exposure to the sun, but the line of white at the top of his forehead, where his hat gave protection, suggested that the color was both recent and transitory. Major Honeywell's hair, which was yet dark and only slightly streaked with gray, was too long to suggest present active service, as Ned at once concluded. His face, too, had something of the student in it, and this effect was increased by a pair of large gold spectacles with double lenses. The man's contracted eyes gave the youth the uncomfortable feeling of being microscopically examined, and Ned was for a moment ill at ease. The manner of the scrutiny was that of a scholar who had before him a strange new specimen. Ned, still with hat in hand, felt more like a dead bug than a very live boy. Then the white-mustached man smiled, took off his heavy-lensed glasses, and stepped forward with his hand extended.
"I am Major Honeywell," he began in a low voice, "formerly of the regular army and later detailed on ethnological work for the Government. You are--"
"Ned Napier," responded his youthful caller.
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