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- The Air Ship Boys - 34/34 -
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!"
"Claikeville 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.
They told Ned afterwards that he keeled over in the sand and fainted dead away, but he always insisted that he didn't faint, that he knew everything that was going on. Yet he did not hear a word of the long story told by Elmer. When he roused himself he was lying in the shade of the big freight wagon and a couple of cowboys were getting breakfast ready.
Then Mayor Bradley explained his presence in that mysterious way in which bad news always travels friendly Indians had sent him word of the attack on Buck's outfit and of the death of the veteran plainsman. This news had just reached Clarkeville and Mayor Bradley had at once set out to find the body if possible, and assist those who escaped.
Of course all speed was made toward the foothills and that evening Alan and Bob, the former only a shadow of the lively youngster who had left Clarkeville but two weeks before, were found and rescued. That night there was a new camp on the Chusco and meat and hot bread. The only shadow to dim the happiness of the rescued boys was the recollection of the murdered Buck.
The return to Clarkeville was made by easy stages in four days, and even Alan was nearly his old self when that town was reached. One night's rest in real beds, with fresh linen from the baggage they had left behind them, and baths, removed the traces of privation and suffering. There was little more to detain Ned and Alan.
A telegram was dispatched to Major Honeywell at Kansas City, where the boys and their patrons had agreed to meet. Then Ned's tool chest was forwarded by freight to Chicago. In company with Mayor Bradley Ned and Alan visited Mrs. Bourke, Buck's widow. Retaining enough to cover the costs of transportation to Kansas City he gave the widow what remained of his funds, nearly five hundred dollars, and all the heavy stores remaining in the corral.
At midnight of that day four wide-awake and alert boys, neatly clad in summer suits, boarded the local train bound east for Albuquerque. The last hand they shook was that of Mayor Bradley.
"Mr. Mayor," said Ned as he parted from his friend, "I'm sorry I can't tell you why we were here, or what we were doing. But you were our friend and we'll never forget you. Some day I'm going to show you how highly we regard you. And some day I hope I'll be able to tell you what our mission was."
Three days later the quartette of boys sprang from the Limited in the Union depot at Kansas City. The parting had come. None of the boys knew what that meant until the last moment.
"'Ned," said Bob Russell, once again in the field of his profession, "I've had many a strange assignment in my work and I expect to have many another, but I'll never have one like this. I've got the story of my life, but I haven't got yours. If the time ever comes when I can write it, when you are free to tell it, just remember your best friend, Bob Russell, reporter, Kansas City Comet."
"Bob," answered Ned wringing his hand, "you have missed a good story. I'm sorry. It wasn't because you were not a good reporter. It was just our good luck. But if things work out the way I hope, I'm going to give you something better than a good story."
"And," broke in Alan, "just want to say this: if chance ever throws adventures my way again I hope that the companions I share it with will always include Bob Russell."
The details of how Ned and Alan, just one day late, kept their engagement with major Honeywell and Senor' Oje in the Coates House, and of the almost unbelievable report they made and the rich evidence of its genuineness that they submitted do not really belong in an account of the flight of the Cibola. Two things were done at once, however. A handsome gold watch was purchased and sent to Mayor Bradley with the compliments of Ned and Alan, and Senor Oje forwarded an additional check for a thousand dollars to Buck's widow.
The report on the value of the stones carried from the treasure temple by the two boys was such that Senor Oje gave them his check for $25,000. Out of this each boy contributed part of his share toward a sum sufficient to give Elmer a business education. Finally the two boys bought a draft for a thousand dollars, payable to Robert Russell. With it went this note: "Please accept this as some slight compensation for the story you did not get."
But in good time Bob Russell did get his story. For, otherwise, this narrative would never have been written.
How it came about that Bob got his story; how the treasure left in the Turquoise Temple was finally lifted; how the young aeronauts in doing it battled successfully with a maelstrom in the clouds, were driven far out over the Pacific, cast away on a derelict and finally made an escape with their "sneering idol" by aeroplane into the wilds of Mexico, is a later and more remarkable chapter in the adventures of Ned Napier and Alan Hope, to be told in "The Air-Ship Boys Adrift, or Saved by an Aeroplane."
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