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- The Air Ship Boys - 3/34 -
"You must take no offense if I am a little surprised," exclaimed Major Honeywell; "I had supposed you would be older. Perhaps your surprise came first on receiving my note?"
"It did," replied Ned; "I was surprised and so was my mother. But she thought I ought to come, although we could not imagine what you wanted."
Major Honeywell smiled and motioned Ned to a chair with a graciousness that made the lad more comfortable. It had taken but a passing glance to reveal to the boy that he was in the presence of no ordinary man. The articles scattered about the room, which apparently were part of his host's traveling outfit, confirmed this. Of three leather cases or trunks in front of the mantel and within Ned's view, one was open. On the extended top of this, still partly covered with the folds of a light Indian blanket, were several flat and dull plates or dishes of Indian design, more or less broken and chipped. From the case came a pungent aromatic smell such as Ned had noticed in the "Early American" room of the museum. He was not quite sure what "ethno" meant, but he made a guess that it related to old Indian things, and this theory he confirmed to himself when he noticed on the table that Major Honeywell had just left another piece of pottery and by its side a large reading or magnifying glass.
"A collector," thought Ned, more puzzled than ever.
"I thank you for coming," said Major Honeywell finally. "It was good of you to do so. But I had supposed you were older--at least a young man," and he smiled again as if in some doubt.
"Perhaps," replied Ned with just a shadow of resentment in his voice, "if you will tell me why you sent for me I can help you in making up your mind as to whether you were wrong in doing so. I'm seventeen."
Major Honeywell arose, took off his glasses again and walked to where Ned was sitting.
"I hope you'll not take offense, my boy. But my business with you is most important. It is possibly the most important thing that has ever come to me. Fate, or chance more properly, of course, seems to have brought us together. If what I have in mind and have partly hoped could be brought about, is brought about, you will have no reason to regret my sending for you. We must be sure of ourselves. So far we know almost nothing about each other. Since our acquaintance may mean a great deal to us let us be sure of ourselves. Therefore, you will pardon me if I ask you if you are the Ned Napier?"
Ned laughed good-naturedly.
"That's what the clerk down stairs asked me few moments ago--if I were the Ned Napier. Well, I never heard of any other Ned Napier. But boys don't carry credentials, you know, Major Honeywell. I'll take your word for it that you are Major Baldwin Honeywell, formerly of the United States Army, and now of the--what do you call it--ethno--?"
"Ethnological survey," laughed the Major. "Then, since we know each other, I want to congratulate you, my young friend, on being one of the brightest, nerviest, and most promising young men of America. I've read about you and that's why I sent for you."
Ned could only conclude one thing and it made him blush. "You mean my dirigible balloon experience last summer?" he asked with growing embarrassment.
"I do," replied Major Honeywell with what Ned thought was wholly unnecessary warmth and enthusiasm, "and I want to shake the hand and congratulate the youngest, most daring and most promising balloon navigator in the world."
THE RELATION OF MIGUEL VASQUEZ
It may be well to recount how such a young lad as Ned had become so famous.
Ned's father had been a consulting engineer with a fondness for aeronautics. When Mr. Napier died, a year before Ned's meeting with the Major, it was discovered that he was making in his little shop a small dirigible balloon to be used at an amusement park. Mr. Napier's death was sudden. Manufacturer's bills for the balloon bag and engine came due and Ned, young as he was, knew that he must pay them. Putting on all the dignity that his sixteen years would permit he called on the manager of the amusement park.
"I hear your father is dead," said the manager. "I suppose we have lost the twenty-five per cent we advanced on the air ship."
"Why do you suppose that?"
"Because he had complete charge of the work and we have no one to take his place."
"I mean to do that myself," said Ned.
The manager smiled and shook his head. "No doubt you would try--you look it--but we don't care to experiment."
"But you want the air ship, don't you? You've advertised it."
"Yes, it was ordered--through your father. Since he is dead and cannot contribute his services, our agreement is void."
"Very well," replied Ned. "Good day."
"Look here," interrupted the manager, "what do you mean to do?"
"I'm going out to sell an air ship."
"You mean our air ship?"
"You said the contract is void."
The manager laughed again, but not as jovially.
"You ought to get on," he exclaimed.
"I've got to get on, and I'm going to do it by being on the square."
"I guess you're right. What's your proposition?"
"Since you've thrown up the contract I'm going to sell the balloon at a profit. The price is now $3,000. And I want a contract as operator for six weeks at $100 per week."
The manager stared at Ned and then exclaimed. "I'll do it. You are the very youngster we want."
That was how Ned Napier came to finish the air ship his father had planned, and how it happened all that summer that the papers printed news stories and Sunday specials with pictures of his daring flights, and how Major Baldwin Honeywell and other happened to speak of him as the Ned Napier.
To return to the scene of Ned's meeting with the Major--
"My name is Ned Napier," the boy began as soon as his host's cordiality gave him a chance, "and I am the young man the newspapers wrote about."
"I certainly made no mistake in sending for you," exclaimed the soldier. "But, before I say more I want you to realize that this is, to me, a most important matter."
"You mean it is--"
"A solemn secret. I want secure your services in a desperate and daring adventure that will mean a great deal to me--and a great deal to you."
"Certainly," was the boy's response. "I give you my pledge on that."
A look of relief came into the old soldier's face.
"If I furnished you the money," went on Major Honeywell suddenly, "could you produce in a short time a practical and manageable balloon?"
Before the boy could answer the old soldier continued: "I don't mean one of those affairs in which ascensions of an hour or so are made. I mean one in which you could travel for several days--perhaps a week?"
"No," said Ned, "it can't be done. No one has yet remained in the air in a balloon over fifty-two hours."
Major Honeywell said nothing, but Ned could see that what he had told the Major had dashed some budding hope.
"That is," Ned hastened to explain, "you couldn't do it unless you periodically renewed your supply of hydrogen. I really believe," continued Ned, "that I ought to know more about what you are planning to accomplish."
Again the white-mustached man was silent a few moments, and then he told without reserve the great secret. He began with an account of himself. Until three years before he had been an officer in the United States cavalry, stationed in the southwest. Then the President had assigned him to ethnological work. His special work was in the ruins of the Sedentary Pueblos. While scaling a cliff in this work he fell and permanently injured his left knee.
Resigning from the army, he traveled for a year and then went to visit an old friend, Senor Pedro Oje, whose immense sheep herds in Southwestern Colorado had made their owner a millionaire.
While here, hearing of an ancient nearby pueblo, just south of the Mesa Verde, Major Honeywell and his friend drove to the settlement. To Major Honeywell's surprise he found an old friend in Totontenac, the chief. As the two white men were about to leave, old Totontenac presented to his soldier friend an ancient funeral urn.
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